Nelson's State Funeral
The body of Admiral Nelson , slain at Trafalgar, had been transported back to Britain in a barrel filled with brandy and raw alcohol to preserve it on the long voyage. After several days lying in state at Greenwich Hospital, where an estimated 30,000 came to see the fallen hero, on January 8 the coffin was taken along the Thames to Whitehall Stairs and thence to the Admiralty where it remained overnight. The journey along the Thames was in keeping with the grandeur of the funeral the following day, Nelson’s coffin borne on a barge originally made for Charles II , with ceremonial barges belonging to the various City Livery Companies attending it.
The funeral was to be a grand state occasion, though this decision was not without controversy for several reasons: given he was not of royal blood, and not of ducal rank, some felt it inappropriate – King George indeed forbade the Prince of Wales from attending in his official capacity, though he did so as a private citizen. And because of the formality of the state funeral at first no sailors from Victory were to have attended, an injustice corrected after much press comment.
From the Admiralty to St Paul’s Cathedral a huge procession made its slow way on January 9, the funeral carriage not even having left the Admiralty when those at the front had reached the Cathedral. Stands had been built and tickets sold for certain vantage points along the route to enable spectators to see the sad cortege, the coffin itself fittingly made in the shape of a ship.
St Paul’s was decorated with French and Spanish flags taken at Trafalgar ; and for the first time the interior of the building was illuminated with a giant chandelier containing 130 lights. Banked seating had been erected in the Cathedral to accommodate the large numbers present, who had been given special tickets for the event.
The service lasted well over three hours, including much sombre music by the likes of Purcell and Handel. Nelson’s officers from Victory accompanied his coffin. Sailors carrying the coffin were supposed to fold and leave a flag from Victory, but they tore it into pieces for mementos, stuffing them into pockets above their hearts. And finally the coffin was lowered into an ornate marble tomb beneath the dome of St Paul’s with great ceremony, the herald at the last declaiming: “The hero, who in the moment of victory fell covered with immortal glory.”
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From Tony Peacock on 10th January 2012
Was the coffin/sarcophagus originally meant for Henry VIII? I seem to recall it was the only bit of Henry's unfinished tomb after Oliver Cromwell sold off the other bits?
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