TOMORROW will see the state funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth, and a historic occasion it will be, too, only the third state funeral for a monarch in the history of the current United Kingdom.

Ha, I hear you say, surely there have been dozens of state funerals for past British monarchs, and indeed that is the case, but note that I wrote current UK and it is simply a fact that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is only 100 years old – following Ireland’s partition in 1922 – and did not formally adopt that name until 1927.

The state funerals of King George V (1936) and his son King George VI (1952) will be followed tomorrow by that of Queen Elizabeth, and I have been asked by a reader to explain the history of state funerals and why there is a difference between the various types of royal funeral – private, ceremonial and state.

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The answer to that question is simple – private funerals are exactly that, organised by the royal household, usually in accordance with the wishes of the deceased; ceremonial funerals like that of Princess Diana in 1997 and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in 2002 are also organised by the royal household, led by the Lord Chamberlain, and contain much of the format of state funerals but only the Queen and not the UK parliament needs to approve them; in a state funeral the whole matter is organised by state officers – led by the Earl Marshall, the Duke of Norfolk – and paid for by the state while at the funeral itself the main difference is the certain large-scale involvement of the armed forces whose oath of loyalty is to the monarch.

They will be much in evidence tomorrow as I shall explain.

In England, and in Scotland prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the funerals of monarchs were by definition state funerals as kings and queens regnant of the two sovereign countries were the embodiment of the state.

The last king before her late Majesty to die in Scotland was James V who was buried at Holyrood Abbey. His daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed in England in 1587 – she now lies buried in Westminster Abbey as does her son King James VI and I.

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State funerals are usually only accorded to the monarch as head of state, but there have been exceptions. In the lifetime of the current UK, state funerals were accorded to three non-royals, Earl Haig, Lord Edward Carson, and Sir Winston Churchill.

It is the latter’s funeral in 1965 which those of us alive at the time will recall as an extraordinary occasion, full of pomp and circumstance yet with one gesture that is remembered above all, when London dockers dipped their cranes in tribute to Churchill’s coffin passing on a boat on the River Thames.

It was the first state funeral of the modern television age, with more than 350 million people watching it on their screens, while it was the largest-ever gathering of dignitaries from around the world with more than 100 heads of state and government in attendance – that figure may not even be beaten tomorrow.

Usually known as Sir Edward Carson and the personification of the Protestant Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland, the Dublin-born former Attorney General of England and Wales and former First Lord of the Admiralty became the only person to be buried in St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast after he died on October 22, 1935.

His state funeral included the transport of his coffin from his home in the Isle of Thanet to Belfast Lough on board the Royal Navy vessel HMS Broke.

Earl Haig’s state funeral in 1928 was largely without controversy as he was still seen by many then as the army commander whose final “100 days” offensive in 1918 had helped bring about the German armistice. It was only subsequent revision by historians and military experts which changed his reputation.

On a day of Government-declared national mourning, his funeral service and procession in London was followed by a train journey to Edinburgh where he lay in state for three days at St Giles Cathedral before being buried at Dryburgh Abbey under a plain headstone as used for British casualties on the Western Front.

Contrary to popular belief, non-royal state funerals are not reserved for politicians. First World War heroine Nurse Edith Cavell was given a state funeral four years after she was executed by a German firing squad in 1915.

After her body was exhumed and repatriated, on May 19, 1919, she received a state funeral at Westminster Abbey before being reburied at Norwich Cathedral.

In the 19th century, military heroes were singled out for the tribute of a state funeral, Admiral Lord Nelson’s taking place in 1806, and that of Field Marshal Robert Napier, the hero of Magdala and the former Governor General of India, taking place in 1890. The Duke of Wellington received a state funeral after his death in 1852 but he had also been Prime Minister as well as the conqueror of Napoleon at Waterloo.

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Most of the format of tomorrow’s state funeral was put in place by Queen Victoria herself. She decreed that her body would lie in state at Westminster Hall from where her coffin would be conveyed to Windsor for the private service at St George’s Chapel. The horses towing the gun carriage became unruly, and a local squad of naval ratings stepped in to pull it, a tradition that continues to this day.

The state funeral tomorrow will vary only by the main service being held in Westminster Abbey where up to 2000 people led by the royal family, and including European royalty and Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron, will attend.

As the events in Scotland and so far in London have indicated, it will undoubtedly be a huge event tomorrow, a real piece of history.