On this day in history….28th June 1838

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….

Sir George Hayter – Public domain

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….

Sir George Hayter – Public domain

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 Gold State Coach – Image credit: Steve F.E. Cameron – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

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….

Coronation of Queen Victoria by Edmund Thomas Parris – Public domain

On this day in history….22nd January 1901

On this day in history : 22nd January 1901 – The death, at the age of 81, of Queen Victoria – who had reigned for 63 years and 7 months….

Photograph of Queen Victoria 1882 – Image credit : Alexander Bassano – Public domain

When the announcement came from Osbourne House ~ that at 6.30pm, surrounded by her family, Queen Victoria had drawn her last breath ~ it somewhat took the nation by surprise…. The Queen had been on the throne for nearly 64 years, for most people all of their living memory…. An imperative question arose…. ‘Just how exactly does one bury a monarch?’ Nobody could actually remember ever having to do so….

It had been kept from the public just how quickly the Queen was fading away….and even her family were in denial…. She had lost so much weight that she was but a shadow of her former self…. She was confined to a wheelchair, had all but lost her eyesight and suffered bouts of memory loss….

Queen Victoria had seen in the New Year with a sense of trepidation ~ “Another year begun, I am feeling so weak and unwell, that I enter upon it sadly”…. 1900 had been one hell of a year for the Queen…. Her daughter Vicky, Dowager Empress of Germany, had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer; her son Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, had died from throat cancer…. Her much loved grandson, Prince Christian Victor, had been lost to fever whilst serving with the British Army in South Africa…. And only just a few days before, Queen Victoria’s dear friend, Lady Churchill, had died in her bed whilst staying with the Queen at Osbourne House…. Then to top it all, there was the continual worry of the ongoing Boer War….

Queen Victoria aged 80, 1899 – After Heinrich von Angeli – Public domain

The government was totally unprepared for what was to come…. Queen Victoria had expressed her wish for a full state military funeral, “befitting for a soldier’s daughter”…. There was to be no lying-in-state, no embalming and ~ even though she herself had worn widow’s weeds since the death of her beloved Albert ~ no mourning black…. She wanted a white funeral with purple trimmings, with a gun carriage and white ponies….

With only a few days to organise such a grand funeral chaos reigned…. The family argued amongst themselves and officials panicked….

The preparation of Queen Victoria for her coffin was a closed affair, with only her doctor and a long-trusted woman servant in attendance…. The Queen was dressed in a white silk gown and her wedding veil placed over her face…. Unbeknown to the family there were some items Queen Victoria had instructed that she wished to take with her…. Secreted inside the coffin was a lock of hair, photographs and the pocket handkerchief of one John Brown…. Upon her finger she wore the wedding ring that had belonged to Brown’s mother – and which Queen Victoria had worn since his death in 1883…. John Brown was Queen Victoria’s devoted Scottish Highland servant – the two of them had been very close….

Queen Victoria and John Brown at Balmoral, 1863 – Photograph G.W.Wilson, Public domain

On the 1st of February the funeral cortège began its long journey…. The coffin was carried onboard the Royal Yacht ‘Alberta’ across the Solent from the Isle of Wight to the mainland…. An eleven mile procession of battleships and cruisers lined the way….each firing a gun salute as the little yacht passed by…. The cortège stayed in harbour overnight before continuing by train to London’s Victoria early the next morning….

(c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Passing of a Great Queen ; painting by William Wyllie – Public domain

What was to follow was the largest procession since 1852 and the state funeral of the Duke of Wellington…. Through Hyde Park and on to Paddington, the Queen’s coffin high on a gun carriage was drawn by eight white ponies…. The streets, lined with mourners, remained silent….

Queen Victoria’s funeral procession – Russell & Sons : http://www.royalcollection.org.uk – Public domain

From Paddington the coffin was taken by train to Windsor – and then to the waiting gun carriage…. It was here that disaster almost struck…. The horses, which had been kept standing in the freezing conditions for perhaps too long, broke away – nearly causing the coffin to topple…. Unable to re-harness the horses 183 bluejackets from the naval guard of honour attached ropes to the gun carriage – they then proceeded to drag it to St. George’s Chapel….

After the official funeral service a further ceremony was held on the 4th of February just for the family…. It was then that Queen Victoria’s coffin was lowered into the mausoleum that she’d had built for her Albert ~ they were together again….




On this day in history….30th May 1842

On this day in history : 30th May 1842 – Would-be assassin John Francis attempts to shoot Queen Victoria – for the second time in two days….as she rides in an open carriage….

Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

The first attempt had been on the 29th of May; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had attended a Sunday morning service at the royal chapel, St. James’s Palace and were returning to Buckingham Palace…. As they travelled down the Mall, in their open carriage, Prince Albert saw ‘a little swarthy, ill-looking rascal’ point a flintlock pistol in their direction…. The man pulled the trigger but the gun failed to fire…. He tucked the weapon back into his coat and disappeared into the crowd towards Green Park…. It seemed as if nobody else had noticed what had happened….

Prince Albert informed the police of what had occurred …. Any doubts he may have had at what he had seen were soon dispelled – as a young lad, who had been in the crowd, came forward to say he had witnessed a respectably dressed man in his early twenties aim a pistol at the royal carriage….

Queen Victoria refused to be confined to the Palace whilst the police hunted for the suspect…. The following day, on the 30th of May, she and Prince Albert went out for an evening ride in an open barouche – although feeling nervous they thought this may flush the villain out…. Plain clothed police offices circulated amongst the crowds – and at around 6pm, as the carriage moved down Constitution Hill, a shot suddenly rang out nearby….

fair use

Police Constable Tanner had been one of those surveying the crowds, when he saw a man raise a pistol – he rushed to knock the gun from the man’s hand and in the process the weapon had fired…. Thankfully the shot missed and the man was apprehended…. He turned out to be the same gunman from the previous day – one John Francis….

Following trial at the Old Bailey Francis was found guilty of high treason and sentence was passed….

“It now only remains for me to pass upon you the sentence of the law, which is that you, John Francis, be taken from hence to the place from whence you came, that you be drawn from thence on a hurdle to the place of execution and that you be hanged by the neck until you be dead; that your head be afterwards severed from your body, and that your body be divided into four quarters, to be disposed of in such a manner as to Her Majesty shall seem fit. And the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

~ [Sheffield Independent, Saturday 25 June 1842]

However, luckily for Francis, Queen Victoria intervened and his sentence was commuted to banishment…. He was transported for life with hard labour….

A broadside on the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, conducted by John Francis on 30 May 1842, with a wood-engraving showing an open horse-drawn carriage with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert inside – Image credit: The British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

On this day in history….29th March 1871

On this day in history : 29th March 1871 – The Royal Albert Hall in London is opened by Queen Victoria…. Originally it was to be called The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences….img_2677

Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, had a vision borne from the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851 – a venue to promote the understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences…. After his death from typhoid fever in 1861 the plans were shelved – but later revived by his collaborator on the Great Exhibition, Henry Cole…. Inspired by the ancient Roman amphitheatres Cole’s original intention had been for an establishment to hold 30,000 people – but this was revised to 7,000 for financial and practicality reasons; nowadays, due to safety regulations it has a capacity of 5,500….

On the 20th of May 1867 Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone…. A special marquee designed to accommodate 7,000 was erected – but it was more like 10,000 who packed in to witness Her Majesty lay the red Aberdeen granite block…. Beneath the stone was placed a time capsule which has lain undisturbed ever since…. Inside we know are some gold and silver coins and an inscription from Prime Minister Edward Smith-Stanley…. Of what else lies in the capsule little is known; the foundation stone is now located in the K stalls, row 11, under seat 87 in the main auditorium….img_2676

Queen Victoria, who was still in mourning and wearing all black, was rarely seen in public…. As the stone was laid she said “It is my wish that this Hall should bear his name to whom it will have owed its existence and be called The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Science”…. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the benediction and a composition by Prince Albert ‘Invocation to Harmony’ was performed by an orchestra…. The ceremony was closed by a 21 gun salute from Hyde Park and a trumpet fanfare by Her Majesty’s Life Guards….

The Hall at the opening ceremony, seen from Kensington Gardens. Public domain

At the opening ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall, some four years later, Queen Victoria was so overcome with emotion that her son, Edward Prince of Wales, had to make a speech on her behalf…. Her only recorded words of the day being that it reminded her of the British constitution….img_2678

On this day in history….2nd March 1882

On this day in history : 2nd March 1882 – Scotsman Roderick Maclean attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria as she waits to board her train at Windsor railway station….

Photograph by Alexander Bassano 1882. Public domain

Queen Victoria had just walked across the platform to the waiting carriage with her daughter, Princess Beatrice and other members of her court, when a shot rang out…. Roderick Maclean had stepped from a crowd of cheering onlookers, raised a gun and fired…. Before he could do so again the crowd, including a group of Eton schoolboys who hit him with umbrellas, managed to overcome him…. Maclean was then arrested by a Superintendent Hayes….

Queen Victoria with Princess Beatrice. Public domain via Wikimedia

Maclean had not been quite right in the head since a childhood accident. His father was the proprietor of  ‘Fun’ magazine – a rival to ‘Punch’ – and so the family would have been comfortable and Roderick Maclean depended upon them financially…. When his parents died he had no means of an income and had to rely on handouts from his three brothers and sister….

As time passed by this help became less frequent, which frustrated Maclean – as a republican he directed his anger at the Monarchy…. He took to wandering from town to town and was becoming more and more like a tramp….

Maclean was also a ‘would-be’ poet and he sent some of his verse to Queen Victoria – but was angered by the response he received from the Palace….his work was returned to him accompanied by a curt note from a lady-in-waiting…. This appears to have finally tipped him over the edge…. Maclean sold his meagre possessions, bought himself a cheap and cheerful revolver….and then walked to Windsor….

In fact Maclean had already been certified as insane two years previously in June 1880….and had spent some time in a lunatic asylum. He had complained of headaches and thought that everybody in England was plotting against him…. He even had a problem with the colour blue and thought people who wore it did so to deliberately provoke him…. He had also sent some disturbing letters to his sister Caroline, in which he discussed murder….

Maclean went on trial in Reading on April the 20th 1882 on the charge of high treason….a crime then punishable by death…. However he was found ‘not guilty but insane’ – the jury took just five minutes to deliver their verdict…. Roderick Maclean spent the rest of his days in Broadmoor Asylum….he died of apoplexy in 1921….

Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. Image credit : Wellcome Collection CC BY