On 6th November 1817, Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, died at Claremont House after a labour lasting 51 hours in which she had given birth to a stillborn son. The funeral of Princess Charlotte took place at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, thirteen days after her death.
So great was public grief at Charlotte’s death that, on the orders of the Lord Chamberlain, an armed guard was posted at the undertakers’ in London to ensure that no member of the public could see or gain access to the coffin. Leopold, Charlotte’s husband, was to visit the coffin at 11pm each day until the funeral.
It was announced that tickets would be available to those other than would be in the “Royal Procession” and to the Dean and Canons of Windsor and their staff, only in the aisles and organ loft of the Chapel. In the final days before the funeral there was a dispute between the representative of the Lord Chamberlain acting for the Prince Regent and Dean Hobart. It appears that the Canons of Windsor had claimed the stalls in the Quire and the Chapel which, in line with the Statutes of the Order of the Garter, were allocated to Garter Knights, leaving insufficient places for those in the Royal Procession. The repercussions of this were to continue for some time after the funeral.
On the evening preceding the funeral, the coffins, including that of Charlotte’s infant son, were brought from Claremont to Windsor, a “prodigious multitude” lining the route of the hearse procession up the High Street to the Henry VIII gate entrance to the Lower Ward of the Castle. The coffins were placed overnight in St George’s Chapel.
Early on the day of the funeral Charlotte’s coffin was brought back to nearby Lower Lodge and placed in the room which, when Charlotte had occupied the Lodge, had been the Dining Room. The main mourners, members of George III’s household and those who had applied successfully to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office for tickets, were able to view the coffin, covered with crimson Genoa velvet, enriched with silver gilt nails.
The funeral took place at 8.00 pm. In Windsor, as throughout Britain, all shops, inns and businesses were closed, as most had been since Charlotte’s death was announced. For many hours in advance the town was thronged with onlookers and with carriages whose occupants were in deepest mourning.
Charles Knight, editor of The Windsor and Eton Express, whose reports of the events following Charlotte’s death are an important source of the chaos and confusion at the entrance and inside the Lower Ward of the Castle, had obtained a coveted ticket for the organ loft of St George’s Chapel. He was for some time refused entry, along with other ticket holders, and he describes being roughly jostled and pushed against a wall of the Castle in a mêlée of carriages and people arriving on foot, while soldiers permitted entry to others, including some fellow soldiers and their ladies who had no ticket.
The funeral service was held without further disruptive incident. The Prince Regent, Charlotte’s father, too distressed to attend, spent the day “in mournful privacy” at Carlton House. Charlotte’s coffin, that of her infant son and their funerary urns, were interred in the Royal Vault, beneath the east end of St George’s Chapel, completed only a few years earlier on the order of George III.
Three years later the funeral of George III, in the Quire of St George’s Chapel, was to prove a most shamefully disorganised and chaotic formal royal occasion.
Jill Hume (Archives volunteer)
Note: In the exhibition “Queens in Waiting” currently at the National Portrait Gallery, a painting of the “Funeral Procession of Princess Charlotte” and an engraving of the funeral service in St George’s Chapel can be seen.