On this day in history : 28th June 1838 – The Coronation, at Westminster Abbey, of Queen Victoria – in a five hour long botched service full of mis-fortunate mishaps….
Victoria came to the throne after the death of her uncle, William IV, on the 20th of June 1837…. She was 18 years old and her Coronation took place a year later…. With a year to plan such an event one would imagine things to run smoothly on the day – but this was not entirely to be the case….
When writing in her diary to record the day Victoria remarked “I shall remember this day as the proudest of my life”…. There would have been those who remembered the day for very different reasons – but indeed Victoria had every right to feel proud – and not least for the way she managed to hold it together….
It could perhaps be said that Victoria was more than a little responsible for some of the difficulties of the day herself…. There had been very little rehearsal for the ceremony – she had only visited the Abbey on the eve of the Coronation and even then only after persuasion from Prime Minister Lord Melbourne…. She insisted she knew what she was meant to be doing – saying she understood where to stand and when to move throughout the ceremony – although it is highly likely she had forgotten half of it by the time came….
As the day dawned clusters of people began to gather in London…. With the advent of the railways it had become easy for people to travel – soon the numbers had swelled to some 400,000 – lining the route to Westminster Abbey….
The lengthy service involved two changes of dress for the Queen and when not needed for the proceedings it had been arranged that the royal party should retreat to St. Edward’s Chapel…. Whilst a chapel in every sense of the word it certainly did not resemble one on this occasion…. The altar was piled with plates of sandwiches and bottles of wine….people’s possessions and paraphernalia were littered everywhere…. Victoria was quite appalled at the state of the place….
Placing the crown upon the Queen’s head went more or less according to plan – but it is a shame the same cannot be said for the Coronation ring…. The ring had been sized to fit Victoria’s little finger but the Archbishop forced it on to her ring finger…. After the ceremony Victoria had to painfully struggle to remove it – having to resort to soaking her hand in iced water to reduce the swelling….
The Bishop of Durham then gave her the ceremonial orb at the wrong time in the ceremony and the Bishop of Bath and Wells managed to turn over two pages of the order of service and missed out a crucial chunk of the proceedings – Victoria had to be called back so that it could be repeated….
If it wasn’t her bishops giving her grief it was her Lords…. As the peers came before the new Queen to pay their respects one in particular, Lord John Rolle, Devon’s wealthiest landowner at the time, came a right cropper! As he mounted the steps leading up to her he tripped – and in an action truly befitting his name – he dramatically rolled back down to the bottom…. Luckily he was unhurt – well, maybe his pride was a little dented – and he was determined to fulfil his duty….so started the ascent again…. Showing concern Victoria rose and went down the steps to meet him…. It was an act that was seen as being both gracious and kind by many – but there were those who were not willing to show such kindness towards his Lordship….
“Then the trumpets braying, and the organ playing,
And the sweet trombones, with their silver tones,
But Lord Rolle was rolling; ‘twas mighty consoling
To think his Lordship did not break his bones!”
- Mr Barney Maguire
After this catalogue of events a new programme was put together ready for the next Coronation…. Thankfully they got it right the next time – but then they did have 63 years to plan it….