NOTE: Contains some pathological/forensic details some readers might wish to take into consideration.
He died at the hands of a sniper on October 21st, 1805.
Originally, another vessel involved in the Battle of Trafalgar was given the grim transport assignment. When the crew of the Victory came close to mutinying, it was decided she would take on the duty instead – the duty of returning their leader, their hero back to his beloved England for a final time.
Due to poor weather conditions, the Victory did not reach his homeland until early December. During that time, the remains had been stored in a cask of rum (or brandy) to prevent as little putrefaction as possible.
On the 11th of December, when the body was finally removed following its arrival in Portsmouth, “inspecting it externally, it exhibited a state of perfect preservation, without being in the smallest degree offensive. There were, however, some appearances that induced the Surgeon to examine the condition of the bowels; which were found to be much decayed, and likely in a short time to communicate the process of putrefaction to the rest of the Body: the parts already injured were therefore removed. It was at this time that the fatal ball was discovered: it had passed through the spine, and lodged in the muscles of the back, towards the right side, and a little below the shoulder-blade.” (http://www.aboutnelson.co.uk/death.htm).
“The remains were wrapped in cotton vestments, and rolled from head to foot with bandages of the same material, in the ancient mode of embalming. The Body was then put in a laden coffin, filled with brandy holding in solution camphor and myrrh. (The stock of spirit of wine on board was exhausted; and from the sound state of the Body, brandy was judged sufficient for its preservation.)
This coffin was inclosed in a wooden one, and placed in the afterpart of his Lordship’s cabin.” (http://www.aboutnelson.co.uk/death.htm)
The body was transported once more. The remains were clothed and shrouded…
Christmastime saw the nation plunged into near inconsolable mourning.
It was now 1806, roughly a month and a half since Trafalgar.
For two days in early January, almost one hundred thousand people in the public paid their respects in the Painted Hall at Greenwich where the body lay in state.
On the 7th, only the marines and seamen of the Victory were permitted to enter so they might, in private, honor the man they adored.
The body began its’ final journey on the 8th of January, traveling on the barge of Charles II, accompanied by many other ships as they progressed from Greenwich to London.
January 9th, 1806 marks the two hundred and tenth anniversary of the state funeral for Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté KB.
The service started at around 1 P.M. and did not conclude until almost five hours later!
It is doubtful anyone cared it lasted that long.
At the end, when the coffin was lowered, “the seamen of the victory took from it the bloodstained and shot-torn Trafalgar flag, and rent it into fragments to be treasured as heirlooms by their families.” ((http://www.aboutnelson.co.uk/death.htm) On a personal note because it remains one of my fondest memories of my visit there, there is a little church in Portsmouth where, if you ask the exact location, you can see one of these ‘fragments’ on reverent display, faded, but the emotion attached still remains.
The sarcophagus used to house Nelson’s remains had been designed hundreds of years before, intended for an ambitious individual who – because he failed to serve his King in a particular ‘Great Matter – found a more ignominious ending. That man was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the disgraced minister of Henry VIII, who died and was buried at the now non-existent Leicester Abbey on his way to face treason charges.
The author of the funeral article at Today in British History linked and copied the epithet used in a newspaper of the day, The Monthly Mirror, which also ran a fairly detailed report of the event. Like the author and that long ago reporter, I can think of no better way to end this than by repeating those words here:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF HORATIO LORD NELSON,
WHO, PIOUS, BRAVE, AND FORTUNATE,
BELOVED BY MEN AND IN PEACE WITH GOD,
WANTED NOTHING TO COMPLETE THE FULL MEASURE OF HIS GLORY,
BUT MUCH TO THAT OF HIS REWARD.
HEAVEN AND HIS COUNTRY UNITE TO DISCHARGE THE DEBT;
HEAVEN BY TAKING HIM TO ETERNAL HAPPINESS,
HIS COUNTRY BY DEVOTING HIM TO ETERNAL REMEMBRANCE.
GLORIA DEO, DATI ET ADIMENTI.
Additional reading, which includes incredible detail of the transporting of Nelson’s remains from Trafalgar to London; the post-mortem; the body’s preparation for the funeral; the viewings, processionals and the funeral itself, can be found at http://www.aboutnelson.co.uk/death.htm and http://todayinbritishhistory.com/2015/01/funeral-burial-lord-horatio-nelson-9-january-1806/. These sites also served as references for today’s article.