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The Coronation








The coronation was fixed for June 28, 1838 a little more than a year from
the accession.

The, Queen had been slightly troubled at the thought of some of the
antiquated forms of that grand and complicated ceremony--for instance,
the homage of the Peers, spiritual and temporal. As the rule stood, they
were all required after kneeling to her, and pledging their allegiance,
to rise and kiss her on the left cheek. She might be able to bear up
under the salutes of those holy old gentlemen, the archbishops and
bishops--but the anticipation of the kisses of all the temporal Peers,
old and young, was enough to appall her--there were six hundred of them.
So she issued a proclamation excusing the noble gentlemen from that
onerous duty, and at the coronation only the Royal Dukes, Sussex and
Cambridge, kissed the Queen's rosy cheek, by special kinship privilege.
The others had to be content with her hand. The other omitted ceremony
was one which formerly took place in Westminster Hall--consisting chiefly
of the appearance of a knight armed, mailed and mounted, who as Royal
Champion proceeded to challenge the enemies of the new Sovereign to
mortal combat. This, which had appeared ridiculous in the case of the
burly George IV., would have been something pretty and poetic in that of
the young maiden-Queen, but she doubtless felt that as every Englishman
was disposed to be her champion, the old form would be the idlest,
melodramatic bravado.

The crown which had fitted George and William was too big and heavy for
their niece--so it was taken to pieces, and the jewels re-set in a way to
greatly reduce the size and weight. A description now before me, of the
new crown is too dazzling for me to transcribe. I must keep my eyes for
plainer work; but I can give the value of the bauble--£112,760!--and this
was before the acquisition of the koh-i-noor.

Of the coronation I will try to give a clear, if not a full account.

It was a wonderful time in London when that day of days was ushered in,
by the roar of cannon from the grim old Tower, answered by a battery in
St. James' Park. Such a world of people everywhere! All Great Britain and
much of the Continent seemed to have emptied themselves into this
metropolis, which overflowed with a surging, murmuring tide of humanity.
Ah me, how much of that eager, noisy life is silent and forgotten now!

There may have before been coronations surpassing that of Victoria in
scenic splendor, if not in solid magnificence-that of the first Napoleon
and his Empress, perhaps-but there has been nothing so grand as a royal
pageant seen since, until the crowning of the present Russian Emperor at
Moscow, where the almost intolerable splendor was seen against a dark
background of tragic possibilities. This English coronation was less
brilliant, perhaps, but also less barbaric than that august, overpowering
ceremony over which it seemed there might hover "perturbed spirits" of
men slain in mad revolts against tyranny--of youths and women done to
death on the red scaffold, in dungeons, in midnight mines, and Siberian
snows; and about which there surely lurked the fiends of dynamite. But
this pure young girl, trusting implicitly in the loving loyalty of her
subjects--relying on Heaven for help and guidance, lifted to the throne
by the Constitution and the will of a free people, as conquerors have
been upborne on shields, what had she to fear? A very different and un-
nihilistic "cloud of witnesses" was hers, we may believe. If ever there
was a mortal state-occasion for the immortals to be abroad, it was this.

The great procession started from Buckingham Palace at about 10 o'clock.
The first two state carriages, each drawn by six horses, held the Duchess
of Kent and her attendants. The Queen's mother, regally attired, was
enthusiastically cheered all along the way. The Queen was, of course, in
the grand state coach, which is mostly gilding and glass--a prodigiously
imposing affair. It was drawn by eight cream-colored horses--great
stately creatures--with white flowing manes, and tails like mountain
cascades. Many battalions and military bands were stationed along the
line, presenting arms and playing the National Anthem, "And the People, O
the People!" Every window, balcony, and door-step was swarming, every
foot of standing room occupied--even on roofs and chimneys. Ladies and
children waved handkerchiefs and dropped flowers from balconies, and the
shouts from below and the shouts from above seemed to meet and break into
joyous storm-bursts in the air. Accounts state that Her Majesty "looked
exceedingly well, and that she seemed in excellent spirits, and highly
delighted with the imposing scene and the enthusiasm of her subjects."
One would think she might have been.

She had a great deal to go through with that day. She must have rehearsed
well, or she would have been confused by the multiform ceremonials of
that grand spectacular performance. The scene, as she entered Westminster
Abbey, might well have startled her out of her serene calm, but it
didn't. On each side of the nave, reaching from the western door to the
organ screen, were the galleries, erected for the spectators. These were
all covered with crimson cloth fringed with gold. Underneath them were
lines of foot-guards, very martial-looking, fellows. The old stone floor,
worn with the tread of Kings' coronations and funeral processions, was
covered with matting, and purple and crimson cloth. Immediately under the
central tower of the Abbey, inside the choir, five steps from the floor,
on a carpet of purple and gold, was a platform covered with cloth of
gold, and on it was the golden "Chair of Homage." Within the chancel,
near the altar, stood the stiff, quaint old chair in I which all the
sovereigns of England since Edward the Confessor have been crowned. Cloth
of gold quite concealed the "chunk of old red sandstone," called the
"stone of Scone," on which the ancient Scottish Kings were crowned, and
which the English seem to keep and use for luck. There were galleries on
galleries upholstered in crimson cloth, and splendid tapestries, wherein
sat members of Parliament and foreign Princes and Embassadors. In the
organ loft were singers in white, and instrumental performers in scarlet
--all looking very fine and festive; and up very high was a band of
trumpeters, whose music, pealing over the heads of the people, produced,
at times, a wonderful effect.

Fashionable people had got up early for once. Many were at the Abbey
doors long before 5 o'clock, and when the Queen arrived at 11:30,
hundreds of delicate ladies in full evening-dress, had been waiting for
her for seven long hours. The foreign Princes and Embassadors were in
gorgeous costumes; and there was the Lord Mayor in all his glory,
blinding to behold. His most formidable rival was Prince Esterhazy, who
sparkled with costly jewels from his head down to his boots-looking as
though he had been snowed upon with pearls, and had also been caught out
in a rain of diamonds, and had come in dripping. All these grand
personages and the Peers and Peeresses were so placed as to have a
perfect view of the part of the minster in which the coronation took
place-called, in the programme, "the Theatre."

The Queen came in about the middle of the splendid procession. In her
royal robe of crimson velvet, furred with ermine, and trimmed with gold
lace, wearing the collars of her orders, and on her head a circlet of
gold-her immense train borne by eight very noble young ladies, she is
said to have looked "truly royal," though so young, and only four feet
eight inches in height. As she entered the Abbey, the orchestra and choir
broke out into the National Anthem. They performed bravely, but were
scarcely heard for the mighty cheers which went up from the great
assembly, making the old minster resound in all its aisles and arches and
ancient chapels. Then, as she advanced slowly towards the choir, the
anthem, "I was glad" was sung, and after that, the sweet-voiced
choir-boys of Westminster chanted like so many white-gowned, sleek-headed
angels, "Vivat Victoria Regina!" Ah, then she felt very solemnly
that she was Queen; and moving softly to a chair placed between the Chair
of Homage and the altar, she knelt down on the "faldstool" before it, and
meekly said her prayers.

When the boys had finished their glad anthem, the Archbishop of
Canterbury, with several high officers of state, moved to the east side
of the theatre, when the Primate, in a loud voice, said: "I here present
unto you Queen Victoria, the undoubted Queen of this realm, wherefore all
you who are come this day to your homage, are you willing to do the
same?"

It seems a little confused, but the people understood it, and shouted,
"God save Queen Victoria!" This "recognition," as it was called, was
repeated at the south, west, and north sides of the "theatre," and every
time was answered by that joyous shout, and by the pealing of trumpets
and the beating of drums. The Queen stood throughout this ceremony, each
time turning her head towards the point from which the recognition came.

One may almost wonder if all those loyal shouts and triumphant
trumpetings and drum-beatings did not trouble somewhat the long quiet of
death in the dusky old chapels in which sleep the fair Queen Eleanor, and
the gracious Philippa, and valiant Elizabeth, and hapless Mary Stuart.

Then followed a great many curious rites and ceremonies of receiving and
presenting offerings; and many prayers and the reading of the Litany, and
the preaching of the sermon, in which the poor Queen was exhorted to
"follow in the footsteps of her predecessor"--which would have been to
walk "sailor-fashion" morally. Then came the administration of the oath.
After having been catechised by the Archbishop in regard to the
Established Church, Her Majesty was conducted to the altar, where
kneeling, and laying her hand on the Gospels in the great Bible, she
said, in clear tones, silvery yet solemn: "The things which I have here
before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God!"

She then kissed the book, and after that the hymn, "Come, Holy Ghost,
our souls inspire" was sung by the choir, the Queen still kneeling.

I read the other day that the Duke of Connaught (Prince Arthur), on
visiting Norwich Cathedral, was shown the very Bible on which his mother
took her well-kept coronation oath, forty-five years ago. It was a most
solemn pledge, and yet it was all comprehended in the little girl
Victoria's promise to her governess, "I will be good."

Her Majesty next seated herself in St. Edward's chair; a rich cloth of
gold was held over her head, and the Archbishop anointed her with holy
oil, in the form of a cross. Then followed more prayers, more forms and
ceremonies, the presentation of swords and spurs, and such like little
feminine adornments, the investing with the Imperial robe, the sceptre
and the ring, the consecration and blessing of the new crown, and at last
the crowning. In this august ceremony three Archbishops, two Bishops, a
Dean, and several other clergymen were somehow employed. The task was
most religiously performed. It was the Primate of all England who
reverently placed the crown on that reverent young head. The moment this
was done all the Peers and Peeresses, who, with their coronets in their
hands, or borne by pages at their sides, had been intently watching the
proceedings, crowned themselves, shouting, "God save the Queen!" while
again trumpets pealed forth, and drums sounded, and the far-off Tower and
Park guns, fired by signal, boomed over the glad Capital.

It is stated that the most magically beautiful effect of all was produced
by the Peeresses, in suddenly and simultaneously donning their coronets.
It was as though the stars had somehow kept back their radiance till the
young moon revealed herself in all her silver splendor.

Then came the exhortation, an anthem, and a benediction, and after a few
more forms and pomps, the Queen was conducted to the Chair of Homage.
Before the next long ceremony began, the Queen handed her two sceptres to
two of the lords in attendance, to keep for her, as quietly as any other
girl might hand over to a couple of dangling young gentlemen her fan and
bouquet to hold for her, while she drew on her gloves.

The Lords Spiritual, headed by the Primate, began the homage by kneeling,
and kissing the Queen's hand. Then came the Dukes of Sussex and
Cambridge, who, removing their coronets, and touching them to the Crown,
solemnly pledged their allegiance, and kissed their niece on the left
cheek. Her manner to them was observed to be very affectionate. Then the
other Dukes, and Peers on Peers did homage by kneeling, touching coronet
to crown, and kissing that little white hand. When the turn of the Duke
of Wellington came, the entire assembly broke into applause; and yet he
was not the hero of the day, but an older and far more infirm Peer, Lord
Rolle, who mounted the steps with difficulty, and stumbling at the top,
fell, and rolled all the way back to the floor, where "he lay at the
bottom of the steps, coiled up in his robes." At sight of the accident
the Queen rose from her throne, and held out her hands as though to help
him. It was a pretty incident, not for the poor Peer, but as showing Her
Majesty's impulsive kindness of heart. The old nobleman was not hurt, but
quickly unwound himself, rose, mounted the steps, and tried again and
again to touch the crown with the coronet in his weak, uncertain hand,
every plucky effort being hailed with cheers. At length the Queen,
smiling, gave him her hand to kiss, dispensing with the form of touching
her crown. Miss Martineau, who witnessed the scene, states that a
foreigner who was present was made to believe by a wag that this
ludicrous tumble was a part of the regular programme, and that the Lords
Rolle held their title on condition of performing that feat at every
coronation, Rolle meaning roll.

This most tedious ceremony over, finishing up with more anthems,
trumpets, drums, and shouts, the Sacrament was administered to the Queen
--she discrowning herself, and kneeling while she partook of the holy
elements. Then a re-crowning, a re-enthronement, more anthems, and the
blessed release of the final benediction. Passing into King Edward's
chapel, the Queen changed the Imperial for the Royal robe of purple
velvet, and passed out of the Abbey, wearing her crown, bearing the
sceptre in her right hand, and the orb in her left, and so got into her
carriage, and drove home through the shouting multitude. It is stated
that Her Majesty did not seem exhausted, though she was observed to put
her hand to her head frequently, as though the crown was not, after all,
a very comfortable fit.

After reigning more than a year, she had been obliged to spend nearly
five fatiguing hours in being finished as a Queen. How strange it all
seems to us American Republicans, who make and unmake our rulers with
such expedition and scant ceremony.





Next: Pictures And Descriptions Of The Queen And Her Love Of Pets-

Previous: Victoria's First Christmas At Windsor Castle As Queen



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