The Funeral of King George III

King George III died on 29 January 1820 but it was to be a little over two weeks before his funeral took place on February 16, 1820, thus allowing time for everything to be put in place for such a grand event.  The funeral arrangements were made with France and Beckwith, who had also organised the funeral of Queen Charlotte, just less than two years earlier.

The Funeral of Queen Charlotte 1818. Royal Collection Trust
The Funeral of Queen Charlotte 1818. Royal Collection Trust

The newspapers reporting that the event was even bigger than the one which took place to celebrate his Golden Jubilee in 1809 and for the funeral for his late wife, Queen Charlotte in 1818.

George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815
George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

On all former occasions, lodging and horses were obtained on the day immediately preceding the occasion, but this time it was almost impossible to secure lodgings anywhere as everywhere was immediately booked as soon as the date was announced, with many people having to make do with a carpet to sleep on, rather than a bed.

At nine o’clock in the morning, several private friends of his late Majesty’s Household were admitted to see the body lying in state, shortly after which His Royal Highness the Duke of York, attended by Colonel Stephenson, inspected the preparations for the royal interment.

Windsor Castle - The Quire of St George’s Chapel 1818 by Charles Wild Royal Collection Trust
Windsor Castle – The Quire of St George’s Chapel 1818 by Charles Wild Royal Collection Trust

An hour later the gates were opened to the general public. Thousands of people wished to pay their respects and it became somewhat chaotic,  with men and women of all ages pressed against each other so closely that there was risk to life. The police who were stationed at the gates did their best to control the masses, but in vain. The shrieks of women and children could be heard in all directions, with several women fainting and having to be saved from being trodden underfoot.

A detachment of artillery, under the command of Colonel Cathcart, stationed in the Long Walk, began firing a salute at daylight, and continued five-minute guns up to eight in the evening, when they commenced firing one-minute guns (see link above for the original letter sent by Colonel Cathcart, late the night before, in the Royal Collection Trust, explaining how this would work.)

The Great Bell of the chapel, as well as the bells of Windsor and Eton, tolled the whole of the day. From the moment daylight appeared crowds of carriages were seen approaching the town from all directions.

During the course of the day, several thousand people were admitted into the apartments where the body lay in state, but the gates having been closed at 3pm, nearly an equal number were excluded from witnessing this truly song solemn and imposing scene.

At 7pm His Royal Highness, the Duke of York entered the chamber of mourning and took his seat of at the head of the coffin, where he was chief mourner until the body was removed.

St George's Hall, Windsor Castle c1816 by Charles Wild Royal Collection Trust
St George’s Hall, Windsor Castle c1816 by Charles Wild Royal Collection Trust

The following morning the different parties who had joined the procession, assembled in Saint George’s Hall, being marshalled by Sir G Naylor. There was some difficulty from the outset with the arrangements because far more people than anticipated wished to attend, but eventually, everything went to plan.

George III on on of Windsor Castle's terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling, c.1807
George III on of Windsor Castle’s terraces; Peter Edward Stroehling; Royal Collection Trust

The peers entered through Elizabeth Gate and on to the King’s Lodge, then passing across to Kitchen Gate, and entered the Castle at the eastern end of the state apartments. Tickets of admission to the Chapel were distributed, followed by tickets for admission to the lower yard through one part of which the procession was to pass. At a quarter to nine, the coffin was brought through the different rooms, upon the bier used at the funeral of her late majesty.

The Chapel was magnificently decorated in a style more splendid than had ever been seen before, with a raised platform, which extended through the South aisle, up the nave to the choir. It was covered with black cloth, upon each side were soldiers of the foot guards, every 2nd man holding a wax light, behind these were stationed around  500, Eton scholars, all of whom were admitted by special order of the now King George IV.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

In the North aisle, seats, elevated above each other were arranged for the accommodation of those persons who had received tickets of admission, those tickets were inadmissible after 7pm. The choir was also prepared to receive persons of distinction and was calculated to hold 94 people. The Chapel was hung in black as well as the Knights’ stalls. The altar was also hung with black and near it erected temporary seats for foreign ministers and other strangers of distinction who attended the procession including the Duke of San Carlo, Count Lieven and Baron Linsingen. The communion table was covered with gold plate, from the Chapel Royal, London, as well as from the Chapel Royal at Windsor.

Funeral Procession of George III. British Museum
Funeral Procession of George III. British Museum

Over the royal mausoleum was a canopy of rich blue velvet. On the top was a gold crown upon a cushion; upon the border was a Gothic scroll with festoons beneath, upon each of which the royal arms were emblazoned. The chapel remained like this for several days, for the benefit of the public. The appearance of the procession, with the banners etc on descending the great staircase of the castle, was said to be incredibly striking.

Those who were admitted to the lower courtyard had a full view of the processions. Upon the procession reaching the Great Gate of St George’s Chapel on the South aisle, the King’s body was received by the Dean of Windsor and the organ immediately played ‘I am the resurrection and the life saith the Lord’. The funeral service composed by Dr Croft and Mr Purcell and the procession entered in order. The Royal body was placed on a platform, and the crowns and cushions laid thereon.

His Royal Highness the Duke of York, as chief mourner, was seated at the head of the corpse, with supporters on either side. The royal princes were seated near the chief mourner, with the Lord Chamberlain of his majesty’s household taking his place at the feet of the corpse.

It was about 9am when the first part of the procession entered the south aisle, and everyone had not taken their seats within the chapel until a little after 10am, the ceremony itself lasted about an hour.

King George III was buried in the chamber beneath St. George’s Chapel, along with other members of his family, Princess Amelia, his wife Queen Charlotte, Princess Charlotte, daughter of George IV, (Prince Regent as he was when she died in 1817).

Featured Image

British (English) School; View of Windsor Castle from the River Thames; National Trust, Anglesey Abbey

8 thoughts on “The Funeral of King George III

  1. Peter Kennison

    Hi Sarah
    Another good informative piece with great background on the lying in state, the resulting chaos and the police holding back the crowds as there was danger to life. Can I suggest the police were in fact from Bow Street- and other courts in London. We erroneously call then Runners since the police weren’t formed until 1829. See Policing from Bow Street- Principal officers runners and the patrole Mango books 2019. Thanks
    Dr Peter Kennison


    1. Sarah Murden

      Hi Peter

      Thank you so much for your comments. I thought it was unusual to see the term ‘police’ being used so early, but I’ve just checked my source ‘The crush required the utmost exertions of the police officers and soldiers on duty’. (The Scotsman 26 Feb 1820).


      1. Peter Kennison

        Thanks Sarah
        I know that from my research into the book I mentioned that a number of Bow Street men were the first Royal protection officers for George III and his son John Townsend was the first. I’m happy to share some of the book in the blog if you wish on crime detection before Peels police? Thanks Peter


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