Skip to main content
Filters
Stories

The gun that carried royalty

Field gun

15-pounder Mark IV Gun of 7 cwt on a Field Carriage Mark IV

This field gun conveyed the mortal remains of both Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and King Edward VII (1841-1910) on one of the short three legs of their funeral procession. The silver plaques on the carriage trail tell us more specifically that for Her Majesty it involved the start of the ceremony from Osborne House to Cowes quay on the 1st of February 1901 and for the latter, in London, from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall on the 17th May 1910.

Silver plaques on the gun

At 13.30 on a Friday afternoon the Queen’s coffin was carried out of Osborne House by men of the Highland Regiment and sailors of the Royal Navy and placed on the gun-carriage prepared to receive it. It was covered by a white silk pall and the Royal Standard. On a crimson cushion at the head rested the crown, and on an azure cushion at the foot lay the sceptre and the two orbs. As the gun-carriage moved off, drawn by eight horses, immediately behind walked His Majesty the King as chief mourner, accompanied on his right by the German Emperor and on his left by the Duke of Connaught all wearing the uniforms of a British Admiral. Behind them in procession followed the Crown Prince of Prussia, Prince Henry of Prussia, Prince Christian, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Arthur of Connaught, Prince Charles of Denmark and Prince Louis of Battenberg. Then came the Queen and the Royal Princesses and finally the Osborne tenantry and the Household servants.

Once the procession had reached Cowes pier, the silken pall was removed and ten strong bluejackets carried the coffin to a dais prepared for it on the deck of the royal yacht Alberta. At this point, the 15-pounder gun-carriage had served its purpose and was most likely returned to store at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. Then the royal mourners were conveyed in pinnaces to the Victoria and Albert and at five minutes to three in the afternoon, the Alberta slipped slowly away from the pier, while the troops presented arms and the massed bands played “The Saints of God, their conflicts past”. Alberta’s destination was Portsmouth Harbour and an overnight berth at the Royal Clarence Yard with a guard of honour mounted in the on deck pavilion. Early the next day the coffin was removed to the royal train for the journey to London.

At Victoria station, another gun-carriage was ready to repeat the process on a short circuit around the city before ending at Paddington station for the train trip to Windsor. Here, a further gun-carriage conveyed the coffin on the last stage of its journey to St. George’s Chapel but not before a mishap with a broken carriage harness hit and felled a horse resulting in a restive horse team refusing, unsurprisingly, to move. Whilst the horse was recovering, the sailors forming the nearby Naval Guard of Honour unharnessed the horse team and with the aid of an improvised rope drew the gun-carriage onward themselves. Such quick-thinking by the sailors was later to earn them a special message of thanks from the King. They were thus granted the honour of drawing their deceased Sovereign through the gates of Windsor Castle to the door of St. George’s Chapel. Here a service was led by the Bishop of Winchester before the coffin was moved to the Albert Memorial Chapel to await its final entombment at Frogmore.

This gun-carriage was then used again nine years later to convey the mortal remains of Edward VII from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. Here it lay in state for three days allowing the populace a last opportunity of showing their respect. The coffin was covered with the same white silk pall and Royal Standard as used to cover his mother’s coffin. Interestingly, for the first and probably the only time in its history, the bell of Big Ben was tolled four times a minute from the moment at which the funeral procession left Buckingham Palace until the time at which the coffin was set in its place at Westminster Hall. Thereafter, the journey progressed from Westminster Hall to Paddington station for the trip to Windsor but this time drawn by an 18-pounder field gun currently in the possession of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust. Finally, a further gun would have been used between Windsor station and St. George’s Chapel and finally to the place of internment below in the Albert Memorial Chapel.

18-pdr gun with coffin bearing platform

The 18-pounder field gun, currently in the possession of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust, that carried Edward VII from Westminster Hall to Paddington station. Image by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust Trustees.

None of the guns and carriages involved in these two funerals ever fired a shot in anger. This type of gun, as the Mark I, was introduced into the service in 1883 as the 12-pounder of 7 cwt to form the armament of the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery. With the introduction of the more powerful cordite propellant in 1889 it was found that it could fire a heavier projectile of 15 pounds and as a consequence was designated the 15-pounder. This non-modified Mark IV utilised wire-winding to strengthen the barrel and was manufactured by the Elswick Ordnance Company of Newcastle in 1901. The single trail carriage fitted with rubber wheels for funerary service in order to promote greater silence and to avoid jolting was made at the Royal Carriage Department, Woolwich in 1900 – the last carriage to be fitted with seats for the gunners to ride on when travelling. Both gun and carriage became the British Army’s field gun during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Here, 349 were in service and said to have fired 166,548 rounds out of a British total of 233,714. A few remained in limited use in remote First World War theatres. The ammunition available to the six-man detachment was shrapnel and case shot but range was limited to 3749 m (4,100 yards) by the No. 56 time and percussion fuze which could only burn for 13 seconds. This was soon improved with the No.57 fuze which with a longer burn time gave a 5,304 m (5,800 yards) maximum range. It was of course to be the 13-pounder and 18-pounder quick-firing field guns of 1904, the former for the Royal Horse Artillery and the latter for the Royal Field Artillery that proved to be the successor of the 15-pounder.
1029 words.

Sources

The Illustrated London News, No.3224A, February 7th, 1901.
The Illustrated London News, No.757, May 21st, 1910.

Related stories

Load more
`