Monday, 8 July 2013

The Funeral of King George IV, 15 July 1830

A marble statue of King George IV originally placed
at the top of the lower flight of stairs on the Grand
Staircase in Windsor Castle. Carved by Sir Francis
Chantrey 1830-36, being a copy of a plaster model
approved by King George IV in 1827.
[Source : The Royal Collection]   

This is the second part of my Blog on the death of King George IV and specifically details the funeral of the late King including detailing medical reports published after his death. These are both described in my copy of the black-bordered 'The Edinburgh Evening Courant' newspaper in my possession, being featured above. The black borders of course signify mourning. The first part in this series, which features the death of King George IV, may be accessed HERE.

"The Edinburgh Evening Courant" Newspaper,
dated Edinburgh, 15th July 1830, with black
borders in mourning for the recent death of
King George IV of Great Britain & Ireland.
His funeral was held this same day.
[From my personal collection]

The Private Viewing :

Upon the Kings death on the 26th June 1830, pages under the superintendence of the physicians prepared "the Royal corpse [then] placed him on a couch covered with a fine linen sheet exposing a part of the Royal bust". The late King was then "submitted to the view of the household", including the out-door servants, their families, and acquaintances, from about five in the morning until after eight, "by which time several hundreds of persons had not only seen, but taken by the hand, the deceased Sovereign". The scene which ensued was described as "very afflicting". Many had served their Royal master for a quarter of a century.

The Duke of Wellington, the then Prime Minister, called to pay his last respects and noticed a locket suspended on a black ribbon around the King's neck. So, "overcome with curiosity, he opened the locket to reveal the image of Mrs Fitzherbert [his first wife but an illegal marriage - for she was Roman Catholic and Royal consent had not been given]. When Mrs Fitzherbert was told of this, she reportedly said not a word, but presently 'some large tears fell from her eyes'". Accounts state that before dying, the King had asked to be buried with this miniature around his neck and his final wishes were apparently carried out. Both had been married in an informal ceremony in 1785.

The Catholic Maria Fitzherbert whom George,
Prince of Wales, 'married' in a secret
ceremony on the 15th December 1785.
A painting by Reynolds, c.1788
[Source : Wikipedia]  

On the following morning, the examination and embalming of the Royal body took place. Embalming, still considered somewhat interventionist, took place due to the funeral being delayed until the 15th July.  For "descriptive" reasons, the details of the actual post-mortem are at the end of this blog.      

Is is reported that the late King's body was placed in a coffin of Spanish mahogany lined with white satin. This was then placed in a leaden coffin upon which was affixed an engraved silver plate bearing the Kings details.

A story I have found repeated more than once in recent years, and which could easily be apocryphal as unfortunately no period source is quoted, states rather graphically that "Following sloppy work by the embalmers, George IV’s body became badly swollen in the coffin. Amidst fears that it would explode through the lining, attendants hurriedly drilled holes in his casket to let out some of the rotten air". 

The Royal body was initially placed in the small drawing room "on a low car, and partially covered with an ample pall of rich velvet which lay in heavy folds around it on the floor; and on either side of it stood one of his late Majesty's most favourite pages...". An intimation was given to some of the residents of Windsor, and the late King's tradesmen, that they and their families might have a private viewing from nine till eleven o'clock, of the state rooms, and also of the coffin, covered with the Pall of State. 

An artists impression of the official 'Lying in State' at Windsor Castle,
with the King's Drawing Room draped in black cloth.
[Source : The Royal Collection]

The Official Lying in State :

Preparations for the official Lying in State were completed on the Tuesday night under the superintendence of Mr Mash. The Royal coffin was moved through to the old King's Drawing Room, and placed under a rich purple canopy of state "while the silver sconces, escutcheons, and other heraldic ornaments were distributed in their respective situations".    

The remains of his late Majesty King George IV then lay in state from Wednesday the 14th July 1830 between 10am and 4pm and again on Thursday the 15th between 10am and 3pm.

Unfortunately, when the iron gate was thrown open, all persons were indiscriminately admitted and the scene "was by no means one of that solemnity befitting the occasion". The official order required "all persons to appear in decent mourning". But it was "only in the immediate presence of the body that the majority of the countenances put on a lugubrious show".

"The state apartment in which the body lay was fitted up with suitable and solemn grandeur - the richness of the purple canopy - the superbness of the coffin and its costly covering - the pall - the splendid masses of bright and flaming hues from the golden drapery of the Royal Standard - the crowns and heralds' uniforms - imparted a death-like and spectral paleness to the heads of the household mourners which had an intensely interesting effect. The mourners stood perfectly motionless, and like statues upon a sepulchre. The atmosphere of the apartment rose at times to a stifling heat. It was the chamber of mortality and woe. The public passed through in one continuous stream, from ten in the morning till four in the afternoon.”

The Funeral Preparations : 

The immense weight of the coffin led to elaborate precautions being taken to ensure safety, "preparations are making for lowering it from the drawing-room, after the lying-in-state, into the vestibule, by means of an inclined plane. This will obviate the necessity of trusting too much to physical strength, and endangering thereby the safety of those employed, which would be the case if it were conveyed down the grand staircase into the porch in the usual manner. The magnificent stone stairs have been carefully cased in wood, as have the Gothic columns, to protect them from injury."

The "iron-work on which the coffin and its supporting machine will rest" was made ready. A blue mazarine canopy was also prepared, being richly ornamented with a gilt crown suspended from this canopy over the coffin. Three new brass chandeliers were hung in front of the Communion Table in St. George's Chapel "to illuminate the bier and to give light to the Dean and Heralds for the performance of their solemn functions, before the coffin is lowered into its resting place".

Those parts of the choir covered in black cloth were the stalls, the seats and the floor. All the stalls of the Knights of the Garter were also covered although the helmets, swords and banners of the Knights were left exposed. The painting by West of the Lord's Supper and the richly carved oak immediately over the Communion Table were "likewise concealed by the sable drapery". The great window above, representing the Resurrection of our Saviour, "would be seen to advantage".

The Nave of St George's Chapel,
as drawn by Charles Wild, 1818
[Source : Wikipedia]

Likewise, the organ gallery and the whole of the nave and the seats in the north aisle were shrouded in black cloth but only extending to the hand railing "so that the stained glass windows at the extremity of the building , the fine stone roof, and the ancient gothic pillars will be fully seen". A double matting was placed under the black cloth covering the floors "[so] there is no reason to fear the recurrence of similar colds to those which were caught at former funerals, by contact with the marble pavement". Such had been the case after the funeral of King George III in 1820 and deaths among some of the elderly attendees had resulted.

The entrance to the Royal Burial Vault lay in front of the Communion Table. The marble "diamond pavement" had to be lifted prior to the funeral service and the Portland stone removed to enable the coffin to be lowered into the subterranean passage leading to the actual vault.

Immediately over the opening to this subterranean passage "was placed [the afore-mentioned] ...superb canopy of dark purple velvet, surmounted with a colossal representation of the Royal crown".

The plate of the Royal Chapel at St. James Palace in London was brought down for the occasion and added to that of St. George's Chapel and, "formed the grandest collection of massive gold plate that could be conceived".

Platforms were "raised from the floor of the Chapel half way of the entire height. Seats are placed on these for the public, and the whole is covered in black cloth."

A medal issued by T. Kettle to commemorative
the reign of the late King George IV
[Source : Coin People]

The Funeral Day :

The funeral day was appointed to be Thursday the 15th July 1830. The Magistrates recommended to the public that all business should be suspended from 2pm. The bells of the churches commenced tolling from 2pm until 4pm and again from 6pm to 8pm in the evening. An artillery party with twelve nine-pounders arrived from Woolwich early on the morning of the funeral and bivouacked under the trees of the Long Walk. At 4am they commenced firing, continuing to fire at five minute intervals throughout the day.

By noon the town of Windsor, which normally accommodated a population of hundreds, was attempting to accommodate upwards of ten to twelve thousand people. The scene was described as resembling "more the characters of a masquerade, than spectators hastening to a funeral; [with] white plumed field-officers and their aide-de-camps, paupers and professional pickpockets, heralds and pursuivants in their gorgeous tabards, gentlemen pensioners in all the pride of gold lace and black crape, and the party-coloured multitude of the middle classes mixed up in admirable confusion."        

The Funeral Procession :    

Upwards of 7,000 tickets had been printed for distribution among those persons who may wish to view the procession from the Castle yard to St. George's Chapel, that being the maximum it was considered the Lower Ward could reasonably hold.

While Queen Adelaide would attend the funeral in St George's Chapel, the new King William IV (and brother of the late King George IV) would alone take part in the funeral procession.

The appointed time for the procession to commence was nine o'clock "but long before that time the crowd grew more indifferent than impatient, and some of them, by their conversation, evinced a levity of feeling which was neither credible to the heads nor their hearts. In fact, the whole demeanour of the people betokened rather an inclination to be joyous and merry than mournful and sad".

At length and before darkness totally descended, flambeaux were distributed amongst the soldiery and then lighted.  At length, the discharge of a rocket and the change in the firing of the guns announced the beginning of the procession. Solemn music could be heard at a distance and the bells of St. George's Chapel began to toll. "In a few minutes the glittering dress of the knights marshals' men and of the military band, as they moved slowly forward, came into view..." The procession, guided by the lighted flambeaux in the evening gloom, "presented a striking but solemn effect".

The funeral cortege began to move from the Castle at about a quarter to nine, and after winding down through the Lower Ward the coffin entered the choir of St George's Chapel at a quarter to ten. The various heralds busied themselves in marshalling the many individuals who formed the procession, and assigned them to their allotted position.

The Funeral Service :

The Quire of St George's Chapel,
as drawn by Charles Wild, 1818
[Source : Wikipedia]

Banners were placed at the corners and sides of the canopy, under which the coffin was placed. His Majesty King William IV, as Chief Mourner, sat in a black covered arm-chair at one end of the coffin with the other Royal Princes sitting in their stalls as Knights of the Garter, including the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, Prince Leopold, and Prince George of Cumberland. The Duke of Wellington sat on the right of his Majesty bearing the Sword of State.

All the remaining Knights of the Garter took their respective stalls on the south side of the choir; the Bishops on the north side; with the Archbishops of Canterbury and Armagh seated in stalls on the south side of the western entrance.

Queen Adelaide sat with the ladies of her suite in a small gallery adjoining the Altar on the north side of the choir, known as the Queen's Closet. All decorations within this room, being of garter blue silk, were also covered with black cloth.

"The burial service was for the most part chanted, and the anthem sung with splendid effect. Nothing could be more sublime or touching that was the whole of the service."

At half past ten in the evening the coffin was lowered by machinery into the subterranean passage leading to the Royal Burial Vault where it was received on a platform as shown in the engraving below. It remained on this platform for some time after the ceremony ended.

The Royal Vault showing the coffin of King George IV
[Source : "Memoirs of George the Fourth" by Robert Huish, 1830]

"At five minutes to eleven o'clock, the whole of what fell to the officiating clergymen and choristers was concluded, and his Majesty [King William IV], who appeared much affected during the whole ceremony, retired through the door leading to the royal closet. Sir George Nayler proclaimed the style and various titles of his late Majesty, and thereupon the distinguished personages present quitted the chapel, without any regard to the order in which they entered, and, therefore, not forming any returning procession. Sir George Nayler concluded his proclamation with the words, 'God save King William IV.,' a rocket was let off, and the band outside played 'God save the King'"

The late King now rested with not only his parents and immediate members of his family, but also with his beloved daughter Princess Charlotte who had died in 1817, along with her stillborn son. Thus it came to pass that, from 1817 to 1830, no less than four Royal generations, being two reigning Monarchs (George III and George IV), the next in line to the throne (Princess Charlotte), and the second in line to the throne (the Stillborn son of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold) had been interred in the Royal Vault. As King William IV had no surviving children of the Royal blood, the next in line to the throne would be the young Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent, the future Queen Victoria.

Court Mourning :

Official Court mourning dictated that primarily black attire must be worn. Official mourning was decreed to last until the 21st August 1830 whereupon King William IV would hold "a drawing room to celebrate entering his 65th year, and it is understood that those who appear on that festive occasion are not to wear mourning."

Mourning 'Walking Dress', 1830
[Source : Ladies' Pocket Magazine]
Mourning 'Evening Dress', c.1830
[Source : Ladies' Pocket Magazine]

The Late Kings Post-Mortem :

An engraving of the Royal Vault as it appeared around 1873
[Source : The Anglophile]

The late King's Physicians carried out a full and thorough examination of his late Majesty immediately after his death. Quite surprisingly, at least for us in this day and age, the full report appeared in the daily newspapers. This edited account is not for the squeamish! 

"Notwithstanding the apparent emaciation of his Majesty's person, a very large quantity of fat was found between the skin and the abdominal muscles.

Abdomen - The omentum, and all those parts in which fat is usually deposited, were excessively loaded with it.... the stomach and intestines were somewhat contracted; they were of a darker colour than natural, in consequence of their containing mucous tinged with blood, and in the stomach was found a clot of pure blood, weighing about six ounces. The liver was pale, and had an unhealthy granulated appearance... The sigmoid flexure of the large intestine (the colon) had formed unnatural adhesions to the bladder, of the size of an orange... In other respects, the bladder was healthy, and the prostrate gland did not appear to be enlarged. The kidneys were also free from disease.

Thorax : Two pints of water were found in the cavity of the right side, and three pints and three-quarters found in the left side of the chest. the left lung was considerably diminished.... 
Upon the surface of the heart and pericardium there was a large quantity of fat, and the muscular substance of the heart was so tender as to be lacerated by the alighted force. It was much larger than natural. It's cavities upon the right side presented no unusual appearance, but those on the left side were much dilated, more especially the auricle. 
The three semilunar valves at the beginning of the great artery (the aorta) were ossified throughout their substance, and the inner coat of that blood vessel presented an irregular surface, and was in many parts ossified.

The original disease of his majesty consisted in the ossification of the valves of the aorta, which must have existed for many years, and which, by impeding the passage of the current of blood flowing from the heart to other parts of the body, occasioned effusion of water into the cavities of the chest and in other situations. This mechanical impediment to the circulation of the blood also sufficiently explains those other changes in the condition of the body which were connected with his Majesty's last illness, as well as all the symptoms under which the King had laboured.     

The immediate cause of his Majesty's dissolution was given as the rupture of a blood vessel in the stomach.

Henry Halford
Matthew John Tierney
Astley Paston Cooper
B.C. Brodie"

An extremely rare late 19th century photo of coffins placed on stone
shelves in the Royal Vault and covered with a Victorian era decorative
grill. While we cannot specifically see the coffin of King George IV
this image gives us a very clear impression of the arrangements
within the vault. From a photograph by Sir Benjamin Stone.
[Source : The Anglophile]   

Bibliography :

- Various Internet resources including Wikipedia
- "George IV" by Christophet Hibbert, 1976
- "Memoirs of George the Fourth", Volume II, by Robert Huish, 1830
- "The Edinburgh Evening Courant", 15th July 1830
- "Regency History"

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