Coronation of Queen Victoria
The coronation of Queen Victoria took place on Thursday, 28 June 1838, just over a year after she succeeded to the throne of the United Kingdom at the age of 18. The ceremony was held in Westminster Abbey after a public procession through the streets from Buckingham Palace, to which the Queen returned later as part of a second procession.
Planning for the coronation, led by prime minister Lord Melbourne, began at Cabinet level in March 1838. In the face of various objections from numerous parties, the Cabinet announced on Saturday, 7 April, that the coronation would be at the end of the parliamentary session in June. It was budgeted at £70,000 which was more than double the cost of the "cut-price" 1831 coronation but considerably less than the £240,000 spent when George IV was crowned in July 1821. A key element of the plan was presentation of the event to a wider public.
By 1838, the newly built railways were able to deliver huge numbers of people into London and it has been estimated that some 400,000 visitors arrived to swell the crowds who thronged the streets while the two processions took place and filled the parks where catering and entertainment were provided. Hyde Park was the scene of a huge fair, including a balloon ascent. The fair was scheduled for two days but extended by popular demand to four. Green Park featured a firework display the night after the ceremony. The event took place in fine weather and was generally considered a great success by the press and wider public, though those inside the Abbey witnessed a good deal of mishap and confusion, largely due to lack of rehearsal. In the country at large, there was considerable Radical opposition to the coronation, especially in the North of England.
Background and planningEdit
Queen Victoria succeeded her uncle King William IV on 20 June 1837. Her first prime minister was Lord Melbourne, with whom she developed a close personal friendship. Until 1867, the Demise of the Crown automatically triggered the dissolution of parliament and a general election was therefore necessary with voting between 24 July and 18 August. The result was a victory for Melbourne whose existing Whig Party government was returned to power for four more years. Their majority over the opposition Conservative (formerly Tory) Party was reduced from 112 seats to thirty. Melbourne was the leading player in the planning, preparation and implementation of Victoria's coronation.
Melbourne's Cabinet began formal discussion of the subject of the coronation in March 1838. A major factor in the planning was this being the first coronation held since the passing of the Reform Act 1832, which the government recognised as radically reshaping the monarchy. In terms of the ceremony itself, the extension of the franchise meant that some 500 Members of Parliament would be invited to attend in addition to the peerage. A greater consideration was the need to somehow involve the general public and Melbourne championed the centuries-old custom of a public procession through the streets. There had been a procession in 1831 but a much longer route was planned for 1838 including a new startpoint at Buckingham Palace. Earlier processions had run from the Tower of London to the Abbey. Victoria's procession would be the longest since that of Charles II in April 1661. Scaffolding for spectators would be built all along the route. This was certainly achieved according to contemporary reports, including one saying there was "scarcely a vacant spot along the whole (route) that was unoccupied with galleries or scaffolding". The diarist Charles Greville commented that the principal object of the government plan was to amuse and interest the ordinary working people. He later concluded that the "great merit" of the coronation was that so much had been done for the people.
In terms of cost, the government was torn between the extremes of George IV's lavish coronation in 1821 and the "cut-price" event, dubbed the "Half-Crown-ation", held for William IV in 1831. They decided to allow a budget of £70,000. Therefore, the cost of Victoria's coronation represented a compromise between two extremes of £240,000 (1821) and £30,000 (1831).
The government's plans for the coronation attracted considerable criticism from its opponents. For different reasons, both Tories and Radicals objected to the coronation being turned into a day of popular celebration, to be seen by as wide a public as possible. The Tory objections, mostly made beforehand, were that the government's plans to put much of the spending into the long public procession detracted from the traditional dignity of the ceremonies at Westminster, which would be "shorn of majesty by Benthamite utilitarianism". The Radical left, including the Chartist movement which was largely anti-monarchist, thought the whole occasion far too expensive.
A dubious perception that prevailed was the identification of the new monarch with the Whig party. This would be a problem through the early years of Victoria's reign, leading to the so-called Bedchamber Crisis in 1839 over what were then the political appointments of her ladies-in-waiting. In addition, the Whig party had exploited Victoria's name in its election campaign, suggesting that a monarch from a new generation would inevitably mean the progress of reform. William IV and his wife, Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, had strong Tory sympathies, while Victoria's mother and namesake was known to favour the Whigs. It was assumed, to some extent correctly, that Victoria herself had been brought up to hold similar views. This was reflected in popular ballads sold on the streets, one of which had Victoria saying:
I'll make some alterations,
I'll gain the people's right,
I will have a radical Parliament
Or they don't lodge here tonight.
The government's decision to dispense with certain traditions was seen as snub by the Tory aristocracy. The omissions included an exclusive banquet at Westminster Hall and medieval rituals like a monarchical champion throwing down a gauntlet. In the House of Lords, complaints were made about the processions because a young girl (Victoria was 19) would be "exposed to the gaze of the populace". On a commercial footing, an association of London traders objected to the planned date because they said they needed more time to order their merchandising. They favoured a date in August.
While the Tories and traders were concerned about specific issues, there were generic objections to the coronation which were based on underlying opposition to the monarchy itself as an institution. Lucy Worsley believes that, but for Victoria's popularity as a young woman who was in vivid contrast to her uncles, especially the despised George IV, the monarchy would have been "an institution in danger". There was a view that, in an age of reform, a coronation was a medieval anachronism.
The Tory campaign of protest included several public meetings and an open letter from the Marquess of Londonderry to the Lord Mayor of London and the aldermen and tradesmen, published in The Times on Saturday, 2 June. It culminated in Londonderry's speech in the House of Lords on a motion asking the Queen to postpone the coronation until 1 August so that it could be carried out with "proper splendour".
The Radical left, whose press complained of the expense in the run-up to the day, concentrated on trying to dampen public enthusiasm. These efforts had some success in the north of England. In Manchester, a campaign organised by trade unions and other groups reduced the attendance at the local procession organised by the city council to a third of the turnout of that for the previous coronation. In several manufacturing towns of northern England, the Chartists co-ordinated anti-monarchist demonstrations.
Public procession and crowdsEdit
William IV's coronation in 1831 had established much of what remains today the pageantry of the event, which had previously involved peerage-only ceremonies in Westminster Hall (now attached to the Houses of Parliament) before a procession on foot across the road to the Abbey. In accordance with Melbourne's plan, this form was replaced in 1838 with a procession through the streets. The new monarch travelled in the Gold State Coach, or Coronation Coach, made for George III in 1762 and still used in coronations, with many other coaches and a cavalry escort. The procession by coach has been followed in all subsequent coronations. The budget stressed the procession and there was no coronation banquet; according to The Gentleman's Magazine it was the longest coronation procession since that of Charles II in 1660.
The processions to and from the ceremony at Westminster Abbey were watched by unprecedentedly huge crowds, as the new railways had made it easier for an estimated 400,000 to come to London from the rest of the country. The road route was extended to allow for more spectators, taking a nearly circular route from the Queen's new home at the just-completed Buckingham Palace via Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly, St James's Street, Pall Mall, Charing Cross and Whitehall to Westminster Abbey. The journey took a whole hour.
Ceremony in Westminster AbbeyEdit
A "botched" coronationEdit
According to the historian Roy Strong, "the ceremony of 1838 was the last of the botched coronations", before Victorian historians explored the ancient liturgical texts and put together a structured programme, rediscovering the rites of medieval coronations, which has been used since the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. The picturesque ritual of the Queen's Champion riding through Westminster Hall in full armour and issuing his challenge was omitted and has never been revived; the Champion, Henry Dymoke, was made a baronet instead.
There was very little rehearsal, with the result that the ceremonial was marred by mistakes and accidents. The Queen had been persuaded by Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, to visit the Abbey the evening before and she afterwards insisted that she then knew where she should go and be. Roy Strong doubts if she did know and quotes Greville's comment that "the different actors in the ceremonial were very imperfect in their parts and had neglected to rehearse them". In the words of Benjamin Disraeli, then a young MP, those involved "were always in doubt as to what came next, and you saw the want of rehearsal".
The whole coronation service lasted five hours and involved two changes of dress for the Queen. At points in the service when they were not needed at the Coronation Theatre (composed of the pavement fronting the main altar and the crossing), the royal party retreated to "St. Edward's Chapel, as it is called; but which as Ld Melbourne said, was more unlike a Chapel, than anything he had ever seen, for what was called an altar, was covered with plates of sandwiches, bottles of wine, &c."
Having been invited to attend by the Queen herself, the social theory writer Harriet Martineau recorded her very sceptical view of the day. Although she recorded some favourable comments, on the whole she thought the ceremony "highly barbaric", "worthy only of the old Pharaonic times in Egypt", and "offensive ... to the God of the nineteenth century in the Western world".
Lord Rolle's accidentEdit
One accident that turned to the advantage of the Queen is described in her journal: "Poor old Ld Rolls [actually Lord Rolle], who is 82, & dreadfully infirm, fell, in attempting to ascend the steps, – rolled right down, but was not the least hurt. When he attempted again to ascend the steps, I advanced to the edge, in order to prevent another fall".
The reaction of Charles Greville, who was present, was typical of the wider public. He noted in his account that the Queen went down a couple of steps to prevent Rolle from trying to climb them again. Greville described this as "an act of graciousness and kindness which made a great sensation".
Then the trumpets braying, and the organ playing,
And the sweet trombones, with their silver tones;
But Lord Rolle was rolling; – t'was mighty consoling
To think his Lordship did not break his bones!
At the end of the service the Treasurer of the Household threw silver Coronation medals to the crowd, causing an undignified scramble for the souvenirs.
As was usual, special seating galleries had been erected to accommodate guests, and the music came from an orchestra of 80 players, a total of 157 singers, and the various military bands in the processions to and from the Abbey. The quality of the coronation music did nothing to dispel the lacklustre impression of the ceremony and it was widely criticised in the press, mainly because only one new piece had been written for the occasion while the choir and orchestra were perceived to have been badly co-ordinated.
The music was directed by Sir George Smart, who attempted to conduct and play the organ simultaneously; the result was less than effective. Smart's fanfares for the State Trumpeters were described as "a strange medley of odd combinations" by one journalist. Smart had tried to improve the quality of the choir by hiring professional soloists; he spent in all £1,500 including his own fee of £300; in contrast, the budget for the much more elaborate music at the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 was £1,000.
Thomas Attwood had been working on a new coronation anthem but had died three months before the event and it was never completed. The elderly Master of the King's Musick, Franz Cramer, contributed nothing, leading The Spectator to complain that Cramer had been allowed "to proclaim to the world his inability to discharge the first, and the most grateful duty of his office – the composition of a Coronation Anthem". Although William Knyvett had written an anthem, "This is the Day that the Lord hath made", there was a great reliance on the music of George Frideric Handel; no less than four of his pieces, including the famous Hallelujah chorus—the only time that it has been sung at a British coronation.
Not everyone was critical however; the Bishop of Rochester wrote that the music "was all that it was not in 1831. It was impressive and compelled all to realize that they were taking part in a religious service – not merely in a pageant".
Queen Victoria's accountEdit
Victoria wrote a full account of the events in her journals, from which these extracts come (removing the mentions of her relations and others, which take up much of the account). The page numbers given are those in the original journal. The entire entry for 28 June was reproduced in The Letters of Queen Victoria (1907) by A. C. Benson and Viscount Esher.
- (27 June, pages 73–74). At ¼ p. 4 I went with Lady Lansdowne, Ly Barham & Ld Conyngham & Col: Wemyss, to Westminster Abbey, where the Dss of Sutherland met me, to see all the preparations for tomorrow. The streets were full of people & there were preparations of all kinds. I was received at the Abbey by Ld Melbourne, the Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Woods & Sir Benjamin Stevenson, All the arrangements are splendidly & very conveniently carried out. Ld M. made me try the 2 Thrones, which was very fortunate, as they were both too low, Came home at 5, — great crowds in the streets, & all, so friendly. The preparations for fairs, balloons, &c – in the Parks quite changes the aspect of the place, & the Camps of the Artillery, with all their white tents, had a very pretty effect. I am very glad I went to the Abbey as I shall now know exactly where I am to go & what I have to do, &c.
- (27 June, page 74). We [Lord Melbourne] spoke for a long time about the Coronation & all I had to do. I said I felt very agitated & as if something awful were going to happen to me tomorrow, at which he smiled Spoke of the Bishops, & the Bishop of Durham being so remarkably awkward. Ld M. said "He is very maladroit in all those things", adding, in speaking of the Coronation, "Oh! you will like it, when you are there. I observed I was glad to think he would be near me, as then I always felt so much safer.
- (28 June, pages 75–77). I was awoke at 4 o'clock by the guns in the Park & could not get much sleep afterwards, on account of the noise of the people, Bands, &c. Got up at 7, feeling strong & well. The Park presented a curious spectacle, — crowds of people up Constitution Hill, — soldiers, Bands, &c. & At 10, I got into the State Coach with the Dss of Sutherland & Ld Albemarle, & we began our Progress. It was a fine day, & the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen, being even much greater than when I went to the City. There were millions of my loyal subjects, assembled in every spot, to witness the Procession. Their good humour & excessive loyalty was everything. I really cannot say how proud I felt to be the Queen of such a nation. I was alarmed at times for fear the people would be crushed, in consequence of the tremendous rush & pressure. Reached the Abby a little after ½ p. 11, amidst deafening cheers. First went into a robing room, quite close to the entrance, where I met my 8 Train Bearers: Ly Caroline Lennox, Ly Adelaide Paget, Ly Mary Talbot, Ly Fanny Cowper, Ly Wilhelmina Stanhope, Ly Anne Fitzwilliam, Ly Mary Grimston & Lady Louisa Jenkinson, all dressed alike & beautifully, in white satin, & silver tissue, with wreaths of silver wheatears on the front of their hair & small ones of pink roses, round the plait, behind. There were also trimmings of pink roses on the dresser.
- (28 June, page 78). Then followed all the various ceremonies, ending by the Crown being placed on my head, which I must own was the most beautiful impressive moment. All the Peers & Peeresses put on their coronets, at the same instant. My excellent Ld Melbourne, who stood very close to me throughout the whole ceremony was quite overcome at this moment, & gave me such a kind, & I may say, fatherly look. The shouts, which were very great, the drums, the trumpets, the firing of the guns, — all at the same moment, rendered the spectacle most imposing.
- (28 June, page 82). The Archbishop had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, the consequence being that I had the greatest difficulty n taking it off again, which I at last succeeded in doing, but not without great pain. All my Train Bearers looked quite beautiful. At about ½ p. 4 I reentered the State Coach, the crown on my head & Sceptre & Orb in my hands, & we proceeded the same way as we came, the crowds, if possible, having become still greater. The demonstrations of enthusiasm affection, & loyalty were really touching & shall ever remember this day as the proudest in my life, I came home at a little after 6, really not feeling too tired. — At 8 we dined, besides we 13, my Uncle, sister, & brother Spëth & the German Gentlemen, — my excellent Ld Melbourne & Ld Surry dining.
With the advent of railway travel into London, an estimated 400,000 visitors arrived and the parks, where much of the coronation day entertainment was located, were reported as resembling military encampments. They began arriving up to a week in advance and brought the city to a standstill. On one occasion, Victoria's private carriage was stuck in Piccadilly for 45 minutes because of horse-drawn carts taking goods into Hyde Park for the fair. Charles Greville remarked that it seemed as if the population of London had "suddenly quadrupled". The main entertainment laid on was the huge fair in Hyde Park, which lasted four days. Elsewhere, there were illuminations in many places and the firework display held in Green Park on coronation night. Despite the radical protests in some towns, for most of the country the day was a celebration without much questioning, with events such as an al fresco meal for 15,000 on Parker's Piece in Cambridge.
Return to the palaceEdit
In her journal for the 28th, the Queen recounts that she re-entered the State Coach at about quarter past four and proceeded back to Buckingham Palace by the same route. She says the crowds seemed even greater for the return journey. She arrived home just after six and dined at eight. After dinner she watched the fireworks in Green Park "from Mama's balcony". Lucy Worsley comments that this mention of her mama's balcony is the only time in Victoria's record of the day in which her mother appears. Victoria records that she did not breakfast until 11:30 the next day and, in the afternoon, she visited the Coronation Fair in Hyde Park, commenting on how busy it was with "every kind of amusement".
Victoria's coronation, following that of her uncle and predecessor, William IV, on 8 September 1831, was the last of three in the nineteenth century. At the time of her death on 22 January 1901, aged 81, she was the longest-reigning British monarch, her record being broken by Elizabeth II in September 2015. The next coronation, the first of four in the twentieth century, was that of Victoria's son and successor, Edward VII, on Saturday, 9 August 1902.
Crown jewels and coronation robesEdit
Since the coronation of Charles II, St Edward's Crown had been used at the climax of the ceremony but it was anticipated that its size and weight (5 lb) would be too much for Victoria and so a smaller Imperial State Crown was made for her by the Crown Jewellers Rundell, Bridge & Co., with 3,093 gems. These included the Black Prince's Ruby (a spinel), set on the front cross pattée; the cross at the top was set with a stone known as St Edward's Sapphire, a sapphire taken from the ring (or possibly coronet) of Edward the Confessor. This crown was badly damaged when an accident occurred at the State Opening of Parliament in 1845. All its stones were removed and the empty gold frame is on display in the Martin Tower in the Tower of London. The gems were remounted in a new and lighter crown for the coronation of George VI in 1937 by Garrard & Co. Victoria wore the George IV State Diadem in the returning procession.
For the journey to Westminster Abbey, Victoria wore a crimson velvet robe over a stiff white satin dress with gold embroidery. The train of her robe was extremely long and was later described by her maid of honour, Wilhelmina Stanhope, as "a very ponderous appendage". The Mistress of the Robes was Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland. Having been proclaimed queen by the assembly in the Abbey, Victoria retired to a special robing room where she replaced the crimson cloak with a lighter white linen gown trimmed with lace. Wearing this, she returned to the Abbey for presentation to her of the Crown Jewels. The Queen's coronation robes, along with her wedding dress and other items, remain in the Royal Collection and are kept at Kensington Palace. She wore the robes again in the 1859 portrait by Franz Xaver Winterhalter and on her Golden Jubilee in 1887. A marble statue showing her wearing them in 1838 was placed in Kensington Gardens near the palace.
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