Lying in State

The recent death of the Queen Mother and her subsequent “lying in state” has piqued my curiosity. Where does the term originate? A friend insists it is from several centuries ago when a drinker would pass out from excessive alcohol consumption and the remaining revellers would drink on whilst the unlucky sod was “lying in state”.

according to OED newsletters the first written example found of lying-in-state dates from 1852 but doesn’t give a cite, possibly the real dictionary can.

I suspect the meaning is more to do with “stately” and “state” meaning government.

I very much doubt that the 1852 reference is the earliest in print.

The OED, under ‘state’, gives a citation for ‘to lie in State’ from 1705 and the idea of doing something ‘in state’, that is, ‘with great pomp and solemnity’, dates back at least until Shakespeare.

What is more, I can go one better than the 1705 reference. One of the orders issued by the Lord Chamberlain in 1670 in connection with the state funeral of the 1st Duke of Albemarle refers to ‘the laying in state of his grace the duke of Albemarle at Denmarke House’ (quoted in Anthony Hervey and Richard Mortimer, eds. The Funeral Effigies of Westminster Abbey (Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 1994), p. 74).

dinker, it may well be that someone who passes out drunk is said to be ‘lying in state’, but, if so, that is meant as a jokey comparison to royal funerary customs, not the other way round.