State funerals are a rare occasion in the UK but over the past week preparations for the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II have been put in place. Typically, state funerals in the UK are only reserved for Heads of State, however, there are a few exceptions, most notably, Winston Churchill, a former prime minister of the UK who led our nation through the Second World War.
A slightly smaller scale event, called a ceremonial funeral, has taken place for other notable public figures in the UK, including Diana, Princess of Wales, the Queen Mother, Margaret Thatcher and Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh. There are very few differences between state funerals and ceremonial funerals, primarily who is in charge of the plans, who pulls the gun carriage with the coffin and the ringing of Big Ben.
A state funeral is a huge-scale event and, although not set in stone, tends to be a bank holiday. They are publicly funded and the person in charge of organising and carrying out state funerals is the Earl Marshal. Every single detail is authorised by him. London is the central location of state funerals and if a monarch passes away when not in London, additional processions to bring the body back to London are required.
When in London, the coffin is transported to Westminster Hall, typically on a horse-drawn carriage and is surrounded by military officials and the closest family members. The coffin will have the Imperial State Crown on it as well as the Royal Standard flag. Westminster Hall opens to the public when “lying in state” to allow members of the public to pay their respects. In Westminster Hall, the Orb and Sceptre are also added to the coffin. The period of lying in state varies but more recently for Queen Elizabeth II lasted 4 days.
The funeral follows, where huge crowds line the streets. The funeral is typically attended by all Royals in the UK, global heads of state and foreign dignitaries, Royal Families from around the world, all branches of the military and representatives of organisations and charities that were present in the monarch’s life. One feature of a state funeral is that the coffin is transported from Westminster Hall (lying in state) to the location hosting the funeral, typically Westminster Abbey, by Royal Navy sailors using ropes. In a ceremonial funeral, this would be pulled by horses instead. During this procession, Big Ben sounds once for each year of the monarch’s reign and gun salutes go off in royal residences and parks around the country.
Finally, the coffin is transported to the final burial site. In the case of Queen Elizabeth II, this was Windsor Castle, some 25 miles from London.
The State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is said to have been watched online by around 4 billion people worldwide whilst millions lined the streets in Edinburgh, London and Windsor to pay their respects. Although it’s an incredibly sad occasion, there’s a certain royal pomp and spectacle that is little seen anywhere else in the world.