What is a 21-gun salute and why was it held in Edinburgh?

Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II, a 96-gun salute was fired to represent Her Majesty's life.

The most common form of respect is a 21-gun salute, a practice observed by many countries around the world outside of the UK, such as Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Israel, Singapore, and the United States.

The custom originated in 16th century naval tradition, when warships entering a foreign port would fire each of their seven cannons while still out of range.

Since cannons of the time took a long time to reload, the ship was effectively disarmed, signifying the lack of hostile intent.

Nowadays, the salute is used during times of respect or to honour people. Here’s what you need to know about how they’re used.

What is a 21-gun salute?

A 21-gun salute is the most commonly recognised gun salute, used in countries around the world.

It’s performed by the firing of cannons or artillery as a military honour, with 21 rounds specifically usually being reserved for heads of state.

The number of rounds often decreases with the rank of the recipient.

The basic salute is 21 rounds, but this can also be increased depending on the conditions.

Circumstances affecting the length of the salute include the particular occasion and, in the case of military and state funerals, the branch of service, and rank (or office) of the person to whom honours are being rendered.

A salute that takes place in a royal palace or fortress, like the Tower of London, usually receives 20 extra rounds during an official salute.

For instance, on April 10, 2021, a 41-gun salute to mark the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, had the timing changed from one round every 10 seconds to one round every minute, resulting in a 41-minute salute.

Authorised military saluting stations in the UK are:

  • Hyde Park, London

  • The Tower of London

  • Royal Arsenal, Woolwich

  • York Museum Gardens

  • The Army station in Colchester

  • Royal Artillery Barracks, Larkhill

  • Royal Citadel, Plymouth

  • Dover Castle

  • His Majesty's Naval Base, Portsmouth

  • Edinburgh Castle

  • Stirling Castle

  • Cardiff Castle

  • Hillsborough Castle

Why was the 21-gun salute held in Edinburgh?

On Sunday, September 11, a gun salute was held at Edinburgh Castle to mark the proclamation of King Charles III as sovereign, and to welcome him and his Queen Consort.

Lord Lyon King of Arms read out the proclamation, declaring King Charles the new monarch following his mother’s death, before the gun salute.

The Scottish events are part of Operation Unicorn, the codename for the plans should the Queen die in Scotland. Edinburgh will remain the focus of royal events until the Queen’s coffin is flown to London from the city’s airport on Tuesday, September 13.

Other countries of the Commonwealth also proclaimed Charles as the new sovereign on the same day, including Wales, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.