AH, THE poor young queen will not reign long,” said many people in the vast crowd which gathered outside Buckingham Palace to see Queen Victoria leave for her coronation. On a June morning in 1838 the coronation took place. Over the palace about 9 a.m. there had suddenly appeared a huge, black bird, and no one was able to tell its species. To some it seemed like a goose, others swore it was an eagle. But one and all believed that it heralded some ill to the new sovereign. While dressing for the great ceremony the young queen heard about the bird from a rather scared maid of honor.
“Please do not trouble me with such trivialities on a morning like this,” the queen replied coldly. Victoria, as history tells, was fated to have the longest and most remarkable reign in British history, but even on her 81st birthday she was able to recall clearly every incident of her coronation day. In many ways her coronation was the most interesting of all. She was only nineteen, very petite and almost pathetically childish in appearance, and among the great assembly who witnessed her crowning were veterans who were living when the American Colonies revolted and became the U. S. A.
The Purple-Capped Crown
HPHE Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo, was also -*• there, as was Marshal Soult, one of Napoleon’s righthand men. More than any other, Queen Victoria’s coronation marked the passing of an old order and the coming of a new. In 1838 the old aristocracy still ruled the roost in Britain, but the passing of the Reform Bill and the Industrial Revolution were beginning to make their influence felt.
Jacobite sympathies still existed in many quarters. There were people living whose parents had suffered grievously in the ’45 rising. The Crown was not popular. Victoria’s predecessor and uncle, George IV, had frequently been hissed and booed in public. But the spectacle of a young innocent girl of eighteen on the throne and the novelty of a female sovereign—there had been none since Queen Anne, 124 years before—made the country coronation-conscious. Originally it was fixed for the 26th June, 1838, but the queen, remembering that this was the anniversary of George IV’s death, altered it to the 28th.
The girl queen early showed that she was determined to do things in style. She decided to order an entirely new crown, and Rundell and Bridge, the court jewellers, made one for her at a cost of £60.000. It weighed thirty-nine ounces, and contained 2,783 diamonds, 277 pearls and eleven emeralds, as well as a number of other stones. The queen, contrary to the tradition, insisted on a purple velvet cap for the crown instead of a crimson one. Some years afterward she was delighted to be told by an antiquarian peer that Queen Elizabeth also was crowned with a purplecapped crown. Queen Victoria’s crown is the Imperial Crown of today, although, of course, it has been altered and reset considerably since.
Another innovation introduced by Queen Victoria at her coronation was the placing of the Imperial Crow-n first on her head, instead of the historic Crown of-St. Edward. King Edward VII followed his mother’s example at his coronation in 1902, but the late King George in 1911 reverted to the old procedure.
Queen Victoria slept very badly on the eve of her coronation, and it was with difficulty that she was able to rise at 7 a.m. The morning was dull and overcast and, going over to her bedroom window, she was disappointed
at the sun not shining. Buckingham Palace in 1838 had only been opened a year, and the now familiar east front, that part facing the Mall, was not in existence. From the windows, a magnificent view of London could be obtained, and the queen on her coronation morning was able to see the huge crowds which had collected outside the palace to see her depart.
“The Wedding Ring of England”
nPHOUSANDS had waited all night, and the scene was like a fair. As the young queen, clothed in crimson velvet and wearing jewelled sashes and gold slippers, left the palace, preceded by an imposing procession of mounted men and carriages, her coach was greeted with wild
enthusiasm. The sun suddenly shone, and at this and the cheers the very pale face of the rather lonely young queen broke into smiles.
When she arrived at the Abbey about 10.30 a.m. the scene that met her eyes was brilliant in the extreme. The huge church was packed with a crowd all attired in rich and colorful robes and uniforms. M.P.’s were present in force in a special place behind the high altar, and although it was after the Reform Bill, the “Commons” liad in their ranks over 250 titled men and squires.* Among the great assembly were two young men—Gladstone and Disraeli— destined both to be Premiers. Disraeli later described the ceremony as “the most splendid, various and interesting affair” that he had ever attended.
Continued on page 37
Great Coronation Dramas
Continued from page 23
The chief officiating prelate—Archbishop Howley of Canterbury—was the last Primate in England to wear a wig, and the Archbishop of York (Vernon Harcourt) who preached the sermon, accomplished a unique treble, for he had preached at both the previous coronations—George IV in 1821 and William IV in 1831.
Ecwley’s mode of presenting the queen to the assembly—called the Recognition • - was commendably brief and to the point. I'cur times—facing north, south, east and west—he made the declaration :
“Sirs, I here present to you Queen Victoria, wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage. Are you willing to do the same?”
The answering shouts of “God Save Queen Victoria,” the shrill “Vivat Victoria Regina” of the Westminster schoolboys, the beating of drums, could be heard by the crowds outside the Abbey. Almost immediately guns boomed and bells pealed. Throughout the long trying ceremony—it lasted five hours—the young queen kept up remarkably well. The sight of the tiny girlish figure, her pallor and extreme youth made a profound impression on everyone present. Many were so deeply affected that they wept.
Two or three curious incidents happened during the coronation. The ring, called the “Wedding Ring of England,” proved to have been made too small and had literally to be forced on the queen’s finger, arid her face screwed up with pain during the operation. When finally it was in position it was found that it had been put on the third finger instead of the fourth—but it was decided to leave it. The ancient superstition that a tightly fitting coronation ring predicted a long reign was thus vindicated. When the Orb—that solid ball of gold—was placed in the queen’s left hand, she said to the dean:
“What do I do with this?”
“If you have already sent along your renewal, please disregard this request entirely.”
This sentence appears at the top of all notices sent you advising that your subscription is due for renewal.
The routine of a large subscription list requires a period of a few days before a renewal can be recorded. A notice, therefore, may in some instances go forward to you even after remittance actually has reached us. In such cases, please ignore the notice and accept our regrets and thanks.
“You hold it in your hand, ma’am,” was the reply.
“It is very heavy,” the queen answered rather wearily.
Captured Crowd’s Imagination
TN ESPITE HER rigid training for the Crown, she appeared to have little conception of the symbolic meaning of the various coronation ceremonies. Yet her dignity and composure were superb. She received the homage of the prelates and peers as to the manner born, and even when Lord Rolle slipped and fell she royally helped him to rise.
But she was obviously relieved when the whole affair was over. Her reception along the return route to the palace was a wonderful one. The little figure in the Imperial mantle of purple velvet fairly captured the imagination of the crowds. There was considerable disappointment at the absence of a coronation banquet in Westminster Hall, many remembering the gorgeous one held by George IV, but the queen instead had a banquet in Buckingham Palace.
There were seventy guests present, all known to the queen, and it was a gay and sumptuous function, and the royal hostess was the liveliest and happiest one at the table. For months she had been dreading the ordeal of the coronation, and the fact that it was over at last and had been such a great success, gave her great satisfaction.
London celebrated coronation evening with wonderful fireworks arid illuminations. At midnight the queen and her guests went onto the roof of the palace and witnessed the bright and glowing scenes. Stafford House, now the London Museum, was a fairylike blaze of colored lamps, as were St. James’s Street and Piccadilly. All the taverns in London were open till six o’clock in the morning, and a favorite amusement of the “young bloods” that evening was to throw gold and silver coins through the open doors and windows of the public houses to provide more free drinks for the poor.
Perhaps no living person knows more about the details and scenes of Queen Victoria’s coronation than Queen Mary. Her uncle, the Duke of Cambridge, and her aunt, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, grandchildren of George III, were both present at the ceremony, and they lived to witness the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. The duke and duchess often told their niece, the future Queen Mary, of that great day in June, 1838.
One wonders if anyone present at the coming coronation will live to see one, say, in 2002 !
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.