In the evening of 3 October 1835 George Bentinck, a relative of the Duke of Portland, wrote to his mother from Westminster Abbey. The weather, he complained, “has been far from good here. It has rained every day, [and] it was very lucky I brought my umbrella”. Appended to this fascinating catalogue of adventures was a piece of news: “Lord Chatham was buried here in the Abbey to day[.] [T]here was a very great funeral and the King sent his carriage[.] [H]e is buried in the North Transept between Lord Mansfield and Mr Pitt.” (Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205)
In September 1835 John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham was approaching his 79th birthday. He was the last remaining member of the Pitt family, and certainly one of the longest-lived (his mother got to 82 but neither his father nor his siblings even came close). In the summer of 1834 he had had a paralytic stroke but it seems made a reasonably full recovery. He was planning to spend the autumn, winter and spring in Brighton, as he had done nearly every year since returning from Gibraltar, and the newspapers reported in mid-September that his house was ready to receive him there.
John never made it. I’m not quite sure what happened to him exactly, but I would guess he suffered another, fatal stroke in the early hours of the morning of 24 September. His heirs, his great nephews William Stanhope Taylor and John Henry Pringle, were swiftly notified. One of the first things they had to do (apart from sort out the legal implications of John’s having completely forgotten Taylor’s name and got it wrong in his will) was to sort out John’s funeral.
John had not only been an Earl; he had also been a Knight of the Garter. As such, his rank entitled him to a grand funeral in the family vault in the north transept of Westminster Abbey. One day I will have to contact the Office of Heralds to see if they have any records on the subject, but according to precedent his funeral would have been held under the auspices of Garter King of Arms, who would have prescribed the precise order of the ceremony and also what sort of heraldic devices could be used.
The heraldic precedent for an earl’s funeral was that of the Earl of Derby in 1574. Reading over the account of the ceremony, I’m guessing John’s could theoretically have been as impressive as his heirs wanted it to be. John in life had always been very proud of his status and of his knighthood: he would, no doubt, have wanted the whole hog with the black velvet pall embroidered in escutcheons, the helmet (silver with five gold bars for an earl), crest, sword and target (crested shield), the great banner (the crest of the deceased), and the bannerolls (a square crest particularly designed for use in funerals).
Presumably he got at least some of these things, and the attendance of Garter King of Arms himself to preside. The fee to the Office of Heraldry for using all the heraldic devices required in an Earl’s funeral was £35, a not inconsiderable sum, but John’s heirs had to stump up a fair amount otherwise, as the bill for the funeral in the National Archives makes clear (PRO 30/8/370 f 152).
The bill was issued by Thomas Dowbiggin & Co (a company that made furniture for high society, with an undertaking business on the side) on 24 September 1835, so presumably Taylor and Pringle wasted no time in getting down to business. While John was not going to be buried in the same lavish fashion as his father and brother, who both received public funerals, he would be laid to rest in fine style.
The arrangements for the coffin alone were as follows:
A strong elm Coffin lined, and ruffled with rich White Satin – £7 7s 0d
A rich satin Winding Sheet – £4 18s 6d
A rich thick tufted Mattress and pillow – £2 12s 6d
A pair of silk gloves – £0 4s 0d
A strong outside leaden coffin soldered all round – £7 17s 6d
A Metal Plate of Inscription soldered on ditto – £0 7s 0d
Putting John into the coffin and soldering it closed cost just over a pound in total. Once he was in, the coffin was encased in another elm case, this time covered in crimson velvet attached with three rows of brass nails. Four pairs of “solid brass Handles with Octagon Rests” were attached to the side, and the whole was studded with “brass Coronets .., [and] Star to the order of the garter all richly gilt and burnished” [GARTER BLING!]. The decoration alone cost nearly thirty pounds. Unsurprisingly, it cost 15s just to carry the coffin downstairs.
Once the coffin was sorted, the accoutrements now had to be sorted out. At the head of the procession was a “Male Horse” (nice and specific there), covered in a velvet caparison and dressed with black ostrich feathers, and led by two grooms. John’s executors hired a velvet pall for 10s 6d, as well as more ostrich feathers (and a man to carry them, supported by two men in mourning with wands). The hearse was drawn by six horses, all also covered in velvet and ostrich feathers and attended by ten men in mourning carrying “truncheons”.
Behind the coffin was a “Velvet Chased Earl’s Coronet gilt and jewelled” with an ermine border carried on a velvet cushion, both of these presumably also hired as they only cost a total of £3 13s 6d. Of banners, bannerolls, targets etc etc there is no sign, so presumably these were skimped, but eleven official “mourners” were hired, each dressed in “ducasse” (? no idea: anyone know?) scarves and hatbands and wearing black silk gloves.
After this the list is mostly about kitting out the various officials, clergymen and porters who attended, and there must have been quite a procession. The provision of “rich silk pole covers” suggests that someone walked under a canopy, probably the Dean of Westminster, his Sub Dean, the Preceptor, the Clerk of Works, and “Mr Vincent & Mr Hayes” (I have no idea who these men were, alas). All of these men were also kitted out with “ducasse Scarves”, hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense, as were the Chief Mourner (presumably the eldest heir, William Stanhope Taylor), “two vergers and a Beadle”. Some of the servants driving the mourning carriages in the procession also had to be kitted out, and no fewer than twenty grooms accompanied the “Royal Carriages”, presumably that of the King (William IV) mentioned by G.F. Bentinck and whatever other royals graced John’s funeral with their symbolic presence.
Behind the royal carriages were at least three empty “mourning coaches”, each drawn by four horses, also bedecked with the usual velvet and ostrich-feather combination. Two men in mourning walked beside each empty coach, carrying wands. The accompanying assemblage of porters, hearse pages, coach pages, foot pages, footmen, grooms, coachmen and postillions, all of them had to be kitted out in hatbands and gloves at the executors’ expense.
Finally came the “achievement”, in other words a hatchment designed to be attached above the door of John’s house in Charles Street (or perhaps attached over the grave in the Abbey: I’m not quite clear on where it ended up, but it could have been either of those places). I do not know where this has ended up, but it is described in the undertakers’ bill as “a Yard and half” in size, which seems to have been standard, “in double Shields supporters, Garter &c painted in Oil with Frame covered with fine black Cloth”. This, along with the “Wall Gooks, Nails &c” cost £8 8s 0d, not counting 7s for two men to fix it up.
John’s achievement would have been similar to the above, with his arms impaled with those of his wife Mary. Because Mary had died in 1821, however, both sides of the achievement would have been painted black.
After this the estate had to cover a number of additional expenses. “Fees to the Abbey” (presumably to all the officials, and for closing off the whole building and Abbey yard) came in at a whopping £130 17s 2d, nearly as much as the procession by itself. Masons were paid £4 13s 5d, and the royal servants received a tip of £3, while other servants received 9s. Carriage duty and “expenses for Men &c”, as well as a mysterious “Searcher”, made up the remainder. No fees were paid to any heralds or heraldry officers, so I am guessing Garter King of Arms did not directly attend.
The grand total for the whole funeral was £348 19s 7d, not counting £2 13s 5d for “removing [the] Marble Ledger … &c from the Family Vault”, relaying it, repairing the vault and “making good paving” (bill dated 3 October 1825, PRO 30/8/370 f 156).
I think John would have approved … although I also think he might have liked a surcoat or two. 😉
For further reading, you could do worse than to visit my friend Stephenie Woolterton’s webpage, where she discusses the funerals of John, Lord Chatham’s father and younger sister Harriot. (Please have a snoop at the rest of her excellent site, of course!)
Some sources used in putting up this blog post:
Chatham Papers, National Archives PRO 30/8/370 ff 152, 156
Portland MSS, Nottingham University Archives, PwM 205
William Berry, Encyclopaedia heraldica; or, a complete dictionary of heraldry (London, 1828)
James Parker, A glossary of terms used in heraldry (London, 1894)