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5 Things You Didn’t Know About British Royal Funerals

In response to recent requests on Twitter for more information about how British State and Royal funerals work, we decided to compile it into a 5-point fact file.

1. Planning Ahead

Funerals for top members of the Royal Family are already planned ahead. For many years, the funerals for Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh have been planned on the occasion they should die. The Queen and the Duke have alway been involved in laying out their own funeral plans. Her Majesty’s funeral plans are codenamed ‘London Bridge’ and the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral plans are codenamed ‘Forth Bridge’. Prince Philip will not be having a public funeral, at his own request. He has specified a private service at St George’s Chapel, in the style of a military funeral.


2. State Funerals For All?

Only the Sovereign is automatically accorded a State Funeral, for anyone else to be afforded one, a motion must pass in the Houses of Parliament. All other members of the Royal Family are afforded a Royal Ceremonial Funeral. The only difference noticeable between the two is how the gun carriage containing the coffin is borne. In a state funeral, the coffin is pulled along by Sailors from the Royal Navy. This is because at Queen Victoria’s funeral, the horses became restless and unable to safely pull the coffin, therefore sailors stepped in to pull the coffin for the processional route. In a Royal Ceremonial Funeral, the gun carriage is borne by horses.

3. Lying In State

The coffin in a State Funeral lies for three days in Westminster Hall before it is to be taken along the funeral procession. 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. After the lying in state, the coffin is taken on a gun carriage along the funeral route where it is then taken to a funeral service at Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s Cathedral.


Catafalque of The Queen Mother at Westminster Hall.

During the lying in state on some occasions, something called ‘the Princes’ Vigil’ is observed by male members of the Royal Family. This happened at The Queen Mother’s funeral in 2002 when her four grandsons mounted a vigil on the four corners of the catafalque. Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and Viscount Linley stood vigil at the coffin in a tradition that began at George V’s funeral by his sons. For George V, his four sons King Edward VIII, The Duke of York (later George VI), The Duke of Gloucester and The Duke of Kent took post.

4. Special Armed Forces Ceremonial

There are some special movements for drill for soldiers lining the processional route during a state or royal ceremonial funeral. For example, after the coffin has passed, the soldiers lining the route move from the ‘present arms’ to a position known as ‘rest on your arms; reversed’, which is only used at funerals.

Also, another move called ‘reverse arms’ is used for armed soldiers escorting a funeral casket, where the arms are held under the left arm with the barrel pointing behind. This is also only used at funerals, though usually at military funerals.

Guards bow their head whilst in 'Rest on your arms, reversed'.

Guards bow their head whilst in ‘Rest on your arms, reversed’.

5. Interment

The bodies of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh would be interred in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle after death, like many British King and Queens, including King George V and Queen Mary and The Queen’s parents George VI and The Queen Mother. The Queen and the Duke would be buried side-by-side.

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