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Queen Caroline's Tragic Final Journey

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The feud that had lasted throughout the 26-year marriage of George, Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel didn't end with her death – which occurred on 7 August, 1821, less than three weeks after the Coronation of her husband.

Barred from the City Centre

The Queen's funeral procession on 14 August, 1821, which was overseen by the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool, was barred from travelling through the centre of London in an attempt to forestall public demonstrations. The official route was announced commencing at Hammersmith, passing through Kensington, Uxbridge Road, Bayswater, Edgware Road, New Road, Islington, City Road, Old Street and Mile End, via northeast London and on through Essex, via Romford, Chelmsford and Colchester, terminating at the port town of Harwich.

A Mr Bailey had been appointed conductor of Queen Caroline's funeral and he arrived at the Queen's home, Brandenburg House, Hammersmith, just after 5am. At the entrance gate stood a solitary Bow Street Officer1 named Perry, who was tasked with refusing entry to any but the persons named on his list. Already in the front drive was the empty hearse harnessed to eight plumed horses. Lined up behind were 13 mourning coaches and another 13 carriages. Next to arrive was Sir George Naylor, Garter King-at-Arms, accompanied by Mr Hood, who was the Herald. He had with him an official letter authorising the removal of the body.

At around 7am there began a stand off between Government officials and the executors. Mr Bailey ordered that the Queen's body should be carried to the hearse. Dr Lushington, on behalf of the executors, protested that there had not been enough time to fully prepare for the long journey back to Germany. He postulated that the troop of soldiers contravened the Queen's wishes and he was invoking his legal right as executor in refusing to relinquish the Queen's body. Mr Bailey retorted that he had orders to remove the body and he had the authority to do so. Dr Lushington accused him of being a usurper and claimed that his power as executor took precedence. Mr Bailey then queried whether Dr Lushington was going to stop the removal by force and if violence was going to be used. Dr Lushington denied any such impropriety but he still refused to give his permission. He declined to act further as executor and stated that he would take part in the funeral procession only as a private person.

The cortège departed at precisely 7.30am, half-an-hour late due to the haggling. The weather was ominous, the heavens opened and it poured with rain, soaking the escorting guards, a squadron of Oxford Blues in their dress uniforms, to the skin. Sir George Naylor carried an Imperial crown upon a black velvet cushion in the second mourning coach. The crown denoted the status of the deceased – even though in life she had been denied a crown.

When the sodden procession reached Broadway, barefoot children emerged from Latimer's Charity School carrying white baskets of flowers. Having been issued with the baskets the previous day, each child was tasked with requesting the choicest blooms from their neighbours' gardens to decorate the late Queen's last journey. Single stems were selected every few steps and thrown into the path of the coming horses, whose hooves only served to stamp them into the muddy ground. When their baskets were empty, the children stepped aside and waited until the entire cortège had passed before returning to school.

To the City!

The procession passed through Kensington, but at Uxbridge Road, blockades by the Queen's working-class supporters were already in place, in an attempt to force the procession through the City Centre. This caused a delay of some 90 minutes as the guards tried to break down the barricade, all the while being pelted with missiles by the hostile crowd. Forced to give up, they changed direction and moved towards Knightsbridge. Hyde Park Corner was similarly blocked, as were the entrance gates to the Park. The baying mob, chanting 'To the City! To the City' incessantly, continued to bombard the Oxford Blues with rocks each time an attempt was made to clear the obstructions. By this time many of them had suffered injuries and their powers of restraint were stretched to the limit.

Bloodshed

Detouring up Park Lane in Mayfair, further passage through was impossible when they reached a burning blockade. The entire procession, choking on the acrid fumes which burned their throats, turned back towards Hyde Park. There the guards, having received orders to use their weapons to disperse the crowd, prepared to attack. They forced their way through the gates; many people were injured by sabre cuts and gunshot, and two men were killed. Their blood seeped into the sodden earth, adding an indelible stain to the already deplorable day.

The incensed crowd, overwhelming in their numbers and spurred on by the brutality of the armed response, redoubled their efforts to force the equally-determined escort and their Royal charge through the City Centre. The bedraggled cortège moved down Edgware and along New Road until it reached Tottenham Court Road. Here the huge numbers of angry demonstrators had blocked every passage away from the City Centre, protecting the obstructions with their own bodies. The mass solidarity against officialdom exhibited by ordinary people determined to get their own way was unprecedented.

Through the City and Beyond

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sir Robert Baker, trying to avert a disaster, ordered the procession into the City Centre via Drury Lane and on through the Strand. For changing the royally-sanctioned route, Sir Robert lost his job. After it had passed through the centre of London, the melancholy cavalcade proceeded unmolested towards Romford, through Chelmsford and Colchester. The two-day journey was completed without any further interruption and they arrived at Harwich where the coffin was hoisted aboard a ship bound for Stade in Germany. From there it undertook the last leg of its woeful journey, 230km overland to Brunswick, arriving on 24 August.

Requiem for Caroline

On 25 August a funeral was held for Queen Caroline at Brunswick Cathedral. She was finally laid to rest in the family tomb beside her father, the Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel who had been fatally wounded at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt, and her brother Frederick William who died at the Battle of Quatre Bras. Her coffin bore the engraving: 'Caroline, the Injured Queen of England' as per her wishes. Government officials had forbidden the wording but a brass plate was attached to the coffin as it left England's shores. Brandenburg House was demolished within a year, but there is a Queen Caroline Street and a Queen Caroline Estate in Hammersmith which were named in memory of her. Brunswick Square Gardens, named in her honour in 1799, appears on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Interest. It is open to the public during daylight hours.

Richard Honey and George Francis

The two men who had been killed by guards on that tragic day of the Queen's funeral procession were carpenter Richard Honey, aged 36, and bricklayer George Francis, aged 43. Their funerals took place in St Paul's Churchyard, Hammersmith on 24 August, the very day that Caroline of Brunswick arrived home for the last time.

Voice from the Past

A large headstone, paid for by well-wishers, was inscribed with full details of their untimely demise, so the world would not forget them. This voice from the past, lamenting their doom and recalling the appalling events of that terrible day, is now the subject of an English Heritage protection order.

Imagine the days before the welfare state and personal life insurance: if a calamity befell a family and the breadwinner became incapacitated or died, the dependants were invariably left to beg or starve. Widower Honey's daughter was made an orphan and Francis left a widow and three children. According to the inscription on the headstone, an orphan's fund helped their bereaved families. This would have been an unofficial collection of farthings and halfpennies among those who could ill-afford to donate to others when their own families needed every penny they earned.

An inquest was held, which determined that Francis was murdered and Honey was the victim of manslaughter. No individual guardsman was ever named, nor were any prosecuted for the deaths.

1An employee of the Bow Street Magistrates Office. They were early police officers.

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