Thursday, October 26, 2017

Funeral Etiquette in the Early 19th Century

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Graves at Kensal Green Cemetery
Loretta reports:

At some point early in my career, someone informed me that women did not attend funerals in early 19th century England. However, while researching funerals recently, I learned that there was disagreement on the matter.

The Gentleman and Lady's Book of Politeness and Propriety of Deportment of 1833 (a French work translated into English) offers this:
When we lose any one of our family, we should give intelligence of it to all persons who have had relations of business or friendship with the deceased. This letter of announcement usually contains an invitation to assist at the service and burial.

On receiving this invitation, we should go to the house of the deceased, and follow the body as far as the church. We are excused from accompanying it to the burying-ground, unless it be a relation, a friend, or a superior…

At an interment or funeral service, the members of the family are entitled to the first places; they are nearest to the coffin, whether in the procession, or in the church. The nearest relations go in a full mourning dress. It is not customary at Paris for women to follow the procession; and, nowhere do they go quite to the grave, unless they are of a low class. A widower or a widow, a father or mother, are not present at the interment, or funeral service of those whom they have lost. The first are presumed not to be able to support the afflicting ceremony; the second ought not to show this mark of deference.

The Gentleman’s Quarterly Review of August 1836 takes a different view. Regarding the Rev. W. Greswell’s Commentary on the Order for the Burial of the Dead, the reviewer has this to say:

We hope the hints relative to the nonattendance of females of the higher classes at funerals, will produce its due effect; it is a direct avoidance of a great Christian duty, which too often arises from selfish and effeminate motives of indulgence. Mr. Greswell ought, however, to have considered that if the females do not attend the funeral of their departed relatives, like the male mourners, yet they bear a far greater share previously in their attendance on the sick and dying ; and show a tenderness and firmness that the other sex cannot always boast: thus they are often incapacitated by distress, added to watchfulness, weariness, and even sickness, from attention to these last duties. This is a sound and legitimate cause of absence; but it is the only one.

*Originally published in France.
Photograph Photo copyright © 2017 Walter M. Henritze III
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.


Regencyresearcher said...

When discussing this on various lists we have come up with mixed answers. Some recall grandmothers telling them that female members of the family didn't usually attend the burial even as late as the 20th century in their part of the country( England/Wales). Jane Austen's sister didn't attend her burial. Women often did attend the funeral inside the church for those who weren't closely related to them. Village funerals usually included men and women. I think it was a mixed bag.
One thing I found utterly shocking was that a nurse saw to the funeral and burial of a child and notified the parents by letter and the mother wrote back and said she hoped the nurse used the opportunity to warn the older siblings how they must always be good as they could die at any minute.
Jane Austen mentions dressing her nephews in mourning but doesn't mention whether or not she went to the funeral for her sister in-law.
In the movie Sense and Sensibility the latest one, I think-- we see Mrs. Dashwood with her daughters following the coffin. Dramatic but hardly a true picture . Not that I doubted they might have attended the funeral but that they were the only mourners. John and his wife and others surely were there.
Considering the ideas of sensibility rife at the time, I would think the men would want the close female relations to stay away from the burial lest they swoon or become hysterical.

Lil said...

Thank you—this is something I have wondered about. Nonattendance seems somehow unnatural. It's not as if people pretended death didn't exist.

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