Nelson's Funeral

After the great naval hero Vice-Admiral of the White Lord Nelson died in the battle of Trafalgar, his body was conveyed back to England where he was granted a state funeral. This type of funeral was a rare privilege for anyone under the rank of a duke, which shows in what esteem Nelson was held by his countrymen.

After his body had lain in state at the Royal Naval hospital, Nelson's casket, which presented a ship-like silhouette, was placed on a royal barge, built for Charles II, beneath a black canopy surmounted by black ostrich feathers on Wednesday, January 8, 1806. It then progressed, with 60 other ships, in a maritime funeral procession from Greenwich to Whitehall. The following day the coffin was placed on an ornate funeral car and taken in procession through the streets of London to Saint Paul's Cathedral. Large crowds lined the streets, some people had purchased seats in stands built for the occasion. A man who attended wrote to a friend that "the sound of all the men removing their hats as the coffin passed sounded like a wave breaking on shore." A memorial sheet showing the street procession had been published as a memorial to Nelson. The funeral procession was so long that the head had reached St. Paul's before the tail left the Palace of Whitehall.

When the funeral cortege arrived at St. Paulís Cathedral, twelve seamen from Nelson's ship Victory lifted the coffin from the hearse and carried it into the cathedral. Six admirals held a canopy of black velvet above the coffin. French and Spanish flags captured at the battle of Trafalgar were hung from the dome. Nelson's coffin was placed on a catafalque directly beneath the cathedral dome. Thousands of spectators, admitted by special tickets, viewed the service from specially erected stands. A huge lantern, made for the occasion, incorporating 130 individual lamps illuminated the scene. The 4-hour Burial Service was performed within the context of the Office of Evensong, the Anglican Vespers service. The music for the service was selected by John Page, one of the Vicars Choral of St. Paul's. It was sung by a choir of approximately 100 boys and men from St. Paul's, Westminster Abbey, the Chapel Royal, and St. George's Chapel of Windsor Castle. The service was conducted by the Reverend John Pridden. The organist at the service was Mozart’s pupil Thomas Attwood. The deeply moving service was highlighted by the music of some of the key composers of the English Baroque--

George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739) Dead March, from Saul
William CROFT (1678-1727) Funeral Sentences
Richard AYLEWARD (1626-1669) Preces and Responses
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Psalm 39
Thomas ATTWOOD (1765-1838) Magnificat; Nunc Dimittis
Maurice GREENE (1696-1755) Lord, let me know mine end
Thomas ATTWOOD (1765-1838) Solemn Dirge
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) Thou knowest Lord, the secrets of our hearts
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739) His body is buried in peace
Thomas ARNE (1710-1778) Rule Britannia
At one point in the funeral service the men of the Victory’s crew were supposed to cover Nelson's coffin with flags, they tore off strips of the large St. George’s flag and put them in their coats or shirts, just above their hearts. At the end the of the service the coffin was lowered into the crypt, draped with the ensign of HMS Victory. Nelson was entombed in an elaborate memorial in Saint Paul's crypt.

Music for Nelson's Funeral




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