Friday 19 July 2013

The Coronation of King George IV

At 10.30am on Thursday 19th July 1821, George Augustus Frederick Hanover entered Westminster Hall half an hour late to begin the procession to Westminster Abbey, kicking off a day of ceremony, celebration and, because it was our Georgie, excess.

Coronation portrait of George II by Thomas Lawrence
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.
Photograph of gown worn by one of the Herbwoman's attendants
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.

Painting of the Coronation Procession by George Scharf,
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.

Portrait of Caroline of Brunswick by James Lonsdale
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!

Painting of the Coronation Banquet
The Coronation Banquet

Finally the newly-crowned King George IV departed for Carlton House with the people of London joining the Hyde Park Coronation FĂȘte, 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.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)


Debra Brown said...

I can't get over that the country rented those diamonds for a few years whilst he appealed the decision that they would not buy them for him. They finally wouldn't even continue to rent them... one of the great blows to this 'poor' chap. I think he thought a bit much of himself.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think it's fair to say that Prinny didn't do a lot of self reflection!

Debra Brown said...

I think that is fair!

Unknown said...

Like this interesting post !!!❤️❤️❤️

Sarah said...

Georgie never could do anything by halves. Tell me, did Sir Thomas Lawrence deliberately flatter him, had he been on a massive diet, or is all his embonpoint managed by corsets made by someone of the engineering calibre of a Brunel?

Catherine Curzon said...

A combination of flattery and magnificent underpinning! ;-)

Sarah said...

I want his corset.

Unknown said...

I wonder what wine was served at the banquet ?