How do Royal Funerals Work?

Posted: 17/01/2018

Royal funerals in the United Kingdom, officially called state funerals, are usually to honour the death of a monarch.

State funerals have not always been reserved only for monarchs, however, such as was the case for Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral, whose death was met with a state funeral following the approval of the reigning monarch and of Parliament at the time. Other notable non-royals to be given a state funeral include Isaac Newton, the Duke of Wellington and Lord Palmerston.



The Queen Mother’s Funeral, 2002.

State funerals are national occasions that historically involve a momentous procession from venue to venue, with the body resting at St Georges’ Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The structure of a state funeral consists of a military procession carrying the coffin to Westminster Hall, a period of lying-in-state, followed by a service at Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral.


Following the death of the Sovereign, the coffin must lie for three days at Westminster Hall before embarking upon the funeral procession. The coffin is positioned on a raised platform that is guarded by units from the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, Foot Guards or the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at all times. The purpose of having the Sovereign lie in state is for members of the public to pay their respects.


Queen Victoria, who died on the 22nd January 1901, lay-in-state in The Albert Memorial Chapel for two days before being buried in The Mausoleum, Frogmore in Windsor to rest beside her husband, Prince Albert.

Although she had a ceremonial funeral rather than a state one, the Queen Mother lay-in-state at Westminster Hall after she died on the 30th March 2002. It has been reported that around 200,000 made the trip to pay their respects to The Queen Mother, and at peak times queues were up to 10-hours long. Condolence books were to be signed by those who attended.

An estimated one million people came to pay their respects to Winston Churchill as he lay-in-state.

State and Ceremonial Funerals

A state funeral is defined by The Royal Encyclopedia (1991) as “generally limited to Sovereigns, but may, by order of the reigning monarch and by a vote of Parliament providing the fund, be extended to exceptionally distinguished persons.” The Royal Encyclopedia states, conversely, that a ceremonial royal funeral is “for those members of the Royal Family who hold high military rank, for the consort of the Sovereign and heir to the throne.”

A ceremonial funeral, unlike with a state funeral, does not require a parliamentary motion to authorise it, and the military procession differs in that the gun carriage bearing the coffin is drawn by horses. Ever since the death of Queen Victoria, state funeral coffins have been drawn by the Royal Navy.

Recipients of a ceremonial royal funeral have included The Queen Mother, Princess Diana, and most recently, Baroness Thatcher.

Do the Royals Get a Say?

It is the case that the Sovereign has a say in the planning of their own funeral. It is said that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s planned funeral has been codenamed ‘London Bridge’, and plans are frequently updated. The recipient of a state or ceremonial funeral is usually asked if they would even like to receive one (if applicable), and they are allowed to make decisions such as whether or not to lie-in-state, and where to be rested. Baroness Margeret Thatcher allegedly declined a state funeral, opting for a ceremonial one with full military honours. Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse, is said to have similarly declined a state funeral, preferring a private one instead.

How Much do State Funerals Cost?

The cost of state and ceremonial funerals is hard to discern, mainly because they are few and far between. Margaret Thatcher’s ceremonial funeral, which is the most recent one to date, was reported to cost approximately £3.6m; accounting for a £500,000 service at St Paul’s Cathedral, security costs at about £1.1m and ceremonial costs of approximately £500,000. Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was reportedly less than this, at around £650,000 in today’s money. In any case, state and ceremonial funerals are certainly not cheap and are to be paid by the British taxpayer.


Queen Victoria’s funeral cortege, 1901.

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