Queen Victoria's Coronation

Regalia, Queen VictoriaDURING the first part of the year 1838, great preparations were made for the approaching Coronation. It was agreed to alter in some respects the ancient ceremonies, and to dispense with the six hundred kisses on the left cheek from " the Lords Spiritual and Temporal " which would have been according to precedent.

A New Crown

The old Crown used by George IV and William IV weighed seven pounds, and was too large for the Queen's head. So another was made of less than half the weight—a cap of blue velvet with hoops of silver, brilliant with diamonds, pearls, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Above it rose a ball covered with small diamonds, surmounted by a Maltese Cross of brilliants, with a splendid sapphire in its centre. In front of the Crown was another Maltese Cross bearing the enormous heart-shaped ruby, once worn by Edward the Black Prince. But we cannot further particularise the ornaments of this splendid diadem, and will only add that the precious stones of all sizes numbered 2,166 and were worth nearly £113,000. The famous Koh-i-noor had not yet been obtained.

Coronation Day

Queen Victoria, For many weeks, or rather months, beforehand, little else but the Coronation seemed to be on people's lips. There were coronation songs and hymns, coronation medals, coronation ribands, and so forth. At length the eventful day arrived, and on the 28th of June the dawn of day was announced by the firing of guns in St. James's Park and at the Tower. As early as five in the morning a few carriages were proceeding towards the venerable Abbey of Westminster, and between six and seven the western streets of the Metropolis were thronged with strings of vehicles and streams of eager pedestrians.

The streets were gay with decorated balconies and seats in every available position. At the edge of the pavement were long lines of horse or foot soldiers, and military bands were stationed here and there. At ten o'clock a salute of twenty-one guns proclaimed that the Queen had just left Buckingham Palace. She was in her grand State carriage, drawn by eight cream-coloured horses, and tremendous were the loyal acclamations of the people as she passed along. Very enthusiastic, too, was the cheering that greeted the Duchess of Kent, for it was universally felt how great was the debt of gratitude the nation owed to the illustrious lady who had so well prepared her daughter for her high career.

The royal carriages formed part of a long procession, for ambassadors, and royal princes and other distinguished personages and high officials were all there in carriages; and then, too, there were trumpeters and watermen, and yeomen and huntsmen, and marshals and foresters, etc., as well as squadrons of Life Guards and their bands. As the procession passed on through the streets—where side- walks, balconies, windows, and the very roofs (where possible) seemed alive with spectators waving scarves and handkerchiefs, and shouting their loyal greetings—the sight was one never to be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

Westminster Abbey

We must briefly glance at the scene within the Abbey, for to describe it in detail would fill too many pages of our little book. The old stone pavement of the long Nave was hidden from sight with purple and crimson cloth, and on each side stood a line of tall Life Guards, just above whose waving plumes were the temporary galleries covered with crimson cloth and gold fringe, and accommodating about a thousand persons. In the Choir, on a platform covered with cloth of gold, stood the superbly gilt Chair of Homage facing the altar. Nearer to the altar, which was gleaming with massive gold plate, stood the Chair of St. Edward, in which so many English monarchs have sat. Beneath it was the celebrated " stone of destiny," used in past ages for the coronation of Scottish kings, and declared by some to be the very stone on which Jacob laid his head at Bethel. Round about were galleries tapestried with green and gold, and accommodating the ambassadors, members of the House of Commons, judges, and other distinguished persons. The peers and peeresses occupied the transept.

Gentlemen's Attire

If we bear in mind that a large proportion of the gentlemen present were either in military or official attire, that the ambassadors, especially, were gorgeously arrayed, Prince Esterhazy (for one) being covered with diamonds, even on the heels of his boots ; that the peers were in robes of State, and the peeresses in beautiful dresses, and flashing back the sunshine from thousands of precious gems, we shall realise a little the brilliancy of the spectacle. And to vary the scene there were the members of the Choir in surplices and white dresses, and quaintly attired " gold-sticks " flitting about, and trumpeters perched up aloft, and above all the venerable Abbey roof and the glorious windows bright with the morning sun. Harriet Martineau, who was present, says : "About nine, the first gleams of the sun slanted into the Abbey and presently travelled down to the peeresses. I had never before seen the full effect of diamonds. As the light travelled each peeress shone like a rainbow. The brightness, vastness, and dreamy magnificence of the scene produced a strange effect of exhaustion and sleepiness."

Victoria Walks Up The Nave

Some of the peeresses had been five hours in their seats when at twelve o'clock to the sound of triumphant music the grand procession swept along the Nave. There were princes and ambassadors and great nobles bearing the regalia; but the chief interest of course centred in the young Queen, now " a royal, maiden of nineteen, with a fair pleasant face, a slight figure, rather small in stature, but showing a queenly carriage, especially in the pose of the throat and head." She walked up the Nave escorted by two Bishops and wearing a royal robe of crimson velvet furred with ermine and bordered with gold lace, and having a gold circlet on her head. Eight beautiful daughters of English dukes bore her train, and fifty ladies of rank holding offices in the Queen's household followed.

As the procession passed into the Choir a few moments delay occurred. The Turkish Ambassador was struck with bewilderment at the splendid spectacle and had to be courteously woke up and moved on to his seat.

The Recognition

Every one rose as the Queen advanced to the centre of the Choir, the musicians sang the anthem, " I was glad," and the Westminster boys from their gallery chanted " Vivat Victoria Regina."  There was silence for a few moments as the Queen knelt in private devotion, and then began the first ceremony, the "Recognition." The Archbishop of Canterbury presented Victoria as " undoubted Queen of this realm," and was answered by shouts of "God save Queen Victoria." Divine service followed, in which several prelates took part, and then there was a sermon by the Bishop of London. The Queen next took the oath to maintain the law and established religion.

The Anointing

The " Anointing " followed. Four Knights of the Garter (dukes and marquesses) held a canopy of cloth of gold above the Queen, whilst the Archbishop anointed her head and hands with oil. After the orb and ring and sceptre, etc., had been given to the Queen with the customary ceremonies, the Archbishop offered prayer and then reverently placed the crown of these realms upon the Queen's head. Then from all that great concourse rose the shout of "God save the Queen," and the Peers and Peeresses put on their coronets. The effect of the flashing jewels as this act was performed was startling in its brilliancy. At the same moment trumpets pealed forth and drums were beat, and the loud boom of the cannon at St. James's Park and the Tower resounded through the City.

Lord Rolle Slips

The Queen was then enthroned in the Chair of Homage. The Archbishop, on behalf of himself and the other spiritual peers, first knelt and did homage. The Princes of the blood—the Dukes of Sussex and Cambridge—touched the crown of their royal niece, took the oath, kissed her on the left cheek and retired. Then came the long train of peers—seventeen dukes, twenty-two marquesses, ninety-four earls, twenty viscounts and ninety-two barons—each in turn touched their Sovereign's crown and knelt and kissed her hand. To one peer, Lord Rolle, the task was a very difficult one. "The large infirm old man," says Miss Martineau, " was held up by two peers, and had nearly reached the royal footstool when he slipped through the hands of his supporters, and rolled over and over down the steps, lying at the bottom coiled up in his robes. He was instantly lifted up, and he tried again and again, amidst shouts of admiration at his valour. The Queen at length spoke to Lord Melbourne, who stood at her shoulder, and he bowed approval ; on which she rose, leaned forward, and held out her hand to the old man, dispensing with his touching the crown. He was not hurt, and his self-quizzing on his misadventure was as brave as his behaviour at the time." Lord Rolle was over eighty years of age. Some facetious person informed a foreigner who was present, and the latter gravely reported it to his own countrymen that the Lords Rolle held their title on condition of performing this feat at every Coronation.

The Sacrament

After partaking of the Sacrament, and undergoing a few closing ceremonies, the Queen left the Abbey at a quarter to four. She had " spent nearly five hours in being finished as a Queen," as Miss Greenwood puts it. And now, with the crown on her head and the sceptre in her hand, she rode back to her Palace, and her shouting subjects saw that Victoria was really now their crowned Queen.
" Poor little Queen !" said Thomas Carlyle, with rugged kindliness, " she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself, yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink."

Dash The Dog

The artist, Leslie, sat, as a Royal Academician, not far from the throne, and took notes for a picture of the scene. He tells us how the Queen, who was very fond of dogs, had a favourite little spaniel who always looked out for her return when she was from home. On the day of the Coronation she had, of course, been separated from the little dog much longer than usual. "When the State coach drove up to the Palace steps she heard him barking in the hall, and exclaimed, ' There's Dash,' and was in a hurry to doff her crown and royal robe, and lay down the sceptre and the orb which she carried in her hand, and go and give Dash his bath." Leslie determined that should he live until another monarch came to the British throne he would not get up at three in the morning, and wait in the Abbey, attired in Court dress, till five in the afternoon, to see the Coronation ceremony.

Coronation Dinner

The Queen had a hundred distinguished guests at her dinner-table that evening, and there was high festival throughout the land. The London theatres were open free ; the whole town was illuminated, and there were grand displays of fireworks in the parks. There was feasting at workhouses and hospitals and charity schools, and in Hyde Park there was a Fancy Fair which lasted four days. There was merrymaking all over the country, and amongst English residents all over the world. The total expense of the Coronation, so far as the public purse was concerned, was £69,000, and considering all things, it was cheaply done, for the Coronation of George IV. cost the nation no less than £238,000, even after Parliament had settled that £100,000, was the amount to be expended.

Coronation Portrait

Queen Victoria , Coronation, Franz Xaver WinterhalterA few months after the Coronation, Leslie was at Windsor painting the portrait of the Queen, who had given him sittings for the purpose of his Coronation picture, which was afterwards purchased by Her Majesty. When the Queen had sat five times, Leslie writes : " She is so far satisfied with the likeness that she does not wish me to touch it again. She sat not only for the face, but for as much as is seen of the figure, and for the hands with the Coronation ring on the finger. Her hands, by-the-bye, are very pretty, the backs dimpled, and the fingers delicately shaped. She was particular also in having her hair dressed exactly as she wore it at the ceremony, every time she sat." 

There were many portraits to introduce in this painting, and for these it was necessary that the distinguished personages should also give Leslie sittings. Amongst others were the Dukes of Cambridge, Sussex, and Wellington. These, in one way or another, tried the artist very much, and made him anxious to get back to his own home. The Duke of Cambridge was usually silent, but when he did speak it was to ask a string or silly and tiresome questions. Sussex failed to keep his appointments and wasted three days of the artist's time, whilst Wellington annoyed Leslie by talking on matters of which he was ignorant. " You have made my head too large," said he, " and this is what all the painters have done to whom I have sat. Painters are not aware how small a part of the human figure the head is. Titian was the only painter who understood this, and by making the heads small he did wonders."