Social Life in Queen Anne's Reign, Volume I.

Ashton, John


CHAPTER IV: Death and Burial

CHAPTER IV: Death and Burial


THAT some lived to a good old age there can be no doubt; but a patriarch died in this reign at Northampton, April 5, : [1]  'This Day died John Bales of this Town, Button Maker Aged 130 and some Weeks; he liv'd in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth, King James the First, King Charles the First, Oliver, King Charles the Second, King James the Second, King William the Third, and Queen Anne.'

And this brings us-

Where the brass knocker, wrapt in flannel band, Forbids the thunder of the footman's hand; Th' upholder, rueful harbinger of death, Waits with impatience for the dying breath; As vultures o'er a camp, with hovering flight, Snuff up the future carnage of the fight.


Nay, if is to be believed, they even feed heavily for early information of death.[3] 

You don't consider the Charges I have been at already. Charges ? For what ? First, Twenty Guineas to my Lady's Woman for notice of your Death (a Fee I've, before now, known the Widow herself go halfs in), but no matter for that. In the next place, Ten Pounds for watching you all your long Fit of Sickness last Winter. Watching me? Why I had none but my own Servants by Turns.


DEATH and BURIAL. I mean attending to give notice of your Death. I had all your long fit of Sickness last Winter, at Half a Crown a day, a fellow waiting at your Gate, to bring me Intelligence, but you unfortunately recovered, and I Lost all my Obliging pains for your Service.

This, of course, is exaggeration, but although, as we have seen, people were sparing in expense over births or marriages, they were absolutely lavish over funerals, and the undertaker could well afford to disgorge some of his gains. Was it the funeral of a rich man, the corpse must straightway be embalmed, roughly though it may be. 'Have you brought the Sawdust and Tar for embalming ? Have you the hangings and the Sixpenny nails for my Lord's Coat of Arms ?' The hatchment must be put up, and mutes must be stationed at intervals from the hall door to the top of the stairs. 'Come, you that are to be Mourners in the House, put on your Sad Looks, and walk by Me that I may sort you. Ha you! a little more upon the Dismal. This Fellow has a good Mortal look, place him near the Corps; That Wanscoat Face must be o' top of the Stairs; That Fellow's almost in a Fright (that looks as if he were full of some strange misery) at the Entrance of the Hall. So !-but I'll fix you all myself. Let's have no Laughing now on any Provocation: Look Yonder, at that Hale, Well looking Puppy ! You ungrateful Scoundrel, Did not I pity you, take you out of a Great Man's Service, and show you the Pleasure of receiving Wages ? Did not I give you Ten, then Fifteen and Twenty Shillings a Week to be Sorrowful? and the more I give you, I think the Glader you are!'

The undertaker issued his handbills-gruesome things, with grinning skulls and shroud-clad corpses, thigh bones, mattocks and pickaxes, hearses, and what not. 'These are to Notice, that Mr. John Elphick, Woollen Draper, over against St. Michael's Church in Lewes, hath a good Hearse, a Velvet Pall, Mourning Cloaks, and Black Hangings for Rooms to be Lett at Reasonable Rates.

'He also Sells all sorts of Mourning and Half Mourning, all sorts of Black Cyprus for Scarfs and Hatbands, and White Silks for Scarfs and Hoods at Funerals; Gloves of all sorts and Burying Cloaths for the Dead.

'He sells likewise all sorts of Woollen Cloth Broad and


Narrow, Silks and Half Silks, Worsted Stuffs of all Sorts, and Prices of the Newest Fashions, and all sorts of Ribbons, Bodies and Hose, very good Penny worths.'

'Eleazar Malory, Joiner at the Coffin in White Chapel, near Red Lion Street end, maketh Coffins, Shrouds, letteth Palls, Cloaks, and Furnisheth with all other things necessary for Funerals at Reasonable Rates.'

The dead were then buried in woollen, which was rendered compulsory by the Acts 30 Car. II. c. 3 and 36 ejusdem c. I. The first Act was entitled 'An Act for the lessening the importation of Linnen from beyond the Seas, and the encouragement of the Woollen and Paper Manufactures of the Kingdome.' It prescribed that the curate of every parish shall keep a register, to be provided at the charge of the parish, wherein to

enter all burials and affidavits of persons being buried in woollen ; the affidavit to be taken by any justice of the peace, mayor, or such like chief officer in the parish where the body was interred ; and if there be no officer, then by any curate within the county where the corpse was buried (except him in whose parish the corpse was buried), who must administer the oath, and set his hand gratis.

No affidavit to be necessary for a person dying of the plague. It imposed a fine of 5l. for every infringement, one half to go to the informer, and the other half to the poor of the parish.

This Act was only repealed by 54 Geo. III. c. 108, or in the year .

The material used was flannel, and such interments are frequently mentioned in the literature of the time, and


mentions in his diary (Oct. 9, ) that the Irish Parliament had just brought in bills 'for encouraging the linnen manufacture, and to oblige all persons to bury in woollen.'

Odious ! in woollen ! 'twould a saint provoke,' Were the last words that poor Narcissa spoke; ' No, let a charming chintz and Brussels lace Wrap my cold limbs and shade my lifeless face: One would not, sure, be frightful when one's dead- And, Betty, give this cheek a little red.'


-Funeral invitations were sent out-ghastly things, such as the accompanying.


Elegies, laudatory of the deceased, were sometimes printed and sent to friends: these were got up in the same charnelhouse style. Indeed, no pains were spared to make a funeral utterly miserable and expensive. Hatbands were costly items.


'For the encouragement of our English silk called Alamodes, His Royal Highness the Prince of Denmark, the Nobility, and other persons of Quality appear in Mourning Hatbands made of that Silk, to bring the same in fashion, in the place of Crapes, which are made in the Pope's Country where we send our Money for them.' Gloves, of course, had to be given to every mourner. Indeed it is refreshing among the universal spoiling of the deceased's survivors to find that one man advertises cheap mourning and funeral necessaries. 'For the good of the Publick, I Edward Evans, at the Four Coffins in the Strand, over against Somerset House; Furnish all Necessaries for all sorts of Funerals, both great and small. And all sorts of set Mourning both Black and Gray and all other Furniture sutable to it, fit for any person of Quality. Which I promise to perform 2s. in the Pound cheaper than any of the Undertakers in Town or elsewhere.'

Of course these remarks do not apply to the poor: they had already started burial clubs or societies, and very cheap they seem to have been. ' This is to give Notice, that the Office of Society for Burials, by mutual Contribution of a Halfpenny or Farthing towards a Burial, erected upon Wapping Wall, is now removed into Katherine Wheel Alley in White Chappel, near Justice Smiths, where subscriptions are taken to compleat the number, as also at the Ram in Crucifix lane in Barnaby Street, Southwark; to which places notice is to be given of the death of any Member, and where any Person may havethe Printed Articles after Monday next. And this Thursday about 7 o'clock Evening will be Buried by the Undertakers the Corpse of J. S., a Glover over against the Sun Brewhouse, in Golden Lane; as also a Child from the Corner of Acorn Alley in Bishopsgate Street, and another Child from the Great Maze Pond, Southwark.'

We see in the invitation to Mr. Newborough's funeral that it was to take place on an evening in January. This probably was so arranged by the Undertaker (indeed, the custom was general) to increase his costs, for then the mourners were furnished with wax tapers. These were heavy, and sometimes (judging from the illustrations to undertakers' handbills) were made of four tapers twisted at the stem and then branching


out. That these wax candles were expensive enough to excite the thievish cupidity of a band of roughs the following advertisement will show: ' Riots and Robberies. Committed in and about Stepney Church Yard, at a Funeral Solemnity, on Wednesday the 23rd day of September; and whereas many Persons, who being appointed to attend the same Funeral with white Wax lights of a considerable Value, were assaulted in a most violent manner, and the said white Wax lights taken from them. Whoever shall discover any of the Persons, guilty of the said Crimes, so as they may be convicted of the same, shall receive of Mr. William Prince, Wax Chandler in the Poultry, London, Ten Shillings for each Person so discover'd,' &c.[5] 

We get a curious glimpse of the paraphernalia of a funeral in the Life of a notorious cheat, 'The German Princess,' who lived, and was hanged, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, and the same funeral customs therein described obtained in Anne's time. She took a lodging at a house; in a good position, and told the landlady that a friend of hers, a stranger to London, had just died, and was lying at 'a pitiful Alehouse,' and might she, for convenience' sake, bring his corpse there, ready for burial on the morrow. The landlady consented, and 'that Evening the Corps in a very handsome Coffin was brought in a Coach, and plac'd in the Chamber, which was the Room one pair of Stairs next the street and had a Balcony. The Coffin being cover'd only with an ordinary black Cloth, our Counterfeit seems much to dislike it; the Landlady tells her that for 20s. she might have the Use of a Velvet Pall, with which being well pleas'd, she desir'd that the Landlady would send for the Pall, and withal accommodate the Room with her best Furniture, for the next Day but one he should be bury'd; thus the Landlady perform'd, getting the Velvet Pall, and placing on a Side-Board Table 2 Silver Candlesticks, a Silver Flaggon, 2 Standing gilt Bowls, and several other Pieces of Plate; but the Night before the intended Burial, our counterfeit Lady and her Maid within the House, handed to their Comrades without, all the Plate, Velvet Pall, and other Furniture of the Chamber that was Portable and of Value, leaving the


Coffin and the suppos'd Corps, she and her Woman descended from the Balcony by Help of a Ladder, which her Comrades had brought her.' It is needless to say that the coffin contained only brickbats and hay, and a sad sequel to this story is, that the undertaker sued the landlady for the loss of his pall, which had lately cost him 40£.

Another very costly item in funerals was the giving of mourning rings. We see [6] the number of rings given at ' funeral in , and their value, 20s. and 15s., especially when we consider the extra value of the currency at that period, must have been a sore burden to the survivors. [7]  shows to what a prodigal extent this custom might be carried. 'Afternoon, at the Funeral of my excellent and dear friend, Dr. Thomas Gale, Dean of York, who was interred with great solemnity: lay in state, 200 rings (besides scarfs to bearers and gloves to all) given in the room where I was, which yet could not contain the company.'

Naturally, a great many must have come to a man in the course of his life, as we may see by the contents of a box lost out of a waggon between Stamford and London: ' 3 Hair Rings, 6 with a Death's Head, about 2 penny weight apiece the Posie (Prepared be to follow me); 3 other mourning rings with W. C. ob. 18 Dec. ; 1 Ennamelled Ring, 3 Pennyweight twelve grains. W. Heltey, ob. 5 July, AEt. 61.' And their value may be guessed from 'Lost on Thursday, the 8th Instant one of the late Lord Huntingdon's Funeral Rings. Whoever brings it to Mr. White's at the Chocolate House in shall have two Guineas reward.'

Besides the rings, hatbands, scarves, and gloves, there was another tax; for Evelyn,[8]  noting ' death and burial, says, ' Mr. had been for neare 40 years so much my particular friend that Mr. Jackson sent me compleat mourning, desiring me to be one to hold up the pall at his magnificent obsequies, but my indisposition hinder'd me from doing him this last office.'

The pomp of funerals was outrageous. , observant as he always was, notes this in 'Trivia,' book 3 :-


Why is the Herse with 'Scutcheons blazon'd round, And with the nodding Plume of Ostrich crown'd? No, the Dead know it not, nor profit gain: It only serves to prove the Living vain. How short is Life ! how frail is human Trust! Is all this Pomp for laying Dust to Dust ?

No wonder he exclaimed against these mortuary extravagances. Take an alderman's funeral as an example: 'On Wednesday last the Corps of Sir William Prichard, Kt., late Alderman, and sometime Lord Mayor of the City of London, (Who died Feb. 18) having lain some days in State, at his House in , was convey'd from thence in a Hearse, accompanied by several Mourning Coaches with 6 Horses each, through Barnet and St. Albans to Dunstable; and the next day through Hockley (where it was met by about 20 Persons on Horseback) to Woburn and Newport Pagnel, and to his seat at Great Lynford (a Mile farther) in the county of Buckingham: Where, after the Body had been set out, with all Ceremony befitting his Degree, for near 2 hours, 'twas carried to the Church adjacent in this order, viz. 2 Conductors with long Staves, 6 Men in long Cloaks two and two, the Standard, 18 Men in Cloaks as before, Servants to the Deceas'd two and two, Divines, the Minister of the Parish and the Preacher, the Helm and Crest, Sword and Target, Gauntlets and Spurs, born by an Officer of Arms; the Surcoat of arms born by another Officer of Arms, both in their rich Coats of Her Majesty's Arms embroider'd; the Body, between 6 Persons of the Arms of Christ's Hospital, St. Bartholomew's, Merchant Taylors' Company, City of London, empaled Coat and Single Coat; the Chief Mourner and his 4 Assistants, follow'd by the Relations of the Defunct, &c. After Divine Service was perform'd and an excellent Sermon suitable to the Occasion, preach'd by the Reverend Lewis Atterbury, LL.D., Minister of aforesaid, the Corps was interr'd in a handsome large Vault, in the Ile on the North side of the Church, betwixt 7 and 8 of the clock that Evening.' [9] 

But there was one thing they did not spend so much money upon as their forefathers did, i.e. on monumental


statuary, &c. In this age the bust, or 'busto,' was used in preference to the recumbent, or half-figures, of the previous century; but by far the greater number of mortuary memorials took the form of mural tablets, more or less ornate, according to the taste and wealth of the parties concerned. As a rule the epitaph was in Latin-this classical age, and the somewhat pedantic one that followed, could brook no meaner tongue in which to eulogise its dead; and their virtues were pompously set forth in that language which is common to the whole of the civilised world.

No account of the funerals of this age would be complete without seeing what says on the subject :- ' As soon as any Person is dead, they are oblig'd to give Notice thereof to the Minister of the Parish, and to those who are appointed to visit dead Bodies. This Custom of visiting dead Bodies was establish'd after the dreadful Plague that ravag'd London in , to the Intent that it might be immediately known if there was any Contagious Distemper, and proper Methods taken to put a Stop to it. They are generally two Women that do this. The Clerk of the Parish receives their Certificate, and out of these is form'd an Abridgment that is publish'd every Week. By this Paper you may see how many Persons of both Sexes dy'd within that Week, of what Distemper, or by what Accident.

'There is an Act of Parliament which ordains, That the Dead shall be bury'd in a Woollen Stuff, which is a Kind of a thin Bays, which they call Flannel; nor is it lawful to use the least Needleful of Thread or Silk. (The Intention of this Act is for the Encouragement of the Woollen Manufacture.) This Shift is always White; but there are different Sorts of it as to Fineness, and consequently of different Prices. To make these Dresses is a particular Trade, and there are many that sell nothing else; so that these Habits for the Dead are always to be had ready made, of what Size or Price you please, for People of every Age and Sex. After they have wash'd the Body thoroughly clean, and shav'd it, if it be a Man, and his Beard be grown during his Sickness, they put it on a Flannel Shirt, which has commonly a Sleeve purfled about the Wrists, and the Slit of the Shirt down the Breast done in the same


Manner. When these Ornaments are not of Woollen Lace, they are at least edg'd, and sometimes embroider'd with black Thread. The Shirt shou'd be at least half a Foot longer than the Body, that the Feet of the Deceas'd may be wrapped in it as in a Bag. When they have thus folded the End of the Shirt close to the Feet, they tye the Part that is folded down with a Piece of Woollen Thread, as we do our Stockings; so that the End of the Shirt is done into a Kind of Tuft.

'Upon the Head they put a Cap, which they fasten with a very broad Chin Cloth, with Gloves on the Hands, and a Cravat round the Neck, all of Woollen. That the Body may ly the softer, some put a Lay of Bran, about four inches thick, at the Bottom of the Coffin. Instead of a Cap, the Women have a Kind of Head Dress, with a Forehead Cloth. The Body being thus equipp'd and laid in the Coffin (which Coffin is sometimes very magnificent), it is visited a second time, to see that it is bury'd in Flannel, and that nothing about it is sowed with Thread. They let it lye three or four Days in this Condition; which Time they allow, as well to give the dead Person an Opportunity of Coming to Life again, if his Soul has not quite left his Body, as to prepare Mourning, and the Ceremonies of the Funeral.

'They send the Beadle with a List of such Friends and Relations as they have a Mind to invite; and sometimes they have printed Tickets, which they leave at their Houses. A little before the Company is set in Order for the March, they lay the Body into the Coffin upon two Stools, in a Room where all that please may go and see it; they then take off the Top of the Coffin, and remove from off the Face a little square Piece of Flannel, made on Purpose to cover it, and not fastened to any Thing; Upon this Occasion the rich Equipage of the Dead does Honour to the Living. The Relations and chief Mourners are in a Chamber apart, with their more intimate Friends; and the rest of the Guests are dispersed in several Rooms about the House.

'When they are ready to set out, they nail up the Coffin, and a Servant presents the Company with Sprigs of Rosemary: Every one takes a Sprig and carries it in his Hand 'till the Body is put into the Grave, at which Time they all throw their Sprigs


in after it. Before they set out, and after they return, it is usual to present the Guests with something to drink, either
red or white Wine, boil'd with Sugar and Cinnamon, or some such Liquor. Butler, the Keeper of a Tavern, [10]  told me there


was a Tun of Red Port drank at his Wife's Burial, besides mull'd White Wine. Note, no Men ever go to Women's Burials, nor the Women to the Men's; so that there were none but Women at the drinking of Butler's Wine. Such Women in England will hold it out with the Men, when they have a Bottle before them, as well as upon t'other Occasion, and tattle infinitely better than they.

'The Parish has always three or four Mortuary Cloths of different Prices, [11]  to furnish those who are at the Charge of the interment. These Cloths, which they Call Palls, are some of black Velvet, others of Cloth with an edge of white Linnen or Silk, a foot broad, or thereabouts; For a Batchellor or Maid, or for a Woman that dies in Child Birth, the Pall is white. This is spread over the Coffin, and is so broad that the Six or Eight Men that carry the Body are quite hid beneath it to their Waste, and the Corners and Sides of it hang down low enough to be born by those [12]  who, according to Custom, are invited for that purpose. They generally give Black or White Gloves and black Crape Hatbands to those that carry the Pall; sometimes also white Silk Scarves.

'Every Thing being ready to move (it must be remember'd that I always speak of middling People, among whom the Customs of a Nation are most truly to be learn'd), one or more Beadles march first, each carrying a long Staff, at the End of which is a great Apple or Knob of Silver. The Minister of the Parish, generally accompany'd by some other Minister, and attended by the Clerk, walks next; and the Body carry'd as I said before, comes just after him. The Relations in close Mourning, and all the Guests two and two, make up the rest of the Procession. The Common Practice is to carry the corpse thus into the Body of the Church, where they set it down upon two Tressels, while either a Funeral Sermon is preach'd, containing an Eulogium upon the deceased, or certain Prayers said, adapted to the Occasion. If the Body is not bury'd in the Church, they carry it to the Church Yard belonging to the same, where it is interr'd in the Presence of the Guests, who are round the Grave, and they do not leave it 'till the Earth is


thrown in upon it. Then they return Home in the same order that they came, and each drinks two or three Glasses more before he goes Home. Among Persons of Quality 'tis customary to embalm the Body, and to expose it for a Fortnight or more on a Bed of State. After which they carry it in a Sort of a Waggon [13]  made for that Purpose, and cover'd with black Cloth, to the Place appointed by the Deceased. This Cart is attended by a long train of Mourning Coaches belonging to the Friends of the Dead Person.'

A notice of a Roman Catholic funeral must conclude this subject. It is taken from the will of 'Mr. Benjamin Dod, Citizen and Linnen Draper, who fell from his Horse, and dy'd soon after.' [14]  ' I desire Four and Twenty Persons to be at my Burial . . . to every of which Four and Twenty Persons . . . I give a pair of white Gloves, a Ring of Ten Shillings Value, a Bottle of Wine at my Funeral, and Halfa Crown to be spent at their Return that Night, to drink my Soul's Health, then on her Journey for Purification in order to Eternal Rest. I appoint the Room, where my Corps shall lie, to be hung with Black, and four and twenty Wax Candles to be burning; on my Coffin to be affixed a Cross, and this Inscription, Jesus, Hominum Salvator. I also appoint my Corps to be carried in a Herse drawn with Six white Horses, with white Feathers, and followed by Six Coaches, with six Horses to each Coach, to carry the four and twenty Persons. . . . Item I give to Forty of my particular Acquaintance, not at my Funeral, to every one of them a Gold Ring of Ten Shillings Value. ... As for Mourning I leave that to my Executors hereafter nam'd; and I do not desire them to give any to whom I shall leave a legacy.' Here follows a long list of legacies. 'I will have no Presbyterian, Moderate Low Churchmen, or Occasional Conformists, to be at or have anything to do with my Funeral. I die in the Faith of the True Catholic Church. I desire to have a Tomb stone over me, with a Latin Inscription, and a Lamp, or Six Wax Candles, to burn Seven Days and Nights thereon.'

Widows wore black veils, and a somewhat peculiar cap, and had long trains-allusions to which are very frequent in the literature of the time. That they were supposed to


seclude themselves for six weeks, and debar themselves of all amusement for twelve months, is shown by the two following extracts from 's ' Funeral, or Grief a la Mode.' 'But, Tatty, to keep house 6 weeks, that's another barbarous Custom.'

'Oh, how my head runs my first Year out, and jumps to all the joys of widowhood! If, Thirteen Months hence, a Friend should haul one to a Play one has a mind to see !'


[1] Daily Courant, April 9, 1706.

[2] Trivia.

[3] This and the following quotations are from The Funeral or Grief a la Mode, by Steele, ed. 1702.

[4] Pope's Moral Essays, Epistle i. This is said to refer to Mrs. Oldfield, the famous actress of Anne's reign, who (vide Gentleman's Magazine for March 1731) 'was buried in Westminster Abby, in a Brussels lace Head dress, a Holland Shift, with Tucker and double Ruffles of the same Lace, and a Pair of new Kid Gloves.' 'Betty' was her old and faithful servant, Mrs. Saunders, herself an actress, taking widows' and old maids' parts.

[5] Daily Courant, Sept. 30, 1713.

[6] Appendix.

[7] Diary of Ralph Thoresby, April 15, 1702.

[8] Diary, May 26, 1703.

[9] Daily Courant, March 5, 1705.

[10] The Crown and Sceptre in St. Martin's Street.

[11] The handsomest was let out on hire for twenty-five or thirty shillings.

[12] Called Pall-bearers-some six friends or so-and accounted a special honour.

[13] A hearse.

[14] The Flying Post and Medley, July 27, 1714.