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A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony, observing the strict rules of protocol, held to honor heads of state or other important people of national significance. State funerals usually include much pomp and ceremony as well as religious overtones and distinctive elements of military tradition. Generally, state funerals are held in order to involve the general public in a national day of mourning after the family of the deceased gives consent. A state funeral will often generate mass publicity from both national and global media outlets, such as state funerals undertaken in the United Kingdom as well as state funerals in the United States.


United Kingdom

A state funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from the private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days. This is then followed by a funeral service at Westminster Abbeymarker or St. Paul's Cathedralmarker.Many of the features of a state funeral are shared by other types of funeral—a Royal Ceremonial funeral (for example, that of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) often has a lying in state and Westminster Abbey service. The real distinction between a state funeral and a ceremonial funeral is that a state funeral requires a motion or vote in Parliament. However, the visual distinction usually referred to is that in a state funeral, the gun carriage bearing the coffin is drawn by sailors from the Royal Navy rather than horses. This tradition dates from the funeral of Queen Victoria; the horses drawing the gun carriage bolted, and so ratings from the Royal Navy hauled it to the Royal Chapel at Windsormarker.

During the lying in state, the coffin rests on a catafalque in the middle of Westminster Hall. Each corner is guarded by various units of the Sovereign's Bodyguard or the Household Division. However, on some occasions (most notably the funerals of King George V and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), male members of the Royal Family have mounted the guard, in what has become known as the Vigil of the Princes. For George V, his four sons King Edward VIII, The Duke of York, The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent stood guard. For the Queen Mother, her grandsons The Prince of Wales, The Duke of York, The Earl of Wessex and Viscount Linley took post.

The honour of a state funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past consort. Few others have had them:

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield was offered the honour of a state funeral, but refused it in his will. The famous nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale was also offered a state funeral, but her family opted for a private ceremony.

The most recent state funeral for someone outside the Royal Family was that of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. The only difference between his state funeral and that of the Sovereign was the gun salute: prime ministers get a 19-gun salute, as a head of government; the sovereign receives the full 21-gun salute, as head of state.

When the Duke of Windsor (formerly Edward VIII) died in 1972, he was given a private Royal funeral, with the exception that the Garter King of Arms recited words reserved for the deceased Sovereign—a feature of a state funeral.

Diana, Princess of Wales had a ceremonial funeral in 1997, similar to a state funeral.In 2008, it was reported that a state funeral is planned for the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, but Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman denied that there was any such arrangement.


Russia/Former Soviet Union

Several notable examples of state funerals during the Soviet period would be those of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the USSRmarker, and Joseph Stalin, Premier and General Secretary. Lenin would have a mausoleum built in his honor, despite his rejections for such an idea during his life. Joseph Stalin's body would lie beside Lenin's until being moved to the Kremlin Wall Necropolismarker several years after his death.Both Lenin and Stalin's funerals were massive events, both with millions of mourners all over the USSR.

North America

United States

In the United Statesmarker, state funerals are funerals with ceremonial, military, and religious overtones which are granted by law to presidents-elect, sitting presidents, and former presidents in order for the nation to mourn and pay homage to their memory. However, state funerals may also be granted and accorded to other individuals who make significant contributions to the nation by a resolution of the United States Congress. While protocol greatly influences the detailed planning of a state funeral which is steeped in tradition and rich in history, the elaborate sequence of events are largely determined by the president and his family.


In Canadamarker, state funerals are public events held to commemorate the memory of present and former governors general, present and former prime ministers, and sitting members of the Ministry. With ceremonial, military, and religious elements incorporated, state funerals are offered and executed by the Government of Canada which provides a dignified manner for the Canadian people to mourn a national public figure.

South America


Juan Perón, Eva Perón and Raul Alfonsín have had all state funerals.


New Zealand

Traditionally, state funerals are reserved for all former Governors-General, as well as Prime Ministers who die in office. Others to receive state funerals include Sir Frederic Truby King (1937) who founded the Plunket Society, the unidentified victims of the Tangiwai rail disastermarker (1953), Victoria Cross recipient Jack Hinton (1997) and mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary (2008). and the tomb of Unknown Warrior to represent all soldiers who represented and sacrificed NZ in all wars. The offer of a state funeral was refused by the family of former Prime Minister David Lange.


In Australia, State Funerals are increasingly offered to persons of general celebrity.

New South Wales

State Funerals held in NSW are subject to a policy operated since 1966.

Politicians (both current and former) and people holding positions such as Governor and Chief Justice automatically qualify for a State funeral, however the Premier of the State of NSW can offer such a service for those determined to be distinguished citizens of NSW. For example, football (soccer) legend Johnny Warren was given a State Funeral in NSW.

Where the family of the deceased does not wish to have a State funeral, the offer of a State memorial service will be considered.

On 27 November 2007, Bernie Banton, a campaigner for asbestos victims who worked for James Hardie, lost his battle with asbestos-related mesothelioma. His family was offered a state funeral by NSW Premier Morris Iemma.


A State Funeral was offered for Steve Irwin in September 2006, but the offer was declined. A state funeral occurred for Joh Bjelke-Petersen.


A State Funeral was held in September 2006 for race-car driver Peter Brock. In 2009, a state funeral was held to honour Australian acting icon Charles 'Bud' Tingwell


File:Funeral Elisabeth.jpg|A drawing by William Camden depicting the funeral cortège of Queen Elizabeth I of England, 1603.File:Marie Louise of Orléans, Queen of Spain, lying in state (1689), by Sebastián Muñoz.JPG|A drawing by Sebastián Muñoz depicting the lying in state of Queen Maria Luisa of Spain, 1689.File:NelsonTomb.jpg|The coffin of Horatio Nelson in the crossing of Saint Paul's Cathedral during his state funeral, with the dome hung with captured French and Spanish flags, 1805.File:LincolnTrain.jpeg|The funeral train of Abraham Lincoln departing Washington D.C. enroute to Springfield, Illinois for interment, 1865.File:Lincoln funeral in New York City.jpg|A drawing depicting Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession in New York City en route from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, 1865.File:McGee Funeral01.jpg|The funeral procession of Thomas D'Arcy McGee during his state funeral in Ottawa, Canada, 1868.File:McKinley Capitol casket.jpg|An honor guard carrying the coffin of William McKinley up the east steps of the United States Capitol, 1901.File:Funeral of Edward VII -1910 -cropped.JPG|The funeral procession of King Edward VII of the United Kingdom in London, 1910.File:Pope-benedict-xv-03.jpg|Pope Benedict XV lying in state at Saint Peter's Basilica, 1922.File:Franklin Roosevelt funeral procession 1945.jpg|A caisson carrying the remains of Franklin D. Roosevelt proceeds down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the United States Capitol, 1945.File:JFKeastRoomnov23'63.jpg|The remains of John F. Kennedy lying in repose in the East Room of the White House, 1963.File:ARC194186.gif|Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy seen following Jacqueline Kennedy as she leaves the United States Capitol with John Kennedy Jr. and Caroline Kennedy, after viewing the lying in state of John F. Kennedy, 1963.File:Perón Funeral.jpg|The funeral cortège of Juan Domingo Perón in Buenos Aires, 1974.File:Queen Mother Carriage.jpg|The funeral cortège of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother proceeds from the Palace of Westminster to Westminster Abbey, 2002.File:Ronald Reagan casket on caisson during funeral procession.jpg|A caisson carrying the remains of Ronald Reagan down Constitution Avenue enroute to the United States Capitol, 2004.File:Giovanni Paolo II 0013.JPG|The corpse of Pope John Paul II lying in state at Saint Peter's Basilica, 2005.File:Ford-capitol-rotunda.JPEG|The coffin of Gerald Ford lying in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol during his state funeral, 2006.

See also


  1. The Queen thanks public in televised address - CBC News
  2. The Guardian — State funeral planned for Lady Thatcher
  3. Radio New Zealand News - Sir Edmund Hillary honoured by state funeral (12 January 2008)

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