Heraldic Funerals part 1

Heraldic funeral

By the 14th century it had become the practice at funerals of royalty and the nobility for a prominent display of heraldry to be included in the pageantry of the event, and these heraldic funerals became increasingly elaborate statements of the deceased’s social status and wealth. Heralds would attend the aristocratic funerals and issue a certificate giving the pedigree of the deceased, and details of his or her death and burial.  They represented the authority of the monarchy.  The College of Arms supervised everything in relation to the funeral procession, the accoutrements displayed, and even the work of painters and other tradesmen involved.  They were also responsible for the decoration of the home and church with black cloth and other heraldic displays.  Everything was done according to the rank of the deceased, and mourners were offered a banquet while waiting.  Relatives were enforced to participate and pay the heralds’ fees; mourners had to be of the same sex of the deceased. In Ireland many burials were accomplished within a day of death, though two to four days was the usual interval between death and burial for the middle and upper classes in the 1630s. For the very wealthy, several weeks or months of preparation might go into the elaborate and costly funerals orchestrated by the heralds, whose office in Ireland was founded in 1552, and this delay might necessitate the embalming of the corpse. Heraldic funerals reached the height of their popularity in the early to mid-seventeenth century, especially among recently established New English settler families, for whom such display served to underline their new titles and entitlements. Their subsequent decline reflected the social disruption of the 1640s and 1650s as well as the rise of the new fashion for nocturnal funerals.


Heraldic tomb     During the funeral procession a pall bearing the Coat of Arms of the deceased would cover the coffin. For members of high nobility and royalty the bier would sometimes also be surmounted by a representation of the dead person, dressed in robes and crowned.On either side of the bier the heralds would walk bearing the elements of the dead persons heraldic achievement. A hears was built in the church for the coffin to lay. This would often be an elaborate temporary structure made of wood, metal, and cloth. The hearse had receptacles for burning tapers, in between which the armorial bearings of the deceased would be set, these armorials were usually made of buckram, a stiff cloth made of linen. Upon entering the church the coffin was placed within the rails of the hearse, where the principal mourners would also take their places. The funeral of a high-ranking member of the nobility would be attended by not only family members and other mourners but even by the dead man’s warhorse, decked out in his master’s heraldic trappings. In Italy and Spain, well into the 20th century, the noble laid “in state” at home prior to the funeral. The body lay either in a coffin or on a bed of state, dressed in court dress, with the bed itself covered with a cloth of gold on which were embroidered the family Coat of Arms. For the highest members of the nobility, including royalty, household staff would hold banners bearing the deceased’s Coat of Arms. The hearse was also decorated with banners, standards, guidons, and lesser flags. These, along with the rest of the achievement would be hung near the burial place of the deceased providing a suitable display of pomp. 

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