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Vol I No. 1
PBS News & Events

Royal Funerals, St George's Chapel Windsor and the Royal Vaults, Part 1

by William J. Martin
The Royal Vault as drawn in 1873
(With the coffins of George III and his family at the far end)

The funeral of HRH Prince Philip has served to remind that it is not just Westminster Abbey that comprises a Pantheon of British Royalty. Such also is St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.  As the slow but impressive drama of the gradual descent from view of the entire catafalque at the Committal at very the end of the funeral of Prince Philip made clear, immediately below the chapel, there is a complex of spaces which comprise what are known as the Royal Vaults.

The construction of these (first conceived it is said by King Charles I) was initiated by George III and undertaken between 1804 and 1810 and he was duly buried there himself after his death in 1820,  as were also were his, wife Queen Charlotte and their daughter Princess Amelia.  Kings George IV and William IV were later placed there along with George IV’s daughter Princess Charlotte and Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent.

There is extant an extensive description of

The death and funeral of King George VI

Upon the Kings death on the 26th June 1830, ….The late King was then “submitted to the view of the household“, including the out-door servants, their families, and acquaintances, from about five in the morning until after eight, “by which time several hundreds of persons had not only seen, but taken by the hand, the deceased Sovereign“. The scene which ensued was described as “very afflicting“. Many had served their Royal master for a quarter of a century.

The Duke of Wellington, the then Prime Minister, called to pay his last respects and noticed a locket suspended on a black ribbon around the King’s neck. So, “overcome with curiosity, he opened the locket to reveal the image of Mrs Fitzherbert [his first wife but an illegal marriage – for she was Roman Catholic and Royal consent had not been given]. When Mrs Fitzherbert was told of this, she reportedly said not a word, but presently ‘some large tears fell from her eyes‘”. Accounts state that before dying, the King had asked to be buried with this miniature around his neck and his final wishes were apparently carried out. Both had been married in an informal ceremony in 1785.

Several days of an official lying in state followed) before the funeral itself.

This event,  in common with many funerals between the 17th and late 19th centuries,  took place at night by the light of torches:

(A tradition finally  broken by Queen Victoria, who had the funeral held for her husband Prince Albert at noon):

At length and before darkness totally descended, flambeaux were distributed amongst the soldiery and then lighted.  At length, the discharge of a rocket and the change in the firing of the guns announced the beginning of the procession. Solemn music could be heard at a distance and the bells of St. George’s Chapel began to toll. “In a few minutes the glittering dress of the knights marshals’ men and of the military band, as they moved slowly forward, came into view...” The procession, guided by the lighted flambeaux in the evening gloom, “presented a striking but solemn effect“.

The funeral cortege began to move from the Castle at about a quarter to nine, and after winding down through the Lower Ward the coffin entered the choir of St George’s Chapel at a quarter to ten. The various heralds busied themselves in marshalling the many individuals who formed the procession, and assigned them to their allotted position….

Banners were placed at the corners and sides of the canopy, under which the coffin was placed. His Majesty King William IV, as Chief Mourner, sat in a black covered arm-chair at one end of the coffin with the other Royal Princes sitting in their stalls as Knights of the Garter, including the Dukes of Cumberland and Sussex, Prince Leopold, and Prince George of Cumberland. The Duke of Wellington sat on the right of his Majesty bearing the Sword of State.

All the remaining Knights of the Garter took their respective stalls on the south side of the choir; the Bishops on the north side; with the Archbishops of Canterbury and Armagh seated in stalls on the south side of the western entrance.

Queen Adelaide sat with the ladies of her suite in a small gallery adjoining the Altar on the north side of the choir, known as the Queen’s Closet. All decorations within this room, being of garter blue silk, were also covered with black cloth.

The burial service was for the most part chanted, and the anthem sung with splendid effect. Nothing could be more sublime or touching that was the whole of the service.”

At half past ten in the evening the coffin was lowered by machinery into the subterranean passage leading to the Royal Burial Vault where it was received on a platform. It remained on this platform for some time after the ceremony ended.

The Coffin was later moved to one of the side areas
and may be in one of the spaces seen below in a photograph taken by Sir Benjamin Stone
(The wrought ironwork is Victorian)

There is a diary record of the Service in St George’s Chapel (from Princess May ?) as follows:

“The pall bearers were the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Salisbury, Lord Lothian, Lord Dufferin, Lord Hopetoun, Lord Ancaster and Lord Brownlow and immediately after the Chief Mourner and the Princes of Teck walked the Prince of Wales (representing the Queen), the Duke of York and the Duke of Cambridge.  Following them came the Duke of Connaught, Prince Christian, Prince Friedrich Heinrich of Prussia (representing the German Emperor), and other Royal and distinguished persons.  The Princess of Wales, Duchess of York, and Princess Adolphus of Teck occupied the Queen’s Closet, which overhangs the altar steps on the north side of the choir.  The Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, were unable to come over for the funeral, and were represented by Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and Mr. Hugo Wemyss.

As soon as the procession had entered the choir, the coffin was placed on a bier in front of the altar.  At the head stood the Duke of Teck with his two sons and at the foot the Lord Chamberlain, (the Earl of Lathom) one of Princess Mary’s oldest friends.  The Bishop of Peterborough, the Dean of Windsor, and the Vicar of Kingston Vale took their places within the altar rails, and the choir began to chant the beautiful psalm, ‘Lord, Thou has been our refuge from one generation to another.’ After the Dean had read the lesson beginning with the comforting words, ‘Now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept,’ Princess Mary’s favorite hymn, ‘Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,’ was sung, the congregation joining in.

Then, as the Bishop of Peterborough recited the solemn words, ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ the coffin – bearing the Queen’s wreath and the Duke’s last fond token with the touching inscription, ‘From your loving and broken hearted husband,’ and a bunch of violets from little Prince Edward – was slowly lowered into the vault beneath, and amidst a stillness, the very memory of which causes the tears to flow and the heart to bleed, all that was mortal of Princess Mary passed from human vision for ever and ever more.

Before the blessing was pronounced the choir sang, ‘My God, my Father, while I stray,’ and the anthem, ‘Sister, thou art gone before us.’ And as Prince Adolphus and Prince Alexander gently led their grief stricken father from the chapel, the distinguished mourners slowly filed past the opening to look their last upon the coffin.  Thus, ended one of the saddest of the many sad ceremonies which have taken place in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor!”

Drawing made of the coffin of
HRH Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck (mother of Queen Mary the wife of George V)
placed in the vault in 1897
The central platform can be seen again in use as an interim resting place

The coffin of King Edward VII in the Royal Vault for some years before being moved to its final resting place

as photographed by Sir Benjamin Stone. (the Royal Collection Trust).

Burials in the Royal Vaults of St George’s

Princess Amelia, daughter of George III (d.1810)

Princess Augusta, Duchess of Brunswick, sister of George III (d.1813)

Stillborn son of Princess Charlotte (d. 1817)

Princess Charlotte (daughter of George IV) (d.1817)

Queen Charlotte, wife of George III (d.1818)

Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria (d.1820)

King George III (d.1820)

Prince Alfred, son of George III (d.1782, placed in vault 1820)

Prince Octavius, son of George III (d.1783, placed in vault 1820)

Princess Elizabeth, daughter of William IV (d.1821)

Prince Frederick, Duke of York (d.1827)

King George IV (d.1830)

Stillborn daughter of Prince Ernest Augustus, son of George III (d.1818)

King William IV (d.1837)

Princess Sophia, daughter of George III (d.1840)

Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV (d.1849)

Prince Frederick of Schleswig-Holstein, son of Princess Christian (d.1876)

King George V of Hanover (d.1878)

Victoria von Pawel Rammingen, daughter of Princess Frederica of Hanover (d.1881)

Princess Mary Adelaide, Duchess of Teck, mother of Queen Mary (d.1897)

Prince Francis, Duke of Teck, father of Queen Mary (d.1900)

Princess Frederika of Hanover (d.1926)

Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, grandfather of Queen Mary (d.1850, placed in vault 1930)

Princess Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge, grandmother of Queen Mary (d.1889, placed in vault 1930)

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (d.2021)

Gloucester Vault

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester (d.1805)

Princess Maria, Duchess of Gloucester (d.1807)

Prince William, Duke of Gloucester (d.1834)

Princess Sophia of Gloucester (d.1844)

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester (d.1857)

Burials in St George’s Chapel itself

Quire

Henry VIII (d. 1547)

Jane Seymour, third wife of Henry VIII (d. 1537)

Charles I (d.1649)

Infant child of Queen Anne (d.1696)

North Quire Aisle

King Edward IV (d. 1483)

Queen Elizabeth Woodville (d. 1492) Wife of King Edward IV

mother of Edward V (deposed by Richard III) 

Princess Louise, Duchess of Saxe-Weimar, niece of Queen Adelaide (d.1832)

South Quire Aisle

King Henry VI (d.1471)

King Edward VII (d.1910)

Queen Alexandra (d.1925)

North Nave Aisle

(Just by the Great West Doors)

King George V (d.1936, placed this sarcophagus in 1939)

Queen Mary (d.1953)

King George VI Memorial Chapel

King George VI (d.1952, buried in chapel 1969)

Queen Elizabeth (d.2002)

Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon (d.2002, ashes)