Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The Duke of Wellington

dukeThe 'Iron Duke' believed in strong government and his opposition to parliamentary reform earned him his metallic title for reasons of a more domestic than constitutional nature; his unpopularity forced him to beef up security at Apsley House against the window-smashers. Despite this, his passing drew the crowds and the spectacle of a lavish state funeral had enormous repercussions on the arts, journalism and everyday consciousness of the general public. Although the irresponsible nature of Frederick's baby-sitting had arguably profounder impact on the boy who had not observed the procession himself, an account of the time would not be fitting without a mention of this occasion.

Frederick begins his autobiography with mention of his grandfather's return at the Waterloo celebrations and his subsequent agitation with regard to Arthur Wellesley. Scarcely had the Duke been 'stopped' in the 1820s, when, in the second chapter, his parents attend his funeral on Thursday November 18th 1852.

It is worth noting that the Duke had died on the 14th September. We can speculate on the reason for the delay in his interment. It may be that the preparation required for the ceremony, coupled with a macabre level of Victorian superstitious fear of burying a living icon meant that it was not until two months later, that Wellington was finally laid to rest.

processionFor a taste of the experience Frederick's parents may have had, we can quote the New York Times, which followed the procession from Constitution Hill, Piccadilly, St. James's Street, Pall Mall, Cockspur Street, Charing Cross, Trafalgar Square to the Strand towards Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill and St. Paul's.

"Amid the rise, and perhaps the fall, of empires, amid “fear of change perplexing the nations,” amid earthquake and flood, a trembling earth and a weeping sky, Wellington was conveyed..."

"Most of the houses along the line of the route exhibited half-mast flags or other symptoms of mourning. Temple Bar was completely enveloped in drapery of black silken velvet, with fringe of silver, and turned aside at the top so as to display an under lining of cloth of gold."

Despite Frederick's fleeting reference to the funeral and his grandfather's apparent preference to rock cakes and drinking, we should not underestimate the occasion for a significant proportion of Londoners and those from further a field.

W. Liebknecht neatly illustrates the frenzy of the procession as observed and as joined from the opposite side of Temple Bar to that of Frederick's parents.

"I had made my plan. We had no money to hire seats at a window, or on a stand. The funeral procession was to pass along the Strand, parallel with the Thames. We must get into one of the streets entering the Strand from the north, and running towards the river.

Holding one little girl by each hand, our pockets filled with provender I steered towards the coign of vantage which I had chosen, just by Temple Bar – the old City gates that divided Westminister from the City. The streets from earliest morning had been unusually animated, and were thronged with people. The procession, however, having to pass through many quarters of the giant town the millions of sight-seers divided up, and without any crush, we reached the chosen places. It was just what we wanted. I stood on some steps, the two little ones clasping one another, and each holding me by the hand, stood on a higher step. Hush! A movement in the sea of people; a distant, growing roar, like the roaring of the ocean, drawing nearer and nearer! An “Ah!” from thousands upon thousands of throats! The procession is there, and, from our position, we can see it as beautifully as if we were at the theatre. The children are delighted. No crush. All my fears are gone.

A long, long time. The golden procession wends its way with the gorgeous catafalue that is taking the “Conqueror of Napoleon” to his tomb, One new sight after the other until nothing more came. The last gold-laced rider has gone.

louis haghe funeralAnd now suddenly a rush – a rush forward of the mass piled up behind us. Everyone wants to follow the “procession”. I struggle with all my might to protect the children so that the stream may pass without hurting them. In vain. Against the elemental force of the masses no single human force can stand. It was as easy for a small fragile boat, after a hard winter, to resist an icefloe. I must give way, and, pressing the children tightly to me, I try to get out of the main street. I seem to be succeeding, and I breathe again, when suddenly from the right a new and more mighty wave of people bears in upon us; we are thrown into the Strand, the thousands and hundreds of thousands who have gathered into this street-artery want to hurry after the procession in order to see the sight once again. I set my teeth, try to lift the children on to my shoulders, but am too hemmed in. I convulsively seize the children’s arms; the vortex carries us away, and I suddenly feel a force pressing between me and the children. I grasp their wrists in either hand, but the force that has pushed its way between me and the children still presses forward like a wedge – the children are torn from me, resistance is hopeless. I must let them, go, or I shall break their arms. It was a hideous moment."

"...the funeral procession, comprised of more than ten thousand marchers, encompassed central London, enjoying an audience numbering more than one and a half million people. Queen Victoria and virtually every major and minor national figure in politics or the arts viewed either the procession or the ceremony at St. Paul’s."

Bloy, M Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington (1769-1852)
December 3, 1852 New York Times The Wellington Funeral
March 1895 W. Liebknecht A Bad Quarter of an Hour translated by Eleanor Marx Aveling
Illustrated London News November 20th 1852 The Duke's Funeral
Pearsall C.D.J (1999) Burying the duke: Victorian mourning and the funeral of the Duke of Wellington Victorian Literature and Culture 27: 365-393 Cambridge University Press

No comments: