The Victorian Era well known for its scientific advancements and colonial expansion. It is named after Queen Victoria, one of Britain’s most famous monarchs. She is the second longest reigning monarch, beaten only by Queen Elizabeth II.
Her uncle William IV had previously declared that he wanted to live to see her 18th birthday, if only to avoid a regency by her mother. He succeeded, though barely, dying a month after she turned 18 – part of the reason she reigned for such a long time.
A year later, on Thursday 28 June 1838, her coronation took place and she was formally invested as the Queen of England.
Planning and protest
Official planning for the coronation was started in March 1838 by the cabinet of Lord Melbourne, the Whig Prime Minister of the UK. Melbourne was seen as a father figure by the young Victoria, who had grown up isolated; his presence reassured her throughout the coronation ceremony.
One of the great challenges he faced was involving the general public. The popularity of the monarchy had fallen during the preceding age of reform, and especially due to her despised uncle George IV. Melbourne decided upon a public procession through the streets. Scaffolding was built for the spectators, and apparently there was:
“scarcely a vacant spot along the whole [route] that was unoccupied with galleries or scaffolding”.
This procession was the longest since that of Charles II 200 years earlier.
However, the traditional banquet at Westminster Hall, and the challenge of the Royal Champion were omitted. Imagine someone riding in full armour through Westminster, throwing down a gauntlet and issuing a challenge, then you may understand why this ritual has not been used since the coronation of George IV.
These exclusions were to meet the budget of £70,000, a compromise between the lavish coronation of George IV (£240,000) and the frugal one of William IV (£30,000).
Both the Tories and the Radicals objected to the coronation, though for different reasons. The Tories disapproved of the focus on the public procession as opposed to the ceremonies at Westminster.
The Radicals disapproved of the expense, and were generally anti-monarchist. An association of London traders also protested due to not having sufficient time to order their merchandise.
The Crown Jewels
St Edward’s Crown had traditionally been used for the coronation of British monarchs: the iconic crown is also used as the crown in the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom (visible on British passports), on the logo of Royal Mail, and on the rank insignia of the British Army, Royal Air Force and police.
However, it was thought that it may be too heavy for the young Victoria, and so a new crown, the Imperial State Crown, was made for her.
On this new crown two notable jewels were mounted — the Black Prince’s Ruby (named after the Black Prince, who gained fame as a commander in the Hundred Years’ War), and St Edward’s Sapphire. This jewel is almost a millennia old, thought to be the stone from Edward the Confessor’s coronation ring.
Edward the Confessor is known for his death, which sparked the Battle of Hastings and the conquest of William of Normandy.
A “botched” ceremony
The day of the coronation dawned. The streets of London were full to the brim. Due to newly built railways, some 400,000 people from around the country came to London to view the coronation. Victoria wrote in her diary:
“I was alarmed at times for fear the people would be crushed, in consequence of the tremendous rush & pressure.”
Another spectator felt that London’s population felt as if it had “suddenly quadrupled”. After the hour long procession, the service at Westminster took 5 hours and involved two dress changes. It was obvious to the spectators that there was very little rehearsal. A young Benjamin Disraeli wrote they:
“were always in doubt as to what came next, and you saw the want of rehearsal”.
As a consequence there were mistakes, such as the Archbishop placing the ring on the wrong finger. An elderly peer, aptly named Lord Rolle, fell and rolled down the steps. Victoria gained public approval when she descended a couple of steps to prevent another fall.
The music itself was also widely criticised, with only one original piece written for the occasion. It was also the only time the Hallelujah chorus was sung at a British coronation.
Nevertheless, not all were critical. The Bishop of Rochester praised the music for having a suitably religious tone, and Victoria herself wrote:
“The demonstrations of enthusiasm affection, & loyalty were really touching & shall ever remember this day as the proudest in my life”.
Many considered the young, female Victoria a breath of fresh air following decades of rule by old men. A picture of beauty and morally uprightness, unlike her uncles, Victoria quickly won the hearts of her people, even if it took somewhat longer for her to understand the intricacies of politics.
Her relationship with Parliament was respectful, and unlike her predecessor William IV, she understood where there were lines which she could not cross as a constitutional monarch.