On 29 January 1820, King George III died bringing an end to a very long reign of sixty years, long surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II who was on the throne for seventy years. George III was Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. Because of intermarriage, they’re related in other ways too. Unlike the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, that of King George was a chaotic and disorganised affair as news reports of the time testify.
Aged 82 and after sixty years on the throne, King George III died at Windsor Castle. Once news had arrived in central London, the Privy Council descended on Carlton House, the extravagant home of his son the Prince Regent, who was about to become George IV. The new spendthrift monarch was set on demolishing Carlton House, deeming it wasn’t good enough for his new role.
He had long waited for his father to pass away and now was able to become the undisputed monarch.
DISCOVER: The worst royal funeral ever!
Prelude to the chaotic funeral of King George III
According to The Observer, the body of his late father George III wasn’t embalmed in the “usual manner” but wrapped in cerecloth, a very medieval way of preserving the body. This involved binding the king’s body with strips of fabric impregnated with wax to exclude air and therefore decomposition.
The king had once been a hefty figure, generously proportioned. But The Observer reported that at death “the corpse of his Majesty exhibited a painful spectacle of the rapid decay which had previously taken place in his constitution. His once vigorous frame was reduced almost to the appearance of a skeleton”. For this reason, conventional embalming was deemed to be too difficult to perform on a body that had wasted away.
Tightly wrapped, the king was then placed in a mahogany coffin with an interior fold of white satin. This was then placed inside a lead coffin, which was then inserted into yet another mahogany coffin.
“The whole will finally be enclosed in the state coffin, which will be covered with crimson velvet, richly ornamented with gilt nails, and bearing the royal arms.”
On top of this funereal Russian nesting doll of multiple coffins was the following inscription:
Serenissimi Potentissimi et Excellentissimi Monarchae
Dei Gratia, Britanniarum Regis, Fidei Defensoris
Regis Hanoverae ac Brunsvici et Lunenburgi Ducis
Obiit xxix die Januarii. Anno Domini MDCCCXX
Aetatis sure LXXXII, Regnique sui LX
The funeral was to be in Windsor where George had died so he lay in state in the castle and was then removed to his tomb. This meant that vast crowds descended on this small town just outside London. The streets became a sea of confusion with a jumble of carriages and “jaded horses”. And things only got worse.
The chaotic funeral of King George III
There was little by way of crowd control and those who had come to gawp at George were not especially well behaved or dignified in their conduct:
“Males, females, and children, were huddled together in an indiscriminate mass and the shrieks of the latter as they were crushed against each other, or against the railing by which their numbers were confined, were so dreadful, that apprehensions were entertained of the most serious mischiefs, and many were extricated with difficulty from a state of the greatest peril.”
The Observer’s description is chilling and leaves a lot of unpleasantness to the imagination. Having emerged from that hell, mourners found themselves flung into another. At each entry point into another part of Windsor castle people were “sucked into the vortex of an impatient throng”. The report went on:
“It was a complete scramble, in which the infirmities of age, the delicate habits of many respectable and beautiful females, who were intermingled with the throng, and the helplessness of infancy, were alike disregarded.”
Ten years later, George III’s son George IV would die after just ten years on the throne. His passing was far less mourned, but some lessons had been learned from the chaotic scenes in 1820. And in 2022, we see a police operation around the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II that beggars belief in terms of scale and cost.