Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 28, 1838 --- Coronation Day

London is jammed for the coronation of Britain's 19-year old Queen. Lord Greville writes in his diary: "The noise, the movement, the restlessness are incessant and universal; in short, it is very curious, but uncommonly tiresome and the sooner it is over the better."  The young monarch is awake before dawn, disturbed by the guns in Hyde Park and the noise of the sleepless revelers.

The laughably mismanaged service, which begins near noon, lasts five hours. The Archbishop of Canterbury forces the coronation ring, designed for the little finger, on to Victoria's ring finger. Ice had to be applied to the Queen's hand following the service to remove it. At the end of the service, the Bishop of Bath & Wells discovers he'd skipped two pages in the coronation rite and the Queen has to be retrieved from the robing room to complete the procedure. In disgust, the Queen pleads to a sub-Dean, "Pray tell me what I am to do, for they don't know."

A light moment is provided by the 88 year old Lord Rolle who lives up to his name and stumbles over his robes, toppling down the stairs. Wits spread word that the family peerage requires such a performance at every coronation. The loudest cheers are for the Duke of Wellington.  O'Connell, the Irish liberator, received a surprise invitation but was hissed. The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, stricken with diarrhoea, appears quite weak; Disraeli thought Melbourne held the sword of state "like a butcher."

The Queen returns to Buckingham Palace and, in her first Royal act, gives her dog, Dash, a bath. At a state dinner that evening, a typically tearful Melbourne is full of praise, telling the Queen, "You did it beautifully - every part of it, with so much taste. It's a thing that you can't give a person advice upon, it must be left to a person." The kind words give Victoria "great and real pleasure." In her journal, she writes "I shall ever remember this day as "the Proudest in my life."

The daylong extravaganza, capped by midnight fireworks, costs £200,000, four times the cost to crown William IV in 1831.

Painting by Edmond Thomas Parris (1838)

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