Lyings-in-state

A photograph of the lying-in-state of the Queen Mother in 2002

Lying-in-state describes the formal occasion in which a coffin is placed on view to allow the public to pay their respects to the deceased before the funeral ceremony.

Lying-in-state in the UK is given to the Sovereign, as Head of State, current or past consorts and rarely major public figures.

Westminster Hall is now the place where the lying-in-state of monarchs and consorts traditionally takes place. The most recent is that of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who died on 30 March 2002. Here are some of the more notable occasions of lying-in-state:

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother

She lay in state for three days in Westminster Hall in 2002 before her funeral on 9 April 2002 at Westminster Abbey. An estimated 200,000 people paid their respects.

George V

About 250,000 paid their respects to George V in 1936. At one time, the queue, in places fifteen abreast, extended to Vauxhall Bridge, across the river and back along the other side of the Thames as far as Westminster Bridge.

Churchill

One of the few non-royals to receive the honour in the 20th century was Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. An estimated one million people paid their respects to Churchill.

Gladstone

The first-lying in state conducted in the Hall was that of William Gladstone in 1898. The reason for using Westminster Hall rather than a religious building was presumably Gladstone's long association with the Palace of Westminster.

Other monarchs or consorts who lay in state in the Hall during the 20th century included Queen Mary in 1953, King George VI in 1952 and Edward VII in 1910.

The Ceremony

During the lying-in-state period, the coffin rests on a raised platform in the middle of Westminster Hall. Each corner of the platform is guarded around the clock by units from the Sovereign's Bodyguard, Foot Guards or the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.

Members of the public are free to file past the platform and pay their respects.

All of these lyings-in-state are commemorated by tablets on the floor of the Hall. Some other events are also commemorated by plaques; these include the various state trials which took place in the Hall in the past.

Page last updated September 2015.

Related information

H M Airship R101 was one of a pair of experimental rigid airships commissioned by the British government in the 1920s as a method of long-distance air travel.

After a series of test flights, the R101 caught fire in Northern France, killing 48 of the 54 people on board. The victims lay in state at Westminster Hall on 10th October 1930.

Related information

Learn about the lying-in-state ceremony

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother)
Queen Mary
George VI
George V
Edward VII
Winston Churchill
William Gladstone

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.