|King George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1816|
During his long Regency George had planned the Coronation in the minutest detail, determined that when his day finally came, it would be the greatest Europe had ever seen. He envisioned a themed event with all the guests dressed in Elizabethan or Jacobean costume and no expense spared when it came to showing Europe that Hanovers did it better. Parliament provided £100,000 for the event, adding a further £138,000 received from France under the terms of a financial indemnity; it was to be the most expensive Coronation England had ever seen, bringing the country to a pitch of patriotic fever. The forthcoming extravagances caught the imagination of Georgian merchandisers too and souvenirs of the day proved immensely popular, with more than a few of our Covent Garden neighbours making a tidy sum out of Georgie!
The future monarch spent £24,000 on a Coronation robe of crimson, gold stars and ermine, the train stretching for 27 feet that would be carried on the day by eight pages. Never one to shirk on luxury, he rejected the traditional St. Edward's Crown and instead commissioned a new piece containing over 12,000 diamonds that were on hire from Rundell and Bridge, with the Hope Diamond occupying pride of place. Unfortunately, George grew somewhat fond of his rented diamonds and did his best to hang onto them, only returning them to the jewellers once parliament rejected his requests for the country to purchase them on his behalf.
|A gown worn by one of the Herbwoman's attendants (Royal Pavilion, Museums and Libraries, Brighton)|
At the head of the Coronation procession came Miss Fellowes, the King's herbwoman, and her six attendants, scattering flowers and sweet-smelling herbs in a traditional ceremony to ward off plague and pestilence. Behind them were the Officers of State bearing the iconic orb, sceptre, crown and sword and then three bishops carrying chalice, bible and paten. After the bishops came the man the crowd had come to see and George made a splendid sight in his robes, followed by Barons of the Cinqu Ports carrying the Coronation Canopy. Bringing up the considerable rear were the assembled peers of the realm and other other dignitaries.
|The Coronation Procession by George Scharf, 1821|
Mingled among the procession were a number of suspiciously burly pages. These professional fighters were there to act as minders to George, fearing that his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, might make a dramatic appearance. He was right to be suspicious as she did just that but found the Abbey barred to her, the assembled crowd jeering her as she was forced to retreat to her carriage. For Caroline, this was a public relations disaster; until this point the people of England had been supportive of her well-publicised troubles with George but with her appearance at the Coronation the affection of the celebratory crowd evaporated. Caroline returned to Brandenburg House in humiliation and died within three weeks.
|Caroline of Brunswick by James Lonsdale, 1821|
Queen or no queen, the monumental procession eventually reached Westminster Abbey where George was subject to the traditional and ancient Coronation ceremony; the day was stifling and George wilted under the weight of his robes and flamboyant hat, almost losing consciousness on one occasion. Still, Georgie kept himself together and five hours of ceremony culminated in the anointment of the new monarch whilst seated in King Edward's chair. With the crown placed on his head, England could finally celebrate the Coronation of George IV, with the Abbey erupting in a spontaneous cheer that onlookers commented both pleased and perhaps surprised the new Sovereign.
The procession then made it way back to Westminster Hall amid cheering crowds, Queen Caroline's attempted intervention already forgotten. We all know that George liked his food and the coronation banquet was testament to this. The King thanked the assembled guests and did them "the honour of drinking their health and that of his good people". It was a night to remember as three hundred male guests tucked into a vast array of delicacies, whilst we girls and the children were herded into viewing galleries to watch the fun!
|The Coronation Banquet|
Finally the newly-crowned King George IV departed for Carlton House with the people of London joining the Hyde Park Coronation Fête, where fireworks were let off throughout the evening. The day had been a flamboyant, excessive triumph and as the newly-crowned King settled into life as monarch, parties went on late into the summer night as the people of London celebrated the crowning of the new King George IV.
Thanks to Ken Titmuss, who called in for a toddy and to let us know that the Coronation route included what is now Warwick Way, Pimlico; at the time it was a track through market gardens.