HEARSE (an adaptation of Fr. herse, a harrow, from Lat. hirpex, hirpicem, rake or harrow, Greek apira), a vehicle for the conveyance of a dead body at a funeral. The most usual shape is a four-wheeled car, with a roofed and enclosed body, sometimes with glass panels, which contains the coffin. This is the only current use of the word. In its earlier forms it is usually found as " herse," and meant, as the French word did, a harrow (q.v.). It was then applied to other objects resembling a harrow, following the French. It was then used of a portcullis, and thus becomes a heraldic term, the " herse " being frequently borne as a " charge, " as in the arms of the City of Westminster. The chief application of the word is, however, -to various objects used in funeral ceremonies. A " herse " or " hearse " seems first to have been a barrow-shaped framework of wood, to hold lighted tapers and decorations placed on a bier or coffin; this later developed into an elaborate pagoda-shaped erection of woodwork or metal for the funerals of royal or other distinguished persons. This held banners, candles, armorial bearings and other heraldic devices. Complimentary verses or epitaphs were often attached to the " hearse." An elaborate " hearse " was designed by Inigo Jones for the funeral of James I. The " hearse " is also found as a permanent erection over tombs. It is generally made of iron or other metal, and was used, not only to carry lighted candles, but also for the support of a pall during the funeral ceremony. There is a brass " hearse " in the Beauchamp Chapel at Warwick Castle, and one over the tomb of Robert Marmion and his wife at Tanfield Church near Ripon.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)