State funeral

From Academic Kids

A state funeral is a public funeral ceremony held to honor heads of state or other important people of national significance. They usually include much pomp and ceremony.

Most state funerals make one point clear: the family of the deceased agreed to the public honors because so many other citizens in their countries want to join in.


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 Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral.

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The Queen Mother's Funeral Procession. The Queen Mother had a Royal ceremonial funeral rather than a State funeral

Many of the features of a state funeral are shared by other types of funeral - a Royal Ceremonial funeral (for example, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother's) often has a lying in state and Westminster Abbey service. The distinction between a state funeral and a ceremonial funeral 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 Windsor. In 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. 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. [1] (

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The Prince of Wales guarding his Grandmother's coffin on April 8th, 2002

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

(Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield was offered the honour, but refused it.)

The most famous state funeral was that of a commoner—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.

United States

In the U.S., state funerals are granted by law to presidents and other individuals designated by the president. While tradition and protocol greatly influence the funeral planning, the exact sequence of events is largely determined by the family of the deceased. This decision is made once a president leaves office.

History and development

The pomp and circumstance of state funerals were eschewed by the founding fathers who believed them to be too reminiscent of British rule. The first general mourning proclaimed in America was on the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790 and the next on the death of George Washington in 1799. Though public mournings were held all over the country for George Washington, his funeral was a local affair in Mount Vernon. The first major funeral ceremony was for William Henry Harrison, the first president to die in office. Alexander Hunter, a Washington merchant, was commissioned to design the ceremony. He had the White House draped in black ribbon and ordered a curtained and upholstered black and white carriage to carry the casket.

However, it was not until the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 that the United States experienced a nationwide period of mourning, made possible by advances in communications technologies — train and telegraph. Lincoln was the first U.S. president to lie in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Ceremonies conducted henceforth have been based on Lincoln's funeral. To date, ten presidents have been honored by having their remains lie in state (on the same black catafalque built for Lincoln) in the rotunda with a ceremonial honor guard to attend them.

Major components

Funeral processions in the nation's capital have honored ten presidents, including the four who were assassinated.

While tradition and protocol greatly influence the funeral planning, the exact sequence of events is largely determined by the family of the deceased. Most state funerals include Armed Forces pallbearers, various 21-gun salutes, renditions by military bands and choirs, a military chaplain for the immediate family, and a flag draped on the casket as a veteran's honor.

Presidents who die in office lie in repose in the East Room of the White House. Former presidents lie in repose in their home state, usually in the deceased's presidential library or (if no such library exists) a church or statehouse, before traveling to Washington, D.C..

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President Reagan's casket is carried down Constitution Ave. The procession went down Constitution Ave. because Reagan was a former president

A ceremonial funeral procession in a caisson (drawn by six horses of the same color, three riders and a section chief mounted on a separate horse from the Old Guard Caisson Platoon) is a traditional component of a state funeral observance. The procession begins in sight of the White House and travels to the U.S. Capitol. For former presidents, the casket is transferred to the caisson at Constitution Avenue before the South Lawn and the procession moves down Constitution Avenue, but for sitting presidents, the casket is transferred at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance of the mansion and the procession moves down Pennsylvania Avenue. (Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House has been closed since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.) The procession is composed of National Guard, active-duty, academy and reserve personnel that represent the five branches of the United States armed forces and the casket is followed by riderless horse. The procession usually ends at the east front of the U.S. Capitol.

Upon the casket's arrival at the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol a short service (the official "state funeral") is given with members of Congress present.

Afterwards, the late president's body lies in state for public viewing. Although lying in state continues through the night, it differs from lying in repose. The honor guard, whose members represent each of the armed services, maintain a vigil over the remains throughout the period of time the remains lie in state. Public viewing is allowed continuously during the lying in state until one hour before the departure ceremony.

Reagan's national funeral service
Reagan's national funeral service

A national memorial service is held in Washington, D.C. It is usually held at Washington National Cathedral or at another church or cathedral, if the family requests, with various foreign dignitaries and government officials attending. On the matter of seating arrangements for the funeral, the presidential party is followed by heads of state, arranged alphabetically by the English spelling of their countries. Royalty representing heads of state, such as princes and dukes, come next, followed by heads of government, such as prime ministers and premiers. During the ceremony, generals sit in the north nave, family members in the south nave.

Immediately after the service is completed, the body travels to its final resting place for interment.

Before the mid-20th Century, the body was moved long distances by funeral train procession, where thousands of citizens would line the railroad tracks to pay their last respects. Transport in recent decades between the deceased president's home state and Washington, D.C. has been by one of the jets usually used as Air Force One. Arrivals and departures are usually met with 21-gun salutes.

Funeral arrangements

State funerals are usually planned years earlier. Each living U. S. president - current or former - is required to have funeral plans in place upon becoming president. These details become more important upon leaving office, as it reduces stress for the president's family in an era of worldwide electronic media scrutiny.

The Military District of Washington (MDW) has primary responsibility in conducting the ceremony and goes by a 138-page planning document. The commanding general of the MDW appoints an Armed Forces team to provide security for the presidential remains, whether they be lying in state or in a church or other location.


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Prime Minister Trudeau's casket arrives on Parliament Hill
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Trudeau lying in state

In Canada, state funerals are entitled to Governors General (representatives of the monarch, who is the formal head of state) and Prime Ministers (heads of government) and involve lying in state in the Hall of Honour on Parliament Hill. The body does not arrive on Parliament Hill via caisson or gun carriage; it arrives via hearse. On arrival, an honour guard, from the RCMP for prime ministers and from the Governor General's Foot Guards for the Governors General, meet the hearse and escort the body into the Hall of Honour in a simple ceremony.

Similar to the United States and the United Kingdom, there are guards at each corner of the casket. The guards are from the RCMP and Canadian Forces. In the case of the Governor General, their foot guards also guard the casket. With prime ministers, the other guards are from Parliamentary security and Senate security.

Lying in state usually lasts for two days. Unlike in the United Kingdom and the United States, public viewing isn't allowed continuously until a certain time. There are designated hours each day of the lying in state. Sometimes, everyone may be allowed access despite the deadline, but it happens only after police officers tour the lines.

When the body leaves Parliament Hill, a 19-gun salute is fired for Prime Ministers, or a 21-gun salute in the case of Governors General, as the body is escorted to the hearse. The funeral service is usually held at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.

Roman Catholic Church

When the pope dies, the officials in Vatican City begin a vigorous series of rituals dating back to the middle ages.

After the initial determination of his death, made by calling his name three times without response, the Camerlengo ("Cardinal Chamberlain" is the English title) declares him dead, orders the papal offices and apartment sealed, and destroys the pontiff's signet ring (the Ring of the Fisherman) and seals with the silver hammer. The Pope's body is initially moved to the Clementine Hall in the Apostolic Palace, where he is privately viewed by Vatican officials in a ceremony to confirm and certify his death. After that, his body is moved to St. Peter's Basilica to lay in state for public viewing and mourning for several more days. The pontiff is then moved to his final resting place. The popes of the last century have been buried beneath St. Peter's Basilica.


Nazi Germany

Between 1933 and 1945, the nation state of Nazi Germany bestowed state honors on a number of high ranking Nazi and German government officials. Beginning with the state funeral of Paul von Hindenburg, Nazi state funerals were elaborate displays of National Socialism and German idealism.

Besides Hindenburg, two other major state funerals of the Nazi regime were those of Fritz Todt and Reinhard Heydrich. Julius Schreck, one of the founders of the Schutzstaffel was also honored with a state funeral in 1936.


State funerals of the Roman Empire were of such splendor that the manner of the processions are still generally known in the modern age. The deceased Roman would be carried through the streets of Rome amidst a grand procession, at the end of which was a large funeral cremation site. One of the most famous Roman state funerals was that of Julius Caesar.

See Also

External links


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