Today marks the anniversary of the coronation of George III! Unfortunately, once I started trying to research the occasion in more depth, I found out it was really very dull (as so much was in the reign of George III and Queen Charlotte…) There was lots of pomp and ritual, and a big banquet, and yards and yards of brocade, but it seems the only thing out of the ordinary that happened was a traffic jam in the midst of the procession through London. William Hickey, who watched the parade as a schoolboy and left a record of it, wrote “Drivers and horses ran into each other whereby glasses and panels were demolished without number, the noise of which, accompanied by the screeches of terrified ladies, were at times truly terrific.” But then the King and Queen arrived at Westminster Abbey (in sedan chairs, not golden coaches) and were duly crowned.
George IV had a much more eventful affair for his coronation, on July 29, 1821. For one thing, it was enormously lavish–the whole thing cost 243,000 pounds (with 24,000 on his attire alone). His father’s coronation cost 10,000. And the estranged Queen Caroline, denied entrance to the Abbey, ran around pounding on all the doors only to find them all barred and guarded.
Mary Queen of Scots had a memorable coronation as well–memorable to all who were there except her, that is, because she was 9 months old at the time. It was a hasty ceremony at Stirling Castle, in the midst of a civil war, but all the regalia and ceremony was trotted out for the occasion. The baby wore her jewel-encrusted satin gown and massive velvet and ermine train to be carried down the church aisle; the crown was held above her head and the ceremonial sword strapped around her waist. The orb was put in her hand, and she grabbed onto the shiny jewels. Then she pitched a screaming fit, and her nurse put her in her cradle while the court held a ball.
Her arch-enemy Elizabeth I had a much grander coronation on January 15, 1559 (at age 25, so she could carry the scepter herself), one full of joy and promise after the dark years of Mary Tudor’s reign. Her procession was marked with no less than 4 pageants as she made her way through London in a golden litter, her red hair loose and clad in gold brocade and ermine. It was the beginning of the masterful combination of pageantry and the common touch she displayed in her reign.
Charles II also had a big, wild, joyous coronation, which Londoners thought was the start of the fun times again after the reign of the Puritans. It was April 23, 1661, and it was the last time the traditional procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey was held, amid cheering crowds and lavish pageants (including one of Rebellion Crushed By Monarchy Restored–though the king probably appreciated the half-naked nymphs more). Pepys wrote “The City had a light like a glory round about it with bonfires.”
It was for Charles’s coronation that all the regalia (melted down and sold by Cromwell) had to be re-made, and it’s these objects that are used to this day. I had a wonderful time getting to see these astonishing objects at the Tower last year, and I bought a colorful booklet in the giftshop. This is what it has to say about the coronation objects:
The Imperial Crown of India actually dates even later than the Charles II coronation. It was made for the visit of George V to Delhi as Emperor of India, since the Crown Jewels are forbidden to be taken out of England. It’s decorated with more than 6000 diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies.
The Queens Consort traditionally wore the Crown of Mary of Modena (James II’s queen), but by the 20th century that crown was in a fragile condition (and is now in the Museum of London). All of the 20th century Queens (Alexandra, Mary, and Elizabeth) had their own crowns, including this one made for the Queen Mother. It contains the famous Koh I Noor Diamond, said to be lucky for women and unlucky for men. She wore it at her own coronation, as well as her daughter’s, and it was placed atop her coffin at her funeral.
The Crown of St. Edward was made in 1661, and is said to be composed of the melted gold from King Alfred’s Crown. It is used only for the actual crowning, though petite Queen Victoria went with the much lighter Imperial State Crown (and later wore a little diamond crown for the rest of the festivities)
The Imperial State Crown contains most of the surviving historic jewels, including Edward the Confessor’s sapphire, the Black Prince’s ruby, and pearls from Elizabeth I’s earrings. It also holds the diamond the Second Star of Africa. It’s worn at the end of the ceremony when the monarch leaves the Abbey, and then every year for the opening of Parliament.
The Ampulla and spoon (used for the annointing oil) are the only objects that are pre-Commonwealth.
The Orb is a hollow golden sphere, with a cross representing the title of Defender of the Faith. This and the smaller orb made for Mary II were placed atop Victoria’s coffin for her funeral.
The Scepter contains the Great Star of Africa, a diamond of over 530 carats which is the second largest cut diamond in the world (and possibly the sparkliest thing I’ve ever seen!)
Whose coronation would you like to have attended? What would you have worn? (Speaking of what to wear, I have an Emmys post-mortem over at my own blog! Visit there to vote for your modern favorites…)