The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

Music for the Passing of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 in the Illustrated London News

Music for the Passing of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 in the Illustrated London News

‘Mourn for the Mighty Dead’

Music for the Passing of the Duke of Wellington in 1852 in the Illustrated London News

 Paul Thompson














Anyone familiar with the coverage of Wellington’s death and funeral in the pages of the Illustrated London News (ILN) during the autumn of 1852 will have remarked on how comprehensive it was – to put it mildly. Beginning with a customarily black-bordered obituary notice in the issue for 18 September[1] (the Duke died on 14 September and had, coincidentally, featured on the final page of the previous,11 September, edition too),[2] there ensued a torrent of commemorative articles ranging over every conceivable Wellingtonian topic during the months leading up to the funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral on 18 November.

Appreciations appeared in an exhaustive stream under headings such as ‘The Life & Military Services of the Duke of Wellington, Precis of the Commissions, Services, Official Commands & Public Honours’, ‘Wellington’s Place in the World’, ‘Wellingtoniana’, ‘The Wellington Chair’, ‘Street Reminiscences of the Duke’, ‘The Offices of Wellington’, ‘Sketches at Stratfieldsay’, ‘The Duke at the Royal Academy Soirée’ and so forth.

The protracted span between Wellington’s death and the funeral saw little slackening in the production of ILN memorial material, which was to include a clutch of impressive Wellington Supplements. Naturally, given the magazine’s emphasis on the pictorial, illustrations related to the duke are found in abundance, ranging from the slightly bizarre (see William Harvey’s distinctly Napoleonic ‘Time Removing the Hero’)[3] to the touching ‘Last Moments’[4] and a splendid two-pager depicting the funeral cortege passing Apsley House.[5] Not content merely with prose and images however, the ILN fleshed out its reportage with some instances of verse also – and even a couple of pieces of music.

The ILN had incorporated occasional musical compositions since its inception in The pair of pieces for the duke are a song, ‘Mourn for the Mighty Dead’[6] and the instrumental ‘Wellington’s Funeral March’.[7] Both were composed by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Words for the former were supplied by Charles Mackay, a Scot and newly appointed editor of the ILN.[8]  Both pieces were evidently meant to be performed by, and were designed chiefly for, the amateur, home music-making public.

Henry Bishop (1786-1855) was a dominating figure in British musical life in his time although well-nigh forgotten since. A prolific composer and arranger mainly of light opera, ballets and incidental music for plays, Bishop is best-known today for his ballad ‘Home, Sweet Home’. For all that his output was voluminous, it is not much performed or even readily available nowadays, and several works seem to have been lost – perhaps in some of the frequent conflagrations that plagued London’s opera houses at that era (both Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket and the then-Royal Italian Opera in Covent Garden went up in flames mid-century, taking considerable libraries of musical scores with them).[9]

Intriguingly, Bishop had previously written a Waterloo Cantata that was heard at Vauxhall Gardens in 1826. Unfortunately, it appears to be lost also. At any rate, Bishop’s activities were recognized with the conferral of a knighthood in 1842.

Henry Bishop knew the duke well. He had been responsible for an edition of the works of Wellington’s father, the Earl of Mornington, and Wellington and Bishop had collaborated as members of the Board of Directors of London’s ‘Concerts of Ancient Music’ that ran from 1776 to 1848.[10] Bishop dined at Apsley House, Wellington telling him regularly ‘I must have a good concert’ and ‘never mind the expense – I will pay the difference’.[11] Wellington’s enduring connection with music in his years as elder statesman, notwithstanding his well-documented struggles with deafness, is perhaps an under-appreciated aspect of his character. Bishop would have been well acquainted with the duke’s (unsurprisingly) conservative musical tastes that favoured the works of older masters, especially Mozart and Handel.

What of Bishop’s commemorative music itself?

 Mourn for the Mighty Dead’ is cast in uncomplicated, anthem style. It is set in the suitably solemn mode of G minor and flows in triple meter with straightforward rhythmic contours (the opening measures resemble ‘God Save the Queen’ for example). Bishop indicates that the tempo should be slow. The piano part is in a homophonic, hymn tune style and the upper notes of the right hand piano part ‘ghost’ along with the melody – presumably a means of keeping any potentially wobbly amateur vocalist on the right path.

Bishop is sensitive to the nuances of text and deploys effective musical devices to underpin them. For instance, he reserves his spicier harmonies for crucial phrases (e.g., ‘banner of victory’) and modulates to the sunnier realms of G major at the words ‘dried be the tears’. Bishop develops an appropriately grander texture towards the close with hearty left-hand octaves. Examples of thoughtful control occur frequently – as when the piano texture is reduced to three parts at the entrance of the voice and when the parts unite for a sudden moment at the words ‘guardian of truth and right raised in their cause’. The concluding cadence is plagal – like a church ‘Amen’ – with a last hint of the minor.  Overall, the style is reminiscent of the music of Beethoven and Schubert.

Wellington’s Funeral March’ is for keyboard alone. Headed by a banner illustration of a Guards’ Band processing with muffled drums, this piece is also in G minor. The four-bar introduction establishes a tone of solemnity with a customary jagged dotted rhythm. This rhythmic hallmark had become de rigueur for funeral marches from the end of the eighteenth century through the early decades of the nineteenth century and famous instances include Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony (1804) and Chopin’s B flat minor Piano Sonata (1839).  Beethoven had employed the device earlier in the Piano Sonata #12 (1801), and Cherubini and Schubert, among others, followed suit. It is mildly ironic that this compositional habit seems to have had its roots in musical practices and innovations of the French Revolution. (The Marseillaise, although not a funeral piece, is also laced with dotted rhythms).

Wellington’s Funeral March’ is accessible but not easy to play well, featuring plenty of dense chording and a fluid and adventurous Alberti bass for the left hand to navigate. There is a contrasting and relaxed central section (‘soave e legatissimo’ – ‘elegant and as smooth as possible’) where the key moves to a blithe G major and the melodic contour is stepwise and mellifluous.

One slight peculiarity found in both works is a preponderance of ‘rf’ or rinforzando markings indicating a reinforcing or intensifying of tone. This is something that composers in general use only sparingly and there seem to be no more than the average number of occurrences in Bishop’s other surviving output, but here Bishop employs the device almost thirty times in these two short pieces. It is as if the composer’s personal connection with Wellington has provoked an exceptional intensity of emotion.

One can picture all kinds of musicians both amateur and professional (Bishop published versions of ‘Mourn for the Mighty Dead’ for four-voice chorus, and the March for duet, trio, as well as full Military Band) performing this intensely felt, dramatic music during that season as Britain mourned the death of the great duke.

Readers wishing to hear these works can access performances by the author and Dr Timothy Schmidt, baritone, at YouTube:

[1] Illustrated London News No. 579 Vol. 21 Saturday 18 September 1852 p. 214

[2] Ibid. No. 578 Vol. 21 Saturday 11 September 1852 p.208

[3] Ibid.  No. 592 Vol. 21 Saturday 20 November 1852 p. 453

[4] Ibid.  No. 590 Vol. 21 Saturday 13 November 1852 p. 417

[5] Ibid. No. 594 Vol.21 Saturday 27 November 1852 pp. 480-481

[6] Ibid. No. 582 Vol. 21 Saturday 25 September 1852 pp. 268-269

[7] Ibid. No. 590 Vol. 21 Saturday 13 November 1852 p. 404-5


Mourn for the mighty dead

Mourn for the spirit fled

Mourn for the lofty head

Low in the grave


Tears such as nations weep

Hallow the hero’s sleep

Calm be his rest and deep

Arthur the brave!


Nobly his work was done

England’s most glorious son

True hearted Wellington

Shield of our laws!


Ever in peril’s night

Heav’n send such arm of might

Guardian of truth and right

Raised in their cause


Dried be the tears that fall

Love bears the warrior’s pall

Fame shall his deeds recall

Britain’s right hand!


Bright shall his mem’ry be

Star of supremacy

Banner of victory

Pride of our land! 

Charles Mackay

[9] Kaplan, Joel H.  Musical Iconography in ‘The Illustrated London News’: an Introduction.  Fontes Artis Musicae Vol. 29 No. 4 (October-December 1982) pp. 161-169

[10] Illustrated London News No. 582 Vol. 21 25 September 1852 p. 267

[11] Ibid. No. 584 Vol. 21 Saturday 9 October 1852 p. 307

The author would like to thank Sara Edgerton, Chadie & Robert Fruehwald, Tim Schmidt and James & Matthew Thompson for their assistance in preparing this article.

Paul Thompson studied at the London College of Music and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  He has been professor of music at Southeast Missouri State University since 1991.