Thursday 28 February 2013

The Death of King George III, January 1820

His Majesty King George III in his prime,
as painted by Allan Ramsay, 1762.
[source : Wikipedia Commons]

This blog, which forms part of a new 'trilogy' of Royal deaths, specifically looks at the death of King George III in 1820 and draws heavily on reported events as described in 'The Globe' newspaper in my possession, being featured below.

The Globe Newspaper, dated London,
15th Feb 1820, with black borders
in mourning for the recent death of
King George III of Great Britain & Ireland.
[From my personal collection]

The reign of King George III of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 until his death in 1820 was dominated by the Seven Years War against France, the American War of Independence, the Napoleonic War with France, and latterly the King's "madness" where his son was appointed Regent in 1811. Overall, George appears to have been well liked and respected, with his reign lasting a remarkable 60 years. 

His Majesty King George III
as painted by Sir William Beechey, 1799-1800
[Source : Wikipedia Commons] 

By late 1810, and at the height of his popularity, His Majesty King George III was already blind with cataracts and suffering badly from rheumatism. The death of his youngest and favourite daughter Princess Amelia appears to have triggered a serious depressive illness, "the scenes of distress and crying every day ... were melancholy beyond description." In 1811 the King was eventually persuaded by his Ministers and Physicians that temporarily handing over the reigns of power to his son, The Prince of Wales was, in light of his present ill-health, for the best. As little change as possible was to take place so that the King could resume his normal duties upon his recovery. This included retaining all his Government Ministers - much to the annoyance of the Prince of Wales. The King "signified his assent to [the Regency Bill] with a melancholy pleasantry". His periods of lucid thought thereafter were but fleeting until his dementia became permanent. He also slowly became totally deaf. It is now believed that the King suffered from porphyria. For the remainder of his life he lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle. The elderly Queen's attitude to this "irksome" Regency is reported to have been "highly commendable".

An engraving of a much altered King George III in his latter years,
as drawn by Henry Meyer.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

George was unaware that he had been declared King of Hanover in 1814 or that his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz had died in 1818. Over Christmas 1819, George spoke nonsense for 58 hours, and for the last few weeks of his life was unable to walk. The "infirmities of old age" appear to have overtaken him, from early 1820 he could take no food, and "it was found almost impossible to infuse warmth into his body... [and] he grew feebler and weaker, his frame more and more emaciated."

King George III died, "apparently exempt from even the slightest suffering" and "without a struggle" at Windsor Castle at 8.38pm on the evening of the 29th January 1820. His son, Frederick Duke of York, was with him at the end, having been hurriedly summoned from London as the King's life drew to a close. The tolling of the great bell of St Paul's Cathedral at 12 o'clock on the night of the 29th announced to the inhabitants of London that their King of 60 long years had breathed his last. Upon hearing of his Father's death, the Prince Regent gave vent to a "burst of grief" which was very affecting to those who witnessed it. The proclamation of his accession was delayed for a day, the 30th January being the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I.

Detail of those who personally accompanied the Royal
casket during the funeral procession to St George's
Chapel at Windsor Castle.
As printed in "The Globe" newspaper.
[From my personal collection]

The ceremony of Lying in State took place in the Royal apartments at Windsor Castle on the morning of the 15th February, with his funeral and interment then taking place at St George's Chapel on the evening of Wednesday the 16th February. A large and elaborate procession of mourners accompanied the casket on this last journey, the strict order of precedence dictating who followed whom in the procession. The casket was "Covered with a fine Holland Sheet and a Purple Velvet Pall, adorned with Ten Escocheons  [heraldic shields] of the Imperial Arms, carried by Ten Yeomen of the Guard, under a Canopy of Purple Velvet". The procession was flanked by Grenadiers of the Foot Guards, "every fourth man bearing a flambeau" [a lighted torch] to light the way.

"As the long array consisting of the mourners in their sable costumes, of heralds in their gaudy tabards, and Princes of the Blood in their sad-coloured mantles - moved, by torchlight, from the principal porch of Windsor Castle to St. George's Chapel, it presented a grand and imposing spectacle. The flourish of trumpets, and the sound of the muffled drums, mingling with the peal of the minute-guns and the tolling of the death-bell, added to the solemnity of the scene."    

One notable absence was his son - the new King George IV, definitely not through any snub to his late Father but due to his recovering from an "inflammation of the lungs". It had earlier been feared that there might be a simultaneous burial of no less than two kings.

The Quire of St George's Chapel,
as depicted by Charles Wild.
Published in WH Pyne's "Royal Residences" in 1818.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Upon arrival at St. George's Chapel within Windsor Castle, the "Royal Body" was received by the Dean and Prebendaries in their canonicals, attended by the choir in their surplices, all falling in immediately before the Garter Principal King of Arms bearing the Crown of Hanover. Moving into the Choir [Quire] within the Chapel, the Royal Body was "placed on a platform, and the crowns and cushions laid thereon." The choir, accompanied by the organ, sang the solemn anthem, "I know that my Redeemer liveth". The service was then conducted by the Dean of Windsor, assisted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Duke of York acting as Chief Mourner.

The Royal Vault as depicted in 1820 and containing the casket of
H.M. George III and other family members including his
wife, Queen Charlotte.
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Upon the completion of the funeral service, the Lord Chamberlain of His Majesty's Household took his place at the foot of the casket, with the supporters of the pall and of the canopy arranging themselves on each side of the Royal body. The casket was then lowered into the Royal Vault which lies under the Chapel, some earth then being scattered upon the casket. Thereupon Sir Isaac Heard, [Garter Principal King of Arms], "near the grave", pronounced "the styles [titles] of his late Most Sacred Majesty, of blessed memory" as now being extinct. Upon the great organ again sounding the solemn ceremony was at an end and all dispersed, almost in the same order as they had entered.      

Unlike the irreverent frenzy of hoards of loudly spoken tourists and flashing digital cameras in some European Royal burial sanctuaries, the Royal Burial Vault at St. Georges rightly remains a sanctuary of peace and quiet befitting the revered memory of those Royal personages interred within. It may in fact only be opened with the express permission of the reigning British Monarch. We may however still pay our respects to those interred below us within the beautiful and historic confines of St George's Chapel.

Bibliography :

- "The Globe" newspaper, London, 15 Feb 1820 (from my own collection)
- "George IV" by Christopher Hibbert
- "Memoirs of the Life and Reign of King George the Third", by J.H. Jesse, 1867. 
- Various Internet Resources

Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied provided a link or credit is given back to this page.

Friday 22 February 2013

A Pair of Chinese Chaozhou Gilt Wood Carved Panels

Panel One

Ever the 'eclectic collector', I have now owned these two antique 15½ x 9 inch Chinese decoratively carved gilt-wood panels for just over ten years, having been purchased at an antiques fair. As 'impulse' buys go I am still well satisfied. Their original provenance is unknown but a vast quantity of Chinese heritage has been scattered to the four winds after the upheavals which have racked China over the last 100 years. The losses to traditional Chinese heritage and arts during the great 'Cultural Revolution' of 1966-1976 alone were quite substantial. But thankfully the tide has well and truly turned.  

Panel One Detail

Apparently known as Chaozhou woodcarving 潮州木雕 from South China's Guangdong Province, they would originally have been made to form part of a larger object of furniture or decorative element in the home of a wealthy person, both panels having a 'lip' at top and bottom to slot into a grooved holder. That there is some wear of the gilt down to the underlying red lacquer would strongly indicate that they were originally used for the purpose intended rather than being specifically made as stand-alone decorative items for the foreign market. The age of these items could easily range from the late 19th century up to the Chinese Revolution of 1911. I am possibly lucky that the items have not been re-gilded which I believe helps to preserve their historical authenticity and truly gives them that authentic 'aura' of age. Such gentle wear is now part of their history. Having observed and spoken with professional conservators at work I am a firm believer that 'over restoration' is not always a good thing and should be approached with caution.

Panel Two

So, what can we make out in these surprisingly detailed panels? The over-riding theme appears to be of Manchu Warriors wearing elaborate dress and headgear both on horseback and on foot wielding hand weapons. A traditional ornamental gateway appears at the top of the panels together with a Chinese 'Moon Gate', being a well known traditional architectural element in Chinese gardens and generally used to frame a delightful view.

Panel Two Detail - Urging on the

The two panels, apart from some delicate filigree work and the spears which are mostly still extant, would appear to have been created as a whole rather than being individually carved. Great skill and patience would have been required of the unknown Chinese artisan. Created to 'delight the eye', they still fulfil this purpose today and are now used as matching decorative wall panels.

Panel Two Detail - Horseman

I am, however, not an expert on the interpretation of the 'story' carved into these Chinese panels but would happily welcome any educated responses so that I can learn more about these beautiful items.

Panel One Detail - Moongate

- Images are from my own collection and may be freely copied provided a link is given back to this page.

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