“The Duke is Dead”
The newspapers took up the mournful story of the death of the Duke of Wellington at Walmer Castle on 14th September 1852. Doctors had been called, but to no avail. At just after 3 p.m. that day, the great man breathed his last.
At the time of Wellington’s death, his eldest son, the Marquis of Douro, was in Germany, and it was not known if the Duke had, prior to his death, made any specific instructions regarding his funeral arrangements. Queen Victoria wanted Wellington to have every honour for the occasion, and on 20th September, the Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby, wrote from Balmoral to the Home Secretary, the Right Honourable Sir Spencer Horatio Walpole, conveying all that was known on the subject of the funeral at that time. The letter included the following:
Her Majesty considered it due to the feelings of his Grace’s surviving relations that no step should be taken, even in his honour, without their previous concurrence. In obedience to her Majesty’s command, I wrote to Lord Charles Wellesley, to ascertain whether the late Duke had left any directions. Having this day received letters from the present Duke and his brother to the effect that the late Duke of Wellington had left no directions on the subject, and placing themselves wholly in her Majesty’s hands, I hasten to relieve the public anxiety, by signifying to you the commands I have received from her Majesty.
Queen Victoria wished to include the two Houses of Parliament in the arrangements for the funeral, and there was therefore a further delay in the final arrangements until both Houses had met. During this time, and prior to the Queen having received formal approval from them, it was agreed that the Duke’s body would remain under guard at Walmer Castle.
It was also Queen Victoria’s wish that the Duke would, at public expense, be interred at St. Paul’s Cathedral, to rest by the side of that other national hero, Nelson. After all formal arrangements were made, work on the organisation and preparation for the funeral began in earnest.
The Funeral Car
The design for the funeral car was initially offered to Messrs. Ranting of St. James, who were also at that time the undertakers to the Royal Household. However, the designs submitted were not found suitable, probably due to the lack of instruction given as to what was really required.
The Lord Chamberlain suggested that the newly formed Government Department of Practical Art (set up by Prince Albert and Henry Cole-the precursor of the Victoria and Albert Museum), based at that time at Marlborough House, be approached with a view to taking over responsibility for the design. The drawings of Henry Cole and Richard Redgrave, when submitted, were finally approved by Prince Albert, and construction began immediately.
The funeral car was not to be a temporary structure, but would be built of the strongest and most permanent materials, with a view to its preservation as a national heirloom. “The car is to preserve the military character suitable for the occasion, whilst retaining the effect of simplicity and grandeur. No tinsel or gimcrack (Ed. showy but cheap or badly made) work is to be used.”
Six wheels were to support the carriage, which was to be cast in solid bronze. The frame was to be 27 feet long, 11 feet in width and 17 feet in height. Above the framework would be a 7 foot wide pediment, the sides to be a mass of gilt carving, with circular panels within which the names of the Duke’s principal victories would be emblazoned. In the centre and at each end of the pediment would be trophies of arms and flags. These would be real arms and war banners, selected by Mr. Stacy of the Tower of London Armoury. The side trophies were to be surmounted by the ducal coronet.
Onto the pediment a bier(Ed. a movable frame on which a coffin or a corpse is placed before burial or cremation or on which they are carried to the grave) was to be erected, 6 feet high and 4 feet wide, covered in black velvet, and powdered with silver ornaments, being the Duke’s crest and motto, alternating with two Field Marshal’s batons, crossed and intertwined with laurels. The fringe of the pall was to be to be silver, 6 inches deep, and above the fringe was to be a scroll inscription, “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord”.
Upon the bier would rest the coffin itself, covered with crimson velvet, with the hat and sword of the Duke placed on the lid. The inner pine coffin was made by the Duke’s carpenter at Walmer. This was placed in a lead coffin, which in turn was placed in a coffin of hand finished English Oak. The final outer coffin was of Spanish Mahogany, covered with velvet and 6 feet 9 inches long. It was panelled and decorated with gilt nails. Engraved ducal coronets were on each side plate. The sides and ends of this coffin had large ring handles fitted, and on the lid were engraved the Duke’s coat of arms, and a central inscription plate which read:
The most High, Mighty and Most Noble Prince
Arthur, Duke and Marquis of Wellington, Marquis
of Douro, Earl of Wellington, Viscount
Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, and
Baron Douro of Wellesley, Knight of the Most
Noble Order of the Garter, Knight Grand Cross of
the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, one of her
Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, and
Field Marshal and Commander-in Chief of her
Majesty’s Forces. Born 1st May 1769. Died 14th September 1852.
From the framework at each corner of the car, it was decided that four massive halberds would stand, forming a support for a canopy of fine Indian fabric, worked with silver and silk. The halberds were able to be mechanically lowered to enable the enormous car to safely pass under Temple Bar, which was barely 17 feet 6 inches high.
To enable transfer of the coffin at St. Paul’s Cathedral, further mechanics were involved so that the bier could be turned and removed. However, this was not successful, resulting in an hour delay when the procession eventually reached the cathedral.
The car itself was hauled by twelve black horses, draped in black from their eyes downwards, funeral feathers on their heads, and under the control of sergeants from the Royal Artillery.
Bearing in mind the complexity of building such a vehicle, it is quite amazing that construction took only three weeks to complete. This, despite many drawbacks. Mr. Cole stated after the funeral:
“Helmets had to be fitted in particular spaces. One was modelled, and was sent to Birmingham to be repeated six times in bronze. Would you believe it? The manufacturer had the irreverent audacity to
put aside the model altogether and substitute a helmet different in shape, and so large it could not be used. We sent another manufacturer a lion’s head of a particular model; he returned it a sort of pug’s head-too large.”
The funeral car was by no means universally approved: some thought it was an English (or German) attempt to out-do the French, who had re-buried Napoleon I in a similar manner some 12 years previously.
The Earl of Shaftsbury wrote, “What a monstrous misuse of splendour!”
Charles Greville wrote, ” … all well done, except the car which was tawdry, cumbrous and vulgar. It was contrived by a German artist attached to the School of Design, and under Prince Albert’s direction-no proof of his taste … “.
On the other hand, the Illustrated London News reported that, “Upon the summit of this magnificent car, which seemed more like a moving temple, the coffin of the Duke’s remains were placed … “.
The Duke’s funeral car still survives, and is now kept at Stratfield Saye House.
The Lying in State
The Duke’s body originally lay in Walmer Castle. The laying out arrangements were made by Messrs. Dowbiggin and Holland, funeral directors, and were of simple taste. The coffin lay on a low stand, draped in crimson velvet, the ducal coronet resting on the lid. Surrounding the coffin was a small railing, around which candelabra and plumes of feathers were arranged. The walls and roof of the room were hung with black cloth.
On the 9th and 10th of November, public admission was permitted. Visitors passed the solemn guard of honour provided by the Rifle Brigade, each man with arms reversed and head bowed. Reports at the time stated that visitors could be seen queuing as far as the eye could see along beach at Deal.
At four o’clock in the afternoon of 10th November, the castle was closed to the public, and preparations were made to transfer the Duke’s body to London. The hearse arrived and Mr. Holland the undertaker supervised the movement of the coffin.
Just after 7 o’clock, the hearse, accompanied by three mourning coaches, left for Deal railway station, with an escort of 150 men of the Rifle Brigade. In these coaches were the Duke’s eldest son, Lord Arthur Hay, Captain Watts, the Governor of Walmer Castle, Mr. March, representing the Lord Chamberlain’s Office; the Duke’s brother, Mr. Collins, and the Duke’s valet, Mr. Kendal.
As the hearse left the castle, and as the procession passed Deal and Sandown, minute guns were fired; the two mile journey taking just over one and a half hours. At Deal station several thousand people had come to see the Duke’s final departure.
The train arrived at the Bricklayers Arms railway station just before 12:30 am on the eleventh of November. At least two hours before the train left Deal, a crowd had already gathered at the station to await the arrival of the Duke.
A troop of the First Life Guards arrived at the railway station well before the arrival of the train, and upon the hearse being dismantled from the train and the horses harnessed, they accompanied the Duke to the Chelsea Hospital, where he was to lie in state.
A large crowd now lined the route, despite the persistent rain that fell. At Chelsea the body was received by the comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, Mr. Norman MacDonald, and taken to the state-room. Grenadier guardsmen mounted a guard of honour for the remainder of that night.
In the state-room, the Duke lay on a raised dais. A bier had been formed of black velvet, the coffin being covered with richly gilded crimson velvet. On the end of the bier were displayed each of the Duke’s insignia and awards. A silver balustrade, set with heraldic devices, surrounded the bier. Ten pedestals were set onto the heraldic devices, and on eight lay the Duke’s Marshal’s batons, each on a black cushion. The other two pedestals bore the Duke’s standard and guidon.
A magnificent canopy hung over the dais, crowned centrally by a large plume of feathers. The floor area was covered in gold carpet. Walls were hung in black drapes, with escutcheons of the Wellington family set at intervals in the drapes. Behind the bier was a large escutcheon of Queen Victoria. A trophy of thirty banners was set high on the wall overlooking the bier, these being surmounted by the Royal Standard.
Fifty-four candelabra holding wax candles seven feet long lit the room, and a railing was set up to divide the lying-in-state area from the visitors. Grenadier Guards were stationed around the walls at regular intervals, and Yeomen of the Guard stood around the coffin dais. Nine official mourners were seated in the area, some military, some from the Lord Chamberlain’s department.
Queen Victoria paid her respects by visiting Chelsea Hospital on 11th November, and the lying-in-state continued until the 17th, during which time two hundred thousand people visited. Such were the numbers outside Chelsea Hospital, and such was the impatience of the crowds, that on more than one occasion barriers were broken down and people injured. On one day two women were taken from the crowd and found to be suffocated by the weight of numbers.
On Wednesday, 17th November, the day before the funeral, it was estimated by the police that 55,800 people visited Chelsea Hospital. At 5 o’clock the lying-in-state closed, and soon after 9 o’clock the hearse and mourning coaches arrived to transfer the Duke’s body to Horse Guards. A squadron of the First Life Guards accompanied.
Temple Bar, now relocated by St Paul’s cathedral, was the historic arch under which the funeral position would have to pass. For the Duke’s funeral it was transformed into a gigantic funeral arch, set with black and gold cloth, with the arms of the Duke set into the structure. Funeral urns were set on top of the structure, and the Duke’s awards and insignia, modelled in papier-mache, gilt in silver, hung from laurel wreaths. Arms and trophies adorned the upper parts of Temple Bar, the whole decoration being carried out by Messrs. Herring and son, upholsterers of Fleet Street.
The Funeral Procession
At half past six on the morning of 18th November, the gates to St. James’s Park facing Horse Guards, were opened, and the army units and squadrons began to arrive. Major-General His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, at his own request, was given command of the troops on this day.
The infantry alone filled the parade ground in front of Horse Guards. Cavalry and artillery were assembled along the Mall. Nearby, at the Treasury, the six state carriages of the royal family were assembled, attended by footmen in gold and scarlet livery.
The Duke’s funeral car was inside an enormous pavilion, erected at the front of Horse Guards, the Duke’s coffin having been placed in position early in the morning. The pavilion was closed off, and not until eight o’clock were the enormous drapes pulled back to expose the car and coffin. Muffled drums rolled, and minute guns began to fire. The troops, having presented arms, were ordered to reverse arms.
As the troops marched off, the Rifle Brigade led the procession. Every band played the Dead March in Saul. The infantry were followed by nine guns of the Horse Artillery, then the Cavalry led by the 17th Lancers. After these, another eight guns of the Horse Artillery set off, all the artillery being under the command of Colonel Winyates, C.B. The Blues and the Life Guards then followed, and afterwards the Duke of Cambridge.
On and on, the various units left Horse Guards. Chelsea pensioners (who fell in at Charing Cross), marshal-men, soldiers representing every regiment of the army, then the Duke’s standard, the Duke’s servants, the Lieutenant of the Tower of London, deputations from public bodies, chaplains, high sheriffs, alderman, generals, members of parliament-the list is too long to complete.
Following the band of the Grenadier Guards, the funeral car set out on its journey. Behind were the chief mourner and then members of the Duke’s family. One of the Duke’s horses was led by his groom, alone, boots reversed. The Royal Family followed further representatives from each army regiment, and finally, still more troops closed the parade
Ten thousand soldiers took part in the procession, which set off towards Constitution Hill, through the arch at Hyde Park Corner, past Apsley House (i.e., all in the opposite direction to St. Paul’s), along Piccadilly, St. James’s Street to Pall Mall and into Trafalgar Square, along the Strand and under Temple Bar to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Reportedly, one and a half million people watched the procession.
The event was not free from problems. On reaching Pall Mall, just opposite the Duke of York’s statue, the funeral car became stuck in the mud of the gutter to a depth of some several inches, and was only released by the efforts of police, military, and the general public.
There were also the problems with the mechanics of the funeral car already mentioned, and the ensuing delay at St. Paul’s. Concerning the failure of the bier rotation to work: the Department of Practical Art wrote on 5th January 1853 that, ” … the parts of the car were brought together a few hours before the procession started and finally the car was used in an imperfect state.” The letter stated that the department could not be held responsible.
The funeral car arrived at the cathedral at ten minutes past twelve, the journey having taken just over four hours to complete.
The Earl of Shaftsbury described the procession thus, ” .. .it was a show, an eye-tickler, to nine hundred and ninety nine out of every thousand-a mere amusement.”
Charles Dickens agreed, and described it as, ” … such a palpably got up theatrical trick.”
The Illustrated London News reported, “No one can hope worthily to describe the splendour, magnificence, and solemnity of that great state pageant. [London] never before presented a scene so amazing to men of other lands, or even to her own sons.”
That same newspaper, on the same day (27th November) reported that, “on the very day that Wellington descended into that tomb, Napoleon was about to ascend a throne.” (that was Napoleon III, of course!).
by Paul Ridgley ed. for Website