Lying in State

Lying in State

A 20th-century PRActice

The practice of a monarch lying in state in the days following their death was first introduced 1898 following the death of the former prime minister William Gladstone. The practice was then adopted in 1910, following the death of King Edward VII (pictured above). It took place in Westminster Hall, and has done so ever since on the following occasions:

1936 - King George V
1952 - King George VI
1953 - Queen Mary
1965 - Sir Winston Churchill
2002 - Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

The proceedings take place under the supervision of the Earl Marshal (the Duke of Norfolk), under the direction of the new monarch.

Members of the public wishing to show respect, are admitted to Westminster Hall to file past the body. In 1952, on the death of the Queen’s father George VI, one million people did so. The lying in state usually lasts for between three to five days.

Keeping Vigil

During this period the coffin, draped in the Sovereign’s personal standard, stands on a raised platform in the middle of Westminster Hall. Each corner of the coffin is guarded by units of the Sovereign’s Bodyguard, Foot Guards or the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, who keep silent vigil around the clock.

On two occasions the monarch’s sons have stood guard, known as ‘the Vigil of the Princes’. Following the death of King George V, his sons King Edward VIII, Prince Albert, Duke of York, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince George, Duke of Kent, took guard at Westminster Hall on 27 January 1936. The Hall was closed to the public for the evening. This ritual was repeated on the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, when Charles, Prince of Wales, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and David Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley, stood guard at the coffin of their grandmother on 8 April 2002.


Following the lying in state, the body is traditionally hauled by gun carriage by ratings of the Royal Navy to Paddington Station, and thence by train to Windsor Castle for a private funeral service and interment in St George’s Chapel.

These events draw very large crowds, and the military and police authorities were completely taken by surprise by the scale of the event following the death of George V in 1936. Since then, considerable organisation has gone into marshalling the crowds and ensuring that the queues are orderly. An estimated 200,000 people paid their respects to the Queen Mother in 2002.


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