Gladstone died at home in Hawarden Castle, Flintshire, on 19 May 1898 and was buried in Westminster Abbey on 28 May. The Queen was not present, as a matter of protocol. More significantly, she paid no such personal respects as she had done when Disraeli died in 1881, though her son and grandson (the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, who would one day be George V) were among the pall bearers. The following text has been excerpted from Richard Cook's The Grand Old Man, with a heading added for the list of tributes, and bold letters used for the names of those who offered them. Links to other material on our website have also been added. — Jacqueline Banerjee

The pall-bearers who walked on each side of the coffin were perhaps the personages who attracted the most attention during the day. They were the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Marquis of Salisbury, the Earl of Kimberly, A. J. Balfour, Sir William Vernon-Harcourt, the Duke of Rutland, Lord Rosebery, Baron Rendel and George Armitstead, the two latter being life-long friends of the deceased statesman.

When Mrs. Gladstone entered the Abbey the whole assembly rose and remained standing until she was seated. This honor was accorded only once beside — when the Princess of Wales, the Princess Mary and the Duchess of York appeared.

The Abbey was filled with people. Every gallery, balcony and niche high up among the rafters held a cluster of deeply interested spectators. Temporary galleries had been erected in long tiers around the open grave, which was in the floor of the Abbey. There were 2,500 persons assembled in the Abbey, all — both men and women — clothed in black, except a few officials whose regalia relieved this sombre background by its brilliancy. The two Houses of Parliament sat facing each other, seated on temporary seats on opposite sides of the grave. About them were the mayors of the principal cities, delegates from Liberal organizations, representatives of other civic and political societies, representatives of the Non-Conformists, while the long nave was crowded with thousands of men and women, among them being most of the celebrities in all branches of English life. In each gallery was a presiding officer with his official mace beside him, whose place was in the centre, and who was its most prominent figure. It was a distinguished assembly in a famous place. Beneath were the illustrious dead; around were the illustrious living.

The members of the bereaved family sat in the stall nearest the bier — Mrs. Gladstone, her sons Henry, Herbert and Stephen; with other members of the family, children and grand-children, including little Dorothy Drew, Mr. Gladstone's favorite grand-child, in her new mourning.

The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York occupied the Dean's pew opposite. Other royalties were present in person or by their representatives.

Within the chancel stood the Dean of Westminster, and behind him were gathered the cathedral clergy, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the scarlet and white surpliced choir, filling the chapel.

It was the wish of the deceased for simplicity, but he was buried with a nation's homage in the tomb of kings. In the northern transept, known as the "Statesmen's Corner," of Westminster Abbey, where England's greatest dead rests, the body of Mr. Gladstone was entombed. His grave is near the graves of Pitt, Palmerston, Canning and Peel, beside that of his life-long political adversary, Lord Beaconsfield (Benjamin Disraeli), whose marble effigy looks down upon it, decked with the regalia Mr. Gladstone had so often refused. Two possible future kings of Great Britain walked besides the great commoner's coffin and stood beside his grave, and all the nobility and learning of the nation surrounded his bier. This state funeral, the first since that of Lord Palmerston, was rendered more imposing by the magnificence of the edifice in which it was solemnized. The coffin rested on an elevated bier before the altar, its plainness hidden beneath a pall of white-and gold embroidered cloth.


As the deceased statesman was undoubtedly the greatest parliamentarian of our time, the following concise expressions with regard to his character and influence have been collected from a number of representative members of different political parties in both Houses of Parliament:

The Marquis of Londonderry said: "What impressed me about Mr. Gladstone was his extraordinary moral influence."

Lord George Hamilton: "I doubt whether we ever had a parliamentarian who equalled Mr. Gladstone."

The Marquis of Lorne: "I share the universal regret at Mr. Gladstone's death as a personal loss."

Sir John Gorst: "One feature, which greatly distinguished Mr. Gladstone, was his remarkable candour in debate. He never affected to misunderstand his opponents' arguments, and spared no pains in trying to make his own meaning understood."

Sir Charles Dilke: "I think Mr. Gladstone's leading personal characteristic was his old-fashioned courtesy. Whilst a statesman, his absolute mastery of finance, both in its principles and details, was incomparably superior to that of any of his contemporaries."

Mr. Thomas Ellis, the chief Liberal Whip, confessed that the greatest interest of his life in Parliament was to watch Mr. Gladstone's face.

It was like the sea in the fascination of its infinite variety, and of its incalculable reserve and strength. Every motion in his great soul was reflected in his face and form. To have had opportunities of watching that face, and of witnessing one triumph after another, is a precious privilege, for some of the charms of his face, as of his oratory and character, were incommunicable. He more than any man helped to build up and shape the present commercial and political fabric of Britain, but to struggling nations his words and deeds were as the breath of life.

Sir Joseph Pease: "His memory will be kept green by a grateful country. Death soon buries the battle-axe of party, and he who devoted a long life and immense intellectual power, coupled with strong convictions on moral and Christian ethics, to the well being of his country and the world, will never be forgotten by the English people."

Mr. James Bryce, author of "The American Commonwealth": "This sad event is the most noble and pathetic closing of a great life which we have seen in England in historical memory. I cannot recall any other case in which the whole nation has followed the setting of the sun of life with such sympathy, such regret, and such admiration."

Lord Kinnaird: "Few men in public life have been able to draw out such personal love and devotion from his followers and friends. In the midst of an ever-busy life he was always ready to take his part in the conflict of right against wrong, of truth against error, and he earned the gratitude of all patriots, for he was never ashamed of contending that no true progress could be made which left out of sight the moral well-being of the people."

Mr. Labouchere: "What impressed me most in Mr. Gladstone was his power of concentrated effort. Once he had decided on a course, action at once followed. Every thought was bent to attain the end, no labour was deemed to arduous. He alone knew how to deal with supporters and opponents. The former he inspired with his own fierce energy."

Mr. John Redmond, leader of the Parnellite group of the Irish Nationalists: "The loss to England is absolutely incalculable. I regard Mr. Gladstone as having been the greatest parliamentarian of the age, and the greatest parliamentary orator. Englishmen of all parties ought to be grateful to him for his services in promoting the greatness and prosperity of their empire."

John Dillon:

The greatest and most patriotic of Englishmen. If I were asked to say what I think most characteristic of Gladstone, I should say his abiding love for the common people and his faith in the government founded upon them, so that, while he remained the most patriotic of Englishmen, he is to-day mourned with equal intensity throughout the civilized world.

Justin McCarthy, M. P.:

The death of Mr. Gladstone closes a career which may be described as absolutely unique in English political history. It was the career of a great statesman, whose statesmanship was first and last inspired, informed and guided by conscience, by principle, and by love of justice. There were great English statesmen before Mr. Gladstone's time and during Mr. Gladstone's time, but we shall look in vain for an example of any statesman in office, who made genius and eloquence, as Mr. Gladstone did, the mere servants of righteousness and conscientious purpose. Into the mind of Gladstone no thought of personal ambition or personal advancement ever entered. He was as conscientious as Burke. In the brilliancy of his gifts he was at least the equal of Bolingbroke. He was as great an orator as either Pitt, and he has left the imprint of his intellect on beneficent political and social legislation. In eloquence he far surpassed Cobden and was the peer of Bright, while his position as Parliamentary leader enabled him to initiate and carry out measures of reform which Bright and Cobden could only support. He was, in short, the greatest and the best Prime Minister known to English history.

Michael Davitt:

One can only join with the whole world in admiration of the almost boundless talents of Mr. Gladstone, which were devoted with unparalleled power of charm to the service of his fellow-men. He was probably the greatest British statesman and leaves behind a record of a career unequalled in the annals of English politics. For the magnitude of his national labors and integrity of his personal character, Irishmen will remember him gratefully.

The Daily Chronicle heads its editorial with a quotation from Wordsworth:

This is the happy warrior: this is he:
That every man in arms should wish to be.

The editorial says:

A glorious light has been extinguished in the land; all his life lies in the past, a memory to us and our children; an inspiration and possession forever. The end has come as to a soldier at his post. It found him calm, expectant, faithful, unshaken. Death has come robed in the terrors of mortal pain; but what better can be said than that as he taught his fellows how to live, so he has taught them how to die?

It is impossible at this hour to survey the mighty range of this splendid life. We would assign to him the title. 'The Great Nationalist of the Nineteenth Century;' the greatest of the master-builders of modern England. Timidity had no place in Mr. Gladstone's soul. Ho was a lion among men, endowed with a granite strength of will and purpose, rare indeed in our age of feeble convictions.

The Daily News says:

One of his most characteristics qualities was his personal humility. This cannot be explained without the key, for Mr. Gladstone did not in the ordinary meaning of the word, underrate himself. He was not easy to persuade. He paid little attention to other people's opinions when his mind was made up. He was quite aware of his own ascendency in counsel and his supremacy in debate. The secret of his humility was an abiding sense that these things were of no importance compared with the relations between God's creatures and their Creator, Mr. Gladstone once said with characteristic candour that he had a vulnerable temper. He was quickly moved to indignation by whatever he thought injurious either to himself or to others, and was incapable of concealing his emotions, for, if he said nothing, his countenance showed what he felt. More expressive features were never given to man.

Mr. Gladstone's exquisite courtesy, which in and out of Parliament was the model for all, proceeded from the same source. It was essentially Christian. Moreover, nobody laughed more heartily over an anecdote that was really good. He was many men in one; but he impressed all alike with the essential greatness of his character.

He was built mentally and morally on a large scale. Of course it cannot be denied that such a face, such a voice, such natural dignity, and such perfect gesture produced in themselves an immense effect. There was nothing common-place about him. Mr. Gladstone was absolutely simple; and his simplicity was not the least attractive element of his fascinating personality.

His life presented aspects of charm to all minds. His learning captivated the scholar, his eloquence and statesmanship the politician, his financial genius the business man; while his domestic relations and simple human graciousness appealed to all hearts.


Cook, Richard B. The Grand Old Man, or The Life and Public Services of the Right Honourable William Ewart Gladstone, Four Times Prime Minister of England. Project Gutenberg, from the US archive. Web. 21 November 2015.

Created 21 November 2015