St Paul's Cathedral Festival Gardens

How Did Jeremiah Clarke Die?

St Paul's Cathedral Festival Gardens

Jeremiah Clarke was an excellent musician and talented composer who obtained distinction in the role of the first organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In itself, this appointment suggests at least that he was one of the best keyboard players of his era if not the best. He went on to become the organist and Master of the Choristers at the Chapel Royal. We know nothing of his mental health condition which may or may not have been a contributing factor to the events of Thursday 1st of December 1707 – but prima facie it seems Clarke had everything to live for.

But love was not reciprocated by the women he was in love with. At least that is the story that has come down the years. Jeremiah Clarke appears to have fallen madly in love with a beautiful woman who was out of reach to him socially. It is not clear whether she was aware of his love and spurned him, or it if the love was in fact reciprocated but the difference in their social standings prohibited a union. Could it possibly be that Clarke was too shy to even approach the object of his desire? The agony of unrequited love and its torment on the heart will be familiar to many of us. To poor Jeremiah, it was too much to bear.

Jeremiah Clarke decided to take his own life.

He had trouble deciding whether to hang or drown himself and flipped a coin, which either fell into mud or landed on its edge – so Jeremiah decided to shoot himself instead. He was only about thirty-three years old. A complete waste of talent and a complete tragedy.

There is controversy surrounding the date of his suicide and the circumstances of his demise. Unless some revelatory new piece of evidence turns up, speculation is all we have. 

Jeremiah Clarke left behind a musical legacy. The Prince of Denmark’s March alone has proved popular through generations and shows no signs of losing that popularity today.

If one finds one’s self walking about the gardens immediately to the rear of St Paul’s Cathedral, spare a thought for the lovelorn Jeremiah Clarke who committed suicide in this spot. Perhaps after a quiet prayer, you might hum the Trumpet Voluntary to lift your mood and put a bit of zip and zing into your day. Long live Jeremiah Clarke.

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