The tradition of lying in state – whereby the monarch’s coffin is placed on view to allow the public to pay their respects before the funeral – at Westminster Hall isn’t actually a very old one.
The first monarch to do so was King Edward VII in 1910. The idea had come from the previous lying-in-state of former Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone who had lain in state following his death in 1898.
Ever since then, every monarch, with the exception of King Edward VIII, who had abdicated, has done so along with other notable figures including Queen Mary, wife of King George V, in 1953, former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for a three day period in 2002 when some 200,000 people paid their respects.
During the lying-in-state period (which members of the public may pay their respects), the coffin is placed on a central raised platform, known as a catafalque, and 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. The coffin is draped with the Royal Standard and placed on top is the Orb and Sceptre.
Westminster Hall, the oldest surviving building in the Palace of Westminster and the only part which survives almost in original form, was constructed between 1097 and 1099 on the order of King William (Rufus) II.
Measuring 240 by 67 feet and covering some 17,000 square feet, at the time it was the largest hall in England and possibly the largest in Europe (although once anecdote has the King, when an attendant remarked on its size, commenting that it was a mere bedchamber compared to what he’d had in mind).
Since then, it has been used for a range of purposes including coronation banquets – the earliest recorded is that of Prince Henry, the Young King, son of King Henry II and King Henry’s other son, King Richard the Lionheart, other feasts and banquets – including in 1269 to mark the placing of Edward the Confessor’s remains in the new shrine in Westminster Abbey, and for political events and gatherings such as in 1653 when Oliver Cromwell took the oath as Lord Protector.
It has also been the location of law courts (the trial of William Wallace was held here in 1305 and that of King Charles I in 1649) and even shops.