Monday 22 July 2013

A Sentimental Visit to Rosslyn Chapel

A visitor at the south doorway of Rosslyn Chapel.
Note the empty niches which once held "images of idolatry".
A photograph by George Washington Wilson, pre 1888  

My paternal family have a strong connection with the village of Roslin, located just south of Edinburgh in Scotland, being our ancestral "home" until the 19th century. The family home stood in the centre of the village, now being the site of the Roslin Glen Hotel. Many generations of my immediate family "sleep" in the old graveyard in the shadow of the historic Rosslyn Chapel. I myself have made three sentimental 'pilgrimages' to Roslin but the highlight has undoubtedly always been a visit to Rosslyn Chapel.

But to fully appreciate this ancient and fascinating place of worship we need to learn something of its often turbulent history, notably a powerful family line of feudal Barons, changing fortunes which chart the rise of Scottish Protestantism; wanton destruction, neglect, then rehabilitation; a romantic Victorian re-interpretation expressed in poetry and prose; and lastly, enduring mysteries now shrouded in the mists of time. A wonderful BBC documentary on Rosslyn Chapel is available on UTube and can be accessed Here.

Roslin [sic Roflyin] shown below at left of centre on a
map by Timothy Pont, pre 1614. Edinburgh [Edenburgh]
 is shown at top left of centre. Published 1630.
[Source : National Library of Scotland] 

Legend has it that a settlement in the Roslin area had originally been founded by "Asterius" in AD 199 but evidence of Roman occupation also exists. The French born Nobleman William de Sancto Claro [William St. Clair] arrived in Roslin from England after 1066, lured thither by the grants of land which [the Scottish King] Malcolm Canmore was wont to bestow upon those who fled to him from William's [the English William the Conqueror] tyranny.” Roslin would thereafter always primarily be associated with the St Clair family who built the now semi-ruinous Rosslyn Castle around 1070 and then the afore-mentioned Rosslyn Chapel from 1446.  

A useful history compiled in 1700 by a learned member of the St Clair family (and a Roman Catholic Priest), Father Richard Augustine Hay, being finally published in 1835 as “A Geneologie of the Sainte Claires of Rosslyn”, is now the only record of the actual construction and early history of Rosslyn Chapel as the original historic documents and charters have subsequently disappeared [according to the St Clair family they were lost in a fire]. As we shall read, the generous philanthropy of Sir William St Claire is to be applauded in these feudal times.

Rosslyn [Rosslin] Chapel as it appeared prior to the removal
of the "idolatrous" figurines in 1592. From an engraving
published in "Theatrum Scotiae" by John Slezer, 1693 

“[The Founder, Sir William Saint Claire] … his age creeping on him, made him consider how he had spent his time past, and how to spend that which was to come. Therefor, to the end, that he might not seem altogither unthankfull to God for the benefices he received from him, it came in his minde to build a house for God's service, of most curious worke, the which that it might be done with greater glory and splendour he caused artificers to be brought from other regions and forraigne kingdomes and caused dayly to be abundance of all kinde of workemen present, as massons [stone masons], carpenters, smiths, barrowmen, and quarriers... The foundation of this worke he caused to be laid in the year of our Lord 1446,... and because he thought the massons had not a convenient place to lodge in near the place where he builded this curious colledge, for the towne then stood half a mile from the place where it now stands, towitt, at Bilsdone burne therefor he made them build the towne of Rosline, that now is extant, and gave every one of them a house, and lands answerable thereunto;.... He rewarded the massons according to their degree, as to the master masson he gave nearly 40 pounds yearly, and to every one of the rest 10 pounds, and accordingly did he reward the others, as the smiths and the carpenters with others...”.

Interior view of Rosslyn Chapel by David Roberts, 1828

The Chapel had in fact originally been intended to be built in the form of a cross with a lofty tower in the centre but this was never completed due to the death of its founder in 1484. Only the choir and east wall of the transept had been built, while the remaining parts had scarcely been commenced. Sir William's son and successor to the Barony of Rosslyn, Sir Oliver St Clair, roofed the choir with its stone vault but did no more to fulfill his Father's original design. The foundations of the nave were in fact excavated in the nineteenth century and were found to extend ninety-one feet beyond the Chapel's original west door and under the existing Baptistry and Churchyard.

Visitors inspecting the "Prentice Pillar" in Rosslyn
Chapel. The entrance to the crypt is located under
the window. A painting by David Roberts, 1843

The Chapel, as built, is in itself a curious architectural work :  

"That part of the building which has been finished, is in the style of architecture which is called florid Gothic. Elegance and variety are its distinguishing characteristics. While every separate department is executed with almost inimitable beauty, all the parts are different; every window, every pillar, and every arch being distinguished from all the rest by ornamental workmanship of the most profuse and exquisite description….

No sooner does a visitor enter the chapel than he is struck with the immense profusion and the wonderful variety of the ornaments; and above all, with the grandeur and magnificence of the lofty roof, which is composed of a vast Gothic arch, divided into five compartments, each of them remarkable for the beauty and the diversity of its decorations. 

“The floor of the east chapel is elevated one step; and... Here stood four altars, viz. one which is elevated two steps from the floor of the east chapel, and which seems to be improperly called the high altar, having more probably been dedicated to the Virgin Mary; and other three altars on the floor of this chapel, which were dedicated respectively to St. Matthew, St Peter, and St Andrew. The top stones of these four altars have been removed, but the bodies of them remain, in great measure, entire...." 

The same view today as pictured above,
taken looking along the Chancel.

In his “Theatrum Scotiae” of 1693, John Slezer states that the "chief pillar" in Rosslyn Chapel was originally called the “Prince's Pillar” named for its founder Sir William St. Clair, Prince of Orkney.

This same pillar is now known as the celebrated "Prentice Pillar" and appears to take its current name from an 18th century legend involving the Master Mason in charge of the stonework in the Chapel and his young apprentice, being the only son of a widow. According to the legend, the Master Mason was required to carve an elaborate column for the Chapel but desired to travel to Rome to seek further guidance before undertaking such a detailed and challenging work. Upon his return he was enraged to find that his apprentice had successfully completed the column, either from memory or by his own invention. In a fit of jealous rage the Mason took up his heavy setting maul [mallet] and struck the apprentice on the forehead, killing him. The column thus remained unique. The legend concludes that as punishment for his crime, the Master Mason's face was carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar then he paid the ultimate penalty for his crime, death by hanging. Similar legends are however attributed to various European Churches and buildings.

The Entrance to the Crypt in Rosslyn Chapel
with the "Prentice Pillar" at left of centre,
a painting by David Roberts, 1844

Annie Wilson, the eccentric Landlady of the nearby Roslin Inn on College Hill, recited exactly the same tale to countless visitors until her death in the 1820’s. This undoubtedly perpetuated the ‘legend’ to a wider audience, especially as it was told to such learned individuals as Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Sir Walter Scott, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Alexander Nasmyth and Robert Burns. 

Virtually the same view as above and showing the "Prentice Pillar".
A photograph by William Donaldson Clark, circa 1860
[Source : National Galleries of Scotland]

Although a private chapel, the local community, including those who worked for the St Clair family, worshipped here in the years preceding the Reformation, including no doubt, my own family. But at the Protestant Reformation in 1560 the Scottish Parliament formally abolished the temporal authority of the Pope and forbid the celebration of the Catholic Mass.  Thereafter Rosslyn Chapel closed to public worship, its fortunes now in sharp decline.

Detail of the astonishingly beautiful carved
pillars, arches and ceiling beams. Photograph
taken by George Washington Wilson, 1868

In the 1560’s it is recorded that a mob fuelled by John Knox and hatred of Popish idolatry marched on the Chapel intent on its destruction, but was supposedly saved by a local man - possibly a kinsman - by the name of Thomas Cochrane, who diverted the mob to Rosslyn Castle and its cellars of fine wine. This is a curious story in that a Presbyterian mob ostensibly intent on destroying Popish idolatry would be 'lured' away by "the demon drink". Unfortunately, the source of this anecdote, being published by "The Scotsman" newspaper in 2006, is unknown. 

The "Prentice Pillar" as it appeared in a
 photograph by George Washington Wilson,
 taken pre 1885  

The Chapel had been generously endowed by its founder Sir William St Clair and subsequently by later members of the family. But by 1571 the tide was now turning as the Provost and Prebendaries resigned “…withal complaining that, for many years before, their revenues [endowments] had been violently detained from them.” The local populace were obviously no longer of a mind to support those who followed and promoted Catholicism.

The celebrated "Prentice Pillar", from a
tinted postcard sent to my Uncle in 1908.
[From my own collection]

A descendant (another) William St Clair, had one of his sons baptised in Rosslyn Chapel 1589 which was of course no longer being authorized as a place of public worship. William was unperturbed by the outcry which ensued. The records of the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Dalkeith for 1589 reveal that William Knox, Minister of nearby Cockpen Parish, and a brother of the Protestant leader John Knox no less, was censured “for baptizing the Laird of Rosling's bairne in Rosslyn Chapel, which was described as a 'house and monument of idolatrie, and not ane place appointit for teiching the word and ministratioun of ye sacrementis”. William Knox was forced to make a public plea for forgiveness. The Presbytery official had to postpone interviewing St Clair, who had by then been “arrested and charged with threatening the King’s person”.

Ceiling detail of the Lady Chapel of Rosslyn Chapel.
A photograph by George Washington Wilson
Taken pre 1888

In 1590 the Presbytery also forbade Mr George Ramsay, Minister of Lasswade, from burying the wife of Oliver St. Clair in the Chapel. The same St Clair had been repeatedly warned to destroy the altars having been accused of “keeping images and uther monuments of idolatrie” in Rosslyn Chapel. Presbytery forced St Clair's tenants to attend the Parish Kirk at Lasswade, being in the next village. In 1592 St Clair was summoned to appear before the Church of Scotland General Assembly and threatened with excommunication if the altars remained standing after the 17th August 1592. On the 31st August 1592, the same George Ramsay reported that “the altars of Roslene were haille demolishit”. From that time, although the fabric of the building survived, the Chapel ceased to be used as a house of worship and prayer and soon fell into disrepair. The various niches where the "images of idolatry" were situated are still clearly visible to this day.

A carved ceiling beam in Rosslyn Chapel.
This carving dipicts the seven virtues.

During their attack on nearby Rosslyn Castle in 1650, Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth troops under General Monk stabled their horses in the Chapel but quite inexplicably left it otherwise unharmed. Some have speculated that the Chapel held a special significance within the Order of Freemasonry and that Cromwell himself, being 'Master Mason of England', thus requested that the Chapel be spared any damage. No definite proof to support this interpretation has however ever been uncovered.

But on the 11th December 1688, and shortly after the Protestant Hanoverian King William of Orange had landed in England and displaced the Catholic Stuart Sovereign James II at the so called “Glorious Revolution”, a mob from Edinburgh including some of the villagers from Roslin, entered and defaced the Chapel which they regarded as popish and idolatrous. This same mob also did great damage to Rosslyn Castle.

One of the so called "Green Men" of
Rosslyn Chapel, which are said to
represent renewal and fertility 

After 1736, General St Clair caused the windows to be glazed for the first time, previously there had only been shutters on the outside, the iron hinges still being visible after this date. He also had the roof repaired, placed new flagstones on the floor, and built the boundary stone fence round the cemetery. Further repairs were undertaken at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

A modern view of the ceiling carvings
in Rosslyn Chapel

Dorothy Wordsworth visited the Chapel with her brother, the famous poet William Wordsworth, on the 17th September 1803, noting that it “…is kept locked up, and so preserved from the injuries it might otherwise receive from idle boys; but as nothing is done to keep it together, it must in the end fall. The architecture is quite exquisitely beautiful.” Seeing the derelict stone interior and carvings covered in green foliage while a storm crashed outside inspired the poet to write a sonnet entitled Composed at Roslin Chapel During a Storm”, being published in 1831 :

THE wind is now thy organist;--a clank
(We know not whence) ministers for a bell
To mark some change of service. As the swell
Of music reached its height, and even when sank
The notes, in prelude, ROSLIN! to a blank
Of silence, how it thrilled thy sumptuous roof,
Pillars, and arches,--not in vain time-proof,
Though Christian rites be wanting! From what bank
Came those live herbs? by what hand were they sown
Where dew falls not, where rain-drops seem unknown?
Yet in the Temple they a friendly niche
Share with their sculptured fellows, that, green-grown,
Copy their beauty more and more, and preach,
Though mute, of all things blending into one

The Crypt in Rosslyn Chapel

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) further popularised Rosslyn Chapel as a place of pilgrimage when he wrote the “Dirge of Rosabelle”. His poem perpetuates the superstitious belief from the dark ages that on the night before the death of a Baron of Roslin, the Chapel, by supernatural means, would appear to be in flames :

O'er Rosslyn all that dreary night,
A wondrous blaze was seen to gleam;
'Twas broader than the watch-fire's light,
And redder than the bright moon-beam...

Seem'd all on fire that chapel proud,
Where Rosslyn's chiefs uncofim'd lie,
Each Baron, for a sable shroud
Sheathed in his iron panoply.

Seem'd all on fire within, around,
Deep sacristy and altar's pale;
Shone every pillar foliage-bound,
And glimmer'd all the dead men's mail.

Blazed battlement and pinnet high,
Blazed every rose-carved buttress fair
So still they blaze, when fate is nigh
The lordly line of high St. Clair."

The light and airy interior of Rosslyn Chapel as it appears today.
It is interesting to note that candelabra are obviously still used.
These would impart a beautiful atmosphere to a darkened Chapel.

There is also the quite curious but possibly apocryphal tale published in 1837 in “Tales of Roslin” by Mr James Jackson which relates the story of a visit to Rosslyn Chapel and Castle by the Italian Count Poli in June 1834. Poli claimed to be a descendant of the last Provost of Rosslyn Chapel, who had been forced out at the Reformation, later settling in Italy. Count Poli had with him a book describing the Chapel and Castle as it was when abandoned in the 16th century, which he used when showing Jackson and his companions around the two buildings. In the Chapel, Count Poli lamented the absence in the crypt of the 'splendid tomb' of the early St Clairs. Later, Poli led his companions to a place in the Castle vaults where he knew 'treasure' to be hidden, and which they broke into. The treasure was not gold or material wealth, but books and manuscripts, the larger part of which the Count took away. It is believed that this included a copy of the ‘Rota Temporum’, a history of Scotland from 'the beginning of the world until 1535', which is now supposedly in the Vatican Library.

An exterior gargoyle carving, Rosslyn Chapel

Queen Victoria, accompanied by Prince Albert, famously visited the Chapel on the 14th September 1842 during her first ever visit to Scotland. The Queen’s personal journal records the story of the Barons of Rosslyn being buried in their armour but also that “the architecture is most beautiful and rich.” The Queen is reliably said to have been “so impressed with the beauty of the building, that she expressed a desire that so unique a gem should be preserved to the country.”

The Chancel of Rosslyn Chapel, 1878.
The famous "Prentice Pillar" is at right rear.
Photo by George Washington Wilson

In 1861 it was agreed by James Alexander, 3rd Earl of Rosslyn, that Sunday services should begin again under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Episcopal Church [the Scottish version of the English Anglican Church]. Alexander instructed the Edinburgh architect David Bryce to carry out restoration work. The carvings in the Lady Chapel were attended to, stones were re-laid in the crypt and an altar established. After an interval of 300 years Rosslyn Chapel was re-dedicated on Tuesday the 22nd April 1862 by the Bishop of Edinburgh and the Bishop of Brechin who preached from the text, “Our Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth”. (Psalm xxvi, v8).

Exterior view of Roslyn Chapel, looking south-west.
The unfinished west wall is clearly visible.

According to Hay, the actual burial vault of the St Clair family lies under the Chapel :

"Within the chapel is a vault, the burying place of the family of Roslin, the soil which is so dry that bodies have been found entire 80 years after their interment. They were formerly buried in armour, and without a coffin. The late Roslin... was the first that was buried in a coffin, contrary to the sentiments of James VII, who was then in Scotland..."

The actual vault of "...the lordly owners of the Castle, the proud St. Clairs [is] at the foot of the third and fourth pillars, and between them and the north wall,… a large flagstone covering the mouth of a vault, in which ten baron of Rosslyn were buried before 1690”. This flagstone “...supposedly gives a hollow sound when tapped. Built of polished ashlar, the Vaults are in two compartments, separated by a wall down the centre.”

Sir Walter Scott writes poetically of these interred St Clairs in the "Lay of the Last Minstrel" :

There are twenty of Rosslyn's Barons bold
Lie buried within that proud Chapelle.
And each St. Clair was buried there,
With candle, with book, and with knell.”

Oddly, and despite Hay's clear description of 1700, a week long search in 1837 failed to locate the burial vault. A number of post 1980 non-invasive investigations, one being carried out under the aegis of the Mechanical Engineering Department of Edinburgh University, also proved inconclusive. The stairs descending into the vaults were apparently found under a large ashlar slab (noted by Hay) but further progress was barred by a solid stone wall. This is alleged to have been built immediately after the interment of Sir William St Clair, who died fighting for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, and before the arrival of Cromwell's Commonwealth troops sometime thereafter. The location of a 19th century vault is also known. The emphasis in recent years has primarily and simply been on funding the restoration of the fabric of the Chapel and that only non-invasive means be employed on any further investigations.

Curiously, it has long been believed that subterranean tunnels run from under the Chapel, most likely to the Castle. The most conclusive evidence has been provided by US Navy personnel in the 1980's (being then based at "The Holy Loch") using sonar equipment. The sonar "indicated" tunnels running from under the Chapel. In 2010 cutting edge 3D imagery unfortunately proved inconclusive. 

A modern aerial view of Rosslyn Chapel. The roof of the crypt,
which is situated at the lower level, is visible. The entrance beside
the unfinished west wall had only been built in the 19th century. 

Various links to the ancient order of "The Knights Templar" and the meaning of carved imagery within the Chapel have also been conjectured. The Chapel received wide publicity through Dan Brown's 2003 mystery-detective novel, "The Da Vinci Code" and the subsequent feature film, which is of course fictional.
Rosslyn Chapel is certainly a unique and much visited historic place of worship and should be on all tourists "to do" list. But many of its curious architectural features as well as aspects of the Chapel's construction remain shrouded in the mists of time and will remain the subject of conjecture for many years to come. I rather think this all adds to its all pervasive air of mystery.

Bibliography :

- “Caledonia: or, An account, Historical and Topographic, of North Britain from the Most Ancient Times to the Present Times” by George Chalmers, 1810
- "The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland"
- “A Geneologie of the Sainte Claires of Rosslyn”, by Father Richard August Augustin Hay, 1835
- Parish of Roslin Statistical Account June 1843
- “An Account of the Chapel of Rosslyn”, Dr Forbes, Bishop of Caithness, 1774.
- "The Scotsman" Newspaper
- “Annals of Scotland” by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, 1776
- Various Internet resources

Monday 15 July 2013

The Royal Residences of Queen Victoria - The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh,
a chromo-lithograph from 1897
[From my own collection]

During Queen Victoria's long reign she made use a number of royal residences, including Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace in London,  Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. This series takes a look at the interiors of these royal residences during the reign of Queen Victoria. This is the last of this series, being of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1880,
taken by George Washington Wilson
[Source : Edinburgh City Library]

There are unfortunately few period images available of the interiors of the ancient Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, particularly in photographic form. We do know that Queen Victoria commissioned GM Greig to paint a series of watercolours of the redecorated rooms at Holyrood after Prince Albert's death in 1861. Only two of these, being of the Evening Drawing Room and Mary, Queen of Scots bedchamber, appear to be available and are reproduced here. We are therefore primarily left with a number of sometimes grainy engravings however these will at least give an impression of the old Palace in Queen Victoria's day.

A watercolour of Queen Victoria in the
Evening Drawing Room at Holyrood Palace.
From a water colour by GM Greig, post 1861. 

Hay used imitation damask for the walls of the 'Evening Drawing Room' and a special mixture of paint and turpentine for the ceilings. The latter gave a fresco-like appearance and imparted an "aerial lightness" to the scheme. This type of decoration is however incredibly fragile but vanishes like chalk at the touch. None survive at Holyrood and only ghostly examples survive elsewhere. Queen Mary disliked David Hay's rather sombre colour schemes and had the Holyrood ceilings whitewashed.

The Evening Drawing Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Due to the unfit state of the old palace King George IV had been unable to stay here during his one and only visit to Scotland in 1822. A levée did however take place here. After viewing and appreciating the historic rooms of Mary, Queen of Scots, King George IV decreed that these rooms should be protected from any future changes. These historic apartments, located in the north-west tower, were formally opened to the public in 1854.

The Morning Drawing Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert first stayed in the Palace of Holyrood in 1850. Thereafter, apartments which had been taken up by various nobles were slowly repossessed. The Scottish interior designer David Hay undertook much of the the subsequent refurbishment work. Queen Victoria was then able to take up a second floor apartment in 1871.  

Queen Victoria's Private Apartment, 1850
This room is known as "The King's Closet"
[Source : The Illustrated London News, 1850]

It was not until the 1920's that the palace was formally designated as the Monarch's official residence in Scotland, becoming the venue for regular royal ceremonies and events. The Palace of Holyroodhouse remains the property of the Crown.

The Royal Review of Scottish Volunteers with
 Queen Victoria seated in her Carriage, 1881
[Source : "The Graphic" 3 Sept 1881]

The Breakfast parlour, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

The Throne Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinbugh, Vol III]

The former 'Guard Hall' was transformed into a Throne Room for the visit of King George IV in 1822. This room was subsequently redecorated in the 1920's, including it would appear, the addition of a new moulded plaster ceiling.

The Grand Staircase, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

In preparation for the arrival of his bride, the English Margaret Tudor in 1503, King James IV had purchased sets of tapestries including a set of six verdure tapestries for hanging on the stairs, each costing £3. Any remaining tapestries in the Palace that had not been sent to Stirling Castle would have been seized by Commonwealth troops between 1650 and in 1656 when a record exists of four tapestries being transferred to Whitehall. Large tapestries again decorate the above plain walls.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, South-East View, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

A view of the south side of the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
This is believed to be an Edwardian era image but the view
would be virtually unchanged from earlier times.

The Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots

A tinted lithograph of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber,
by SD Swarbreck, 1838
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedroom, 1850
[Source : The Illustrated London News, 1850]

A tinted lithograph of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber,
by RW Billings, 1852
[Source : Wikipedia Commons]

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visiting
Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber, 1850.
After George M. Greig, 1862
[Source : The Royal Collection]

This watercolour shows Queen Victoria and Prince Albert viewing the apartment in 1850. This is one of the series of watercolours commissioned by Queen Victoria after Prince Albert's death as a reminder of the happy times spent with him in Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber at
Holyrood Palace, as viewed in 1885
[Source : ScotlandsPlaces]

Another pre 1900 view of Mary, Queen of Scots Bedchamber
[Source :]

Mary, Queen of Scots Bedroom, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh, Vol III]

Subsequent restoration work has fortunately - or unfortunately - removed the rather neglected Victorian era aura of age and general decay which pervaded this room. Restoration commenced as early as the reign of King Edward VII when tatty furniture coverings were restored then later the bed coverings. Relatively recent conservation and restoration has included the removal of historically inaccurate furniture which had been more of a misguided re-interpretation of what might have been in this room during Queen Mary's reign. The bed is however historically authentic, dating from at least 1684. Based on modern research, the room now presents a fresher appearance and portrays a more accurate representation of how it may have appeared during the Queen's occupation. Unfortunately this room no longer gives the curious impression of having being closed up after Queen Mary departed in 1567 and re-opened to curious eyes 283 years later.

Mary, Queen of Scots Supper Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinbugh, Vol III]

Lord Darnley's Room, 1900
[Source : Old and New Edinburgh Vol III]

The Palace of Holyroodhouse
by SD Swarbreck, 1838
[Source : Wikipedia Commons] 

Bibliography :

- "Life of Queen Victoria", T Nelson & Sons, London, 1897 (from my personal collection).
- Various written and Internet sources.
- Images are only from my own personal collection only where specifically indicated. These may be freely copied providing a link is given back to this page. All other images appear to be in the public domain.

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"