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The Napoleon Series > Publications > Despeche In English

Funeral Regulations

By: Markus Stein

Translated by: Justin Howard

These articles previously appeared in Issue 2 of the German-language magazine Depesche, which is published by our partner, Napoleon Online. We appreciate the kindness of the editor, Markus Stein, for giving us permission to publish the translation.


I would here like to present the first paragraph of Section 4 of the Austrian Empire’s “Duty Regulation for the Imperial and Royal Infantry” from 1806, which deals in minute detail with the process of a military funeral.

It should however be kept in mind that these regulations primarily applied in peacetime, since in wartime, due to the amount of losses and usually a lack of time, the opportunity for such elaborate funerals probably didn’t exist. To emphasise the “reality of war”, two contemporary pictures of the battlefields of Leipzig and Waterloo have been included with the text.

However, now to the text of the paragraph in question, which reads as follows:

“The corpse of the Inhaber[1] of a regiment, or that of its acting Colonel, shall be accompanied by all three battalions as well as both grenadier companies, i.e. by the complete regiment in full parade; the former shall be borne by senior lieutenants, the latter by junior lieutenants. On the death of the Inhaber, black crape ribbons shall be tied to all flags and shall remain in place for six weeks unless the regiment is reassigned earlier; at the funeral, the officers wear a black crape sash hanging from the right shoulder to the left side, the drums shall be covered with black cloth and the oboists shall tie black crape ribbons to their instruments.

The uniform, sash and helmet or hat shall be laid on the coffin, which is draped in black; this shall also be the case for the unsheathed épée or sabre, crossed over the scabbard and with a crape ribbon wrapped around it.

A groom wearing mourning clothes shall lead a horse caparisoned in black ahead of the coffin, and, if possible, an armour-clad man shall follow behind the coffin.

In the case of the Inhaber or the acting Colonel, on each side of the coffin twenty-four grenadiers with shouldered arms form a guard of honour, led by an officer and with a corporal bringing up the rear.

If the funeral takes place at night, twelve corporals, carrying torches and wearing black crape armbands on the left sleeve, march on either side of the coffin.

Additionally, any lavish part of the ceremony which the deceased would have refused during his lifetime shall be omitted, whether it be the tolling of bells, accompaniment by clergy, coat of arms on the coffin, distribution of torches, candles, and anything else which is left to the common sense of the person organising the funeral, depending on the finances available.  

The cortege of an Inhaber is led by the acting Colonel, that of a Colonel by the Lieutenant-Colonel; his by a Major and vice-versa, or the most senior Captain.

In the case of the acting Colonel and all subordinate officer ranks, the staff officer or senior officer who is leading the cortege wears a large black crape sash over the right shoulder hanging to the left, the other officers wear a black crape armband on the left sleeve, the drums are draped with black cloth and the oboists tie black crape ribbons to their instruments, with the pall-bearers wearing armbands on the left sleeve. Black crape ribbons shall not be attached to the flags, and from the Colonel downwards, no one shall be entitled to a caparisoned horse or an armour-clad man. However, if the deceased is a prince from a noble family, in addition to the ducal insignia a caparisoned horse is allowed, though no larger accompaniment than specified for the relevant military rank.

After the funeral, the black crape armband shall not be worn on duty, except in the case of court mourning, in which case an exception to this rule is made.

Two battalions and one grenadier company accompany the corpse of a Lieutenant-Colonel, that of a Major only one battalion.

Either shall be borne by the sergeants.

A captain is accompanied by another captain leading his complete company; he shall be borne by corporals.

Senior or junior lieutenants as well as ensigns shall be accompanied by another officer of the same rank leading half of their company as well as a drummer, and borne by lance corporals. The other half of the company shall follow unarmed behind the coffin, and actually behind the invited mourners.

The funeral of a regimental chaplain, treasurer, regimental surgeon, clerk or senior surgeon shall be as for a senior lieutenant; if the treasurer or clerk holds the rank of captain, he shall have a funeral as for a captain.   

A sergeant, junior surgeon, quartermaster, regimental drummer, drum-major or provost shall be accompanied by a sergeant, corporal, drummer and twenty-four men; a corporal or battalion drummer by a corporal, drummer and eighteen men; a lance corporal, oboist, drummer, private, quartermaster’s bodyguard or private servant accompanied by a corporal, a drummer and fifteen men; and borne by privates. The same number of unarmed men shall follow behind the coffin, and actually behind the invited mourners,

The épée or sabre shall always be laid crossed with the scabbard on the coffin, and if the deceased carried a cane, this shall also be laid on the coffin; the cross of chivalric order, the medals or the veteran’s insignia shall be affixed to the coffin.

If someone dies outside the regiment’s home region, the specified accompaniment shall be provided by the garrison or nearest military body, led by a person of the nearest rank to the deceased. The funeral regulations also extend to everyone, including pensioned officers, except if they have been cashiered - even if they have kept their officer’s title and decorations- taking into account the place in question and the amount of troops available.

As a special honour, a three-volley salute shall be fired during the funeral of any officer with campaign experience, of any soldier of sergeant rank or lower with battle experience or of any veteran,.

The troops detailed to participate in the funeral cortege shall deploy in silence at the place where the corpse lies, such that they can easily join the cortege as per the regulations. As the coffin is carried out, the command shall be given to present arms, then to shoulder arms. As soon as the corpse is raised, half of the cortege shall assemble in column ahead of the coffin, the other half behind the invited mourners; since the cortege for a major only consists of one battalion, the flag shall be carried behind the invited mourners, ahead of the centre of the first squad of the second half battalion. If oboists are present, these shall march ahead of the regimental chaplain, who shall walk ahead of the corpse wearing his clerical vestments.

The procession takes place in the same order as specified for file by squads in the drill manual. The drummers beat the funeral march, and the oboists play with muffled instruments.

On arriving at the burial place, the troops shall be deployed; during the blessing they present arms, and after a drum roll with muffled drums they shoulder arms. 

If the deceased is entitled to the volley salute, this will take place three times while the coffin is being lowered, each time with the drummers beating the march; the oboists in attendance shall also play, and then march away with music sounding.

If the cortege consists of more than one battalion, the commands for the volley salutes shall be conducted according to chapter 1, section 3, paragraph 3 of the drill manual.

Finally, it shall be noted that even if the last will of an officer is to be buried in private, this shall on no account be extended to apply to the military accompaniment specified in this regulation, which is intended to confirm the prestige of the warrior among other professions, by an established public demonstration of respect.

Thus even though, as already mentioned, all lavish ornamentation may be omitted from a military funeral if so wished by the deceased, the activities for which no charge is made shall on no account be omitted, i.e. the military procession, volley salutes and accompaniment, as specified for each rank, depending on the number of available troops in the relevant town or region.”

So much for the excerpt from the regulations. Demonstrations of respect for fallen leaders have often been reported and were also widespread in the French army – for instance by the 3rd Hussar regiment, who wore black crape ribbons on their shakos and standard staves following the loss of their brigade commander, Auguste de Colbert, from 3 January 1809 right up until 1814, or by the 5th Cuirassiers for Brigadier Auguste de Caulaincourt, who fell at Borodino in 1812.

[1] Translator’s Note: The Inhaber of a regiment was its patron, who held the position of honorary colonel. Originally the Inhaber was a wealthy noble who paid for a regiment to be raised and maintained, the regiment then being denoted by the name of its Inhaber.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2010