The Coronation of Queen Victoria

The Post covered Queen Victoria’s 1838 coronation in painstaking detail. The worth of her crown in today’s dollars will astonish you.

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The first episode of the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria concludes with the young queen being crowned at Westminster Abbey. The 1838 coronation greatly interested Americans. Then, as now, many Americans had an intense interest in the British royal family, so the Post published two lengthy articles about the coronation. A painstakingly detailed account published in the August 4, 1838, issue covered four columns of a large (27- by 19-inch) page with very small type. It would have satisfied anyone’s appetite for news of the event.

An earlier article, from July 28, 1838, offered more personal accounts of the occasion, viewed from Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park. The author was surprised that such an immense crowd — 400,000 according to one estimate — was so orderly, polite, and good humored. Watching the large number of riders and carriages in the procession, the author approved of its air of decorum and correctness and of the members as they passed.

Coronation of Queen Victoria
Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey 28 June 1838 by Sir George Hayter

The coronation launched a 64-year reign for Victoria that saw immense changes for the United Kingdom. The country was excited by its booming industry and new technologies, like  the telegraph and railway system. But there was also a sense of nostalgia for the old England that was passing away.

The coronation helped prepare the British for the new era by incorporating ancient tradition and customs. Consequently, the article on the ceremony was filled with references to archaic offices and terms.

  • The “Bargemaster” and “Watermen” refer to traditional offices that were once filled by the men who took the kings and queens out on the Thames.
  • The “Royal Equerry” was the person who attended the queen’s horses. An equipage is a coach and horses with servants.
  • The “Yeoman Pickers” were mounted attendants at royal hunts.
  • The “Exons of the Yeomans” were the most junior members of the Yeoman Guards.
  • The “Marshalmen” (along with the Knight Marshal) was responsible for maintaining order within the queen’s court.
  • The “State Hammercloth” is a heavy velvet curtain in which the royal coat of arms is elaborately embroidered, often with gold thread. During the coronation, it would have been seen draped on the driver’s seat of the royal coach.
  • The Orb is a hollow gold ball surmounted by a cross, and is a Christian symbol of authority. The spurs were symbols of knighthood and chivalry.
  • The Ring represented the sovereign’s marriage to the nation. The Archbishop put the ring on the wrong finger of Victoria’s hand. It was too small for the finger and she had to pull it painfully off during the ceremony to place it on the correct finger.
  • “The rod with the dove” is the scepter held in the monarch’s left hand. It is topped by the figure of a dove, a reference to the Holy Spirit and wisdom.

The Post author claimed that the royal crown made from Queen Victoria cost  £112,800. An equivalent worth today would be about £70,000,000 ($85,000,000).

Queen Victoria's imperial state crown
Hand-colored lithograph of Queen Victoria’s imperial state crown

The author says little about the appearance of the queen, probably because it was impossible to get close enough to see her face.

In the Victoria TV series, the queen is played by Jenna Coleman. In stature, she appears to closely resemble Victoria’s 4-foot 11-inch height. But her face is another matter. Coleman is undeniably pretty, while Victoria was widely conceded to be plain and unremarkable.

An 1848 Post article about Queen Victoria reported one Briton’s comment on the queen’s looks:

While Victoria was on a visit to Brighton last year, a crowd gathered round to see her Majesty and the Prince when walking near the sea shore, the day after they arrived, which much annoyed the Queen. As she turned to avoid the crowd, a young woman cried out, loud enough for the Queen to hear, “Why, my sister Jane would make a better looking Queen any day.”

But at her coronation, when she was only 18 years old, she still had an aura of youthful appeal. A Post correspondent, just a year later, had this to say of the queen:

“It is certainly not the sort I should call beautiful, but, when lighted up by animated conversation, the face is full of expression and sweetness, and strongly indicative of character.”

Victoria begins this week with a two-hour presentation on PBS and will continue for another 14 weeks.

Coronation of Queen Victoria

Originally published in the Saturday Evening Post July 28, 1838

From an early our, indeed long before daylight, numbers of persons were to be seen gathering into little knots in the immediate vicinity of Buckingham Palace, and as the day advanced considerable additions tot that number continued to be made, until the hour of eight o’clock had arrived, when the whole line on either side of the road leading up Constitution hill from the New Palace, as well as the inner side of the iron railing which divides St. James from the Green Park, was crowded with well-dressed persons, of whom a large portion consisted of ladies —

Within the railing there were erected a series of platforms of various elevations, on which standings were obtainable at a charge of 2s 6d. per head. This accommodation extended nearly from the Duke of Sutherland’s residence up to the triumphal arch opposite to the entrance into Hyde Park, and, as far as we were enabled to see, not one was unoccupied. On either side of arch, and on both sides of the gate, spacious galleries were erected, which were filled principally by elegantly dressed females, many of whom on the arrival of the youthful Sovereign took off their bonnets. It was impossible not to have anticipated where so great an assemblage had congregated that some disturbance would have occurred. Not so in this instance, however, for throughout the whole day not an angry word reached our ears, except such as were rendered necessary every now and then by persons planting themselves in the trees along the side of the roads. Then the commands of the police assumed somewhat a tone of that character.

In the course of the night a detachment of the artillery from Woolwich had taken up their station in that part of St. James Park immediately behind Marlborough house, the residence of the Queen Dowager. About seven o’clock the outer line of the footpaths up Constitution hall were taken possession of by the twentieth regiment of foot and police. Shortly after the interstices between these official persons were filled up by a detachment of the Life Guards. The line toward the arch was made out of a portion of the Rifle Brigade. But so quiet, so peaceable, and so appropriately correct was the demeanor of the anxious spectators, that the presence of these authorities might have been safely dispensed with.

The monotony which at all times attends the waiting for the commencement of the set out of a procession, was yesterday but little relieved by casual occurrences. All was good humor, and it was evident, that so firm was the general resolve to be pleased, and to abstain from acrimonious conflict, that a total abandonment of the processions would alone have induced the slightest deviation therefore.

It should be here mentioned, that the whole of the eastern and northern sides of St. George’s Hospital, as well as the fronts of the roofs of the houses at the upper end of Grosvenor-place, presented one mass of galleries, the majority of their occupants being members of the fair sex.

The roof of the palace itself, too, was thickly studded with spectators.

Soon after half past nine detachments of the Blues and the Life Guards, accompanied with their respective bands, arrived opposite the entrance gate of the palace, and their appearance was quickly followed by that of twelve of Her Majesty’s dress carriages together with the state coach. The carriages of her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, with those of their Royal Highnesses the Duke of Cambridge, Duchess of Gloucester, and the Duke of Sussex next reached the Royal residence in rapid succession. The whole of these vehicles drove into the courtyard.

During this proceeding the various foreign ambassadors formed into line in the Birdcage walk.

The foreign ambassadors took place in the procession in the following order, from the Sultan, France, Portugal, Sweden, Sardinia, Hanover, Prussia, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, Russia, Belgium, and Sicily. At a quarter before 10 o’clock, the formation of the procession commenced, which when completed set out in the following manner.

  • High Constable of the city of Westminster, squadron of life guards, carriages of foreign resident ministers in the following order, from Mexico, Portugal, Sweden, the Saxon minister, Hanover, Greece, Sardinia, Spain, United States, Netherlands, Brazil, Bavaria, Denmark, Belgium, Würtenburg, Prussia.
  • Carriages of the foreign ambassadors and ministers extraordinary, in the order in which they respectively report their arrival.
  • The Turkish, French, Russian, and the Austrian Ambassadors.
  • Mounted Band of a Regiment of Household Brigade.
  • Detachment of Life Guards.
  • Carriages of the Branches of the Royal Family, with their respective Escorts.
  • The Duchess of Kent and Attendants.
  • The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Attendants.
  • Mounted Band of a Regiment of the Household Brigade.
  • The Queen’s Bargemaster.
  • The Queen’s Forty-eight Watermen.
  • HER MAJESTY’S TWELVE CARRIAGES, Each drawn by six horses.
  • The Lord Chamberlain. The Duke of Argyll.
  • A Squadron of Life Guards.
  • Mounted Band of the Household Brigade.
  • Military Staff and Aides-de-camp, on Horseback, Three and Three.
  • First and Principal Aide-de-Camp to the Queen.
  • Lieutenant General Sir Herbert Taylor, G.C.B. attended by the Equerry of the Crown Stable, Sir George Quentin.
  • The Queen’s Gentleman Rider, J. Fozard, Esq.
  • Deputy Adjutant-General, Major General J. Gardner
  • Deputy Quartermaster-General, Col. Freeth, H.K.
  • Deputy Adjutant-General, Royal Artillery, Sir Alexander Dickson.
  • Quartermaster-General, Sir J. Willoughby Gordon Bart.
  • Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, K.C.B.
  • The Royal Huntsmen, Yeoman Prickers, and Foresters
  • Six of Her Majesty’s horses, with rich trappings, each horse led by two grooms.
  • The Knight Marshal, Sir J. C. Lamb, Bart.
  • Marshalmen in ranks of four.
  • The Exons of the yeoman of the guard on horseback.
  • One hundred yeomen of the guard, four and four.
  • The clerk of the check, James Bunce Curling, Esq, Harbinger, Samuel Wilson, Esq.
  • Ensign Sir Thomas N. Reeve,
  • Lieutenant Sir Samuel Spry, M.P.
  • THE STATE COACH, Drawn by eight cream colored horses, attended by a Yeoman of the Guard at each wheel, and two footmen at each door.
  • The gold stick, Viscount Cambermere and the captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, the Earl of Ilchester, riding on either side, attended by two grooms, each, conveying
  • THE QUEEN
  • The mistress of the robes, the Duchess of Sutherland, the master of the horse.
  • The Earl of Albermale.
  • The Captain-general of the Royal Archers, the Duck of Buccleugh, attended by two grooms.
  • A squadron of Life Guards.

HER MAJESTY’S STATE HAMMERCLOTH is covered with scarlet silk Genoa velvet, embroidered throughout with gold. The badges on each side and back, the fringes, ropes, and tassels, being of that valuable metal. We understand that it cost 1,000£

HYDE-PARK CORNER

Soon after 6 o’clock in the morning, Hyde-Park corner became a scene of the most animated and interesting character. The large galleries in front of St. George’s Hospital afforded places to a vast concourse of company, and several lf the houses along Grosvenor-place were occupied by numerous spectators. An inscription was placed on the front door of the hospital, stating that it would be closed during the day to all but cases of accidental injury. A large proportion of the military employed in the business of the splendid ceremonial passed either along Piccadilly or down Constitution hill, which of course much increased the bustle, the excitement, and the brilliancy of that neighborhood. Horse guards, grenadier guards, hussars, rifle brigade, in succession attracted the attention and called for the admiration of a multitude in whom 20 years of peace had not extinguished a sense of the gallant achievements which in time of danger had protected the independence and elevated the character of England.

Before 8 o’clock, the whole of the footways along Piccadilly and Constitution hill were filled with a dense multitude arrayed in their best attire, and fully resolved to enjoy to the utmost this universal holy-day. At a very early hour a work of perfect superogation was performed, namely, the watering of the roads, for that was quite enough of rain to prevent the least inconvenience from dust. The rifle brigade, mingled with police, lined the passage for the procession at this part of its course, the horde guards (red) being stationed at intervals of about 30 years. Soon after 8 o’clock a few of the peer’s carriages who possess the privilege of passing through that gate, proceeded down the hill on their way to the Abbey, but from an early hour Grosvenor place and Piccadilly were crowded with equipages, many of which were distinguished by greater splendor than perhaps was ever displayed on any similar occasion.

The representatives of foreign potentates at this Court certainly never made a display of magnificence which even in the remotest degree approached that which graced the coronation of Queen Victoria, and those who questioned that chasteness or elegance of those equipages should recollect that no inconsiderable number of them were manufactured in London, and that their gorgeousness, remarkable as it was, could not be regarded as going beyond what the dignity and interest of the occasion required.

A few of the foreign ambassadors were cheered as they passed through the gateway, the cheers given to the French ambassador extraordinary being by far the most market; he and the Turkish minister were considered the two great lions among the corps diplomatique.

In about an hour after leaving Buckingham Palace, her Majesty arrived at the west entrance of the Abbey, and was received by the great officers of state, the noblemen bearing the regalia, and the bishops, when her Majesty repaired to her robing chamber. Her Majesty having been robed, advanced up the nave into the choir, the choristers in the orchestra a singing the anthem, “I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord.” When her Majesty took her seat in a chair before and below the throne, the spectacle was truly magnificent. Then followed the recognition, her Majesty’s oblation, the Litany and the remainder of the service. The sermon was preached by the Bishop of London, from Chron. xxxiv v 31. Archbishop of Canterbury then administered the oath, to a transcript of which her Majesty affixed her royal sign manual; after which the Archbishop anointed and consecrated her Majesty. Then followed the presentation of the spurs and sword, the investing with the royal robe, and the investing with the royal orb, the investitute of the ring and the gloves, and the delivery of the scepter and the rod with the doves.

The Archbishop then placed the crown on her Majesty’s head, and the peers and peeresses put on their cornets, the bishop their caps, and the king-of-arms their crowns. The effect was magnificent in the extreme. The shouts which followed this part of the ceremony was really tumultuous.

After this followed the anthem, “The Queen shall rejoice in thy strength O Lord”; at the conclusion of which the Archbishop and Bishops and other peers lifting up her Majesty into the throne, when the peers did homage. The solemnity of the coronation being thus ended, the Queen went down from her throne to the altar, made her second oblation, and returned to the chair. The Archbishop then read the prayers for the whole estate of Christ’s Church militant here on earth, etc. and the chorus, “Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth,” having been sung, her Majesty proceeded to the altar, when the Archbishop read the final prayers. The whole coronation office being thus performed, the Queen proceeded, crowned, to King Edward’s Chapel, where she delivered the scepter with the (dove) to the Archbishop, who laid it on there altar there. His Grace then placed the orb in the Queen’s left hand, and the procession returned in the same state and order.

Her Majesty reached the palace at a quarter to six o’clock, and, as she descended from the carriage the cheers which saluted her in the morning were repeated with increased heartiness and renewed vigor. She appeared as steady in her bearing, notwithstanding the fatigue of the day, as when she set out in the morning, and recognized by her graceful acknowledgements the cheers and gratulations of her subject.

The night presented a scene of indescribable luster from the illumination throughout all the principal squares and streets in the metropolis, the inhabitants viewing with each other in doing honor to this interesting occasion. There was also a brilliant display of fireworks in Hyde Park.

The following is an estimate of the value of the different jewels contained in the late magnificent diadem, the “Queen’s rich Crown,” and from which the present one, manufacturers by Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, is composed, and which Her Majesty wore on Thursday:

  • 20 diamonds round the circle, 1,500£ each£30,000
  • 2 large center diamonds, 2,000£ each   4,000
  • 54 smaller diamonds placed at the angles of the former   1,000
  • 4 crosses, each composed of 25 diamonds, 12,000
  • Four large diamonds on the top of the crosses,   40,000
  • 12 diamonds covered in the fleur-de-lis   10,000
  • 18 smaller diamonds contained in the same2,000
  • Pearls, diamonds etc, on the arches and crosses   10,000
  • 141 diamonds on the mound500
  • 26 diamonds on the upper cross   3,000
  • 2 circles of pearls about the rim   300

£112,800

Notwithstanding such an uncommon mass of jewellery, independent of the gold velvet cap, ermine, etc, this crown weighed only 19 ounces, 10 pennyweight—it measured seen inches in height from the gold circle to the upper cross, and its diameter at the rim was five inches.

The Coronation Medals — a great deal of amusement was occasioned by the eagerness displayed to obtain the medals which were scattered with a profuse hand, at intervals, by the Lord Treasurer of the Household, the Earl of Surry, whose dress was not a little disarranged by the rough manner in which he was treated. A son of the Duke of Richmond was exceedingly fortunate in his scrambles, for he contrived to gather up no fewer than 12 medals. The aldermen of the city of London were particularly conspicuous in their efforts to obtain some of the silver shower dropped around them. Mr. Alderman Harmer was sprawling on the floor, and a struggle ensued between him and another person near him for one which feel between them. We believe, however, that the worthy alderman obtained the prize. The judges were more dignified in their efforts, merely extending their hands in the air, not unlike the snatch that Macready makes at the aerial dagger in Macbeth, but one single medal did they catch in the fight. They, however, design not to stoop to pick up what had fallen to the ground.

 

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