According to the UK Daily Telegraph, “George III’s coronation took place on September 22, 1761, and was described by contemporary observers as “a complete shambles” and a “fiasco” after the heralds forgot their lines, the dean omitted to provide any chairs for the King, or Queen Charlotte and the canopy was mislaid along with the Sword of State. Meanwhile, the King removed the crown at the wrong moment and a large diamond fell from its setting, prompting a frantic search”. Queen Victoria’s 1838 five-hour coronation has been described as “the last of the botched coronations”. We may be thankful for this.
On May 6th King Charles III was crowned. I’m not a royalist but did take time out to watch the service – for us in eastern Australia, held at a very civilised 8.00p.m. AEST. It’s the first coronation to take place in my near seventy-year life and if King Charles lives as long as his father and I as long as mine, it will be the only one I witness. In contrast, my dad lived through four, not that he’d have been conscious of the first. The four:
Edward VII (and Queen Alexandra)
Like Charles III, Edward spent decades in waiting. As Queen Victoria’s eldest son, ‘Bertie’, he was heir apparent from birth (1841), succeeding to the throne, on 22nd January 1901. Although just 59, obesity and heavy smoking had aged him. His coronation was set for 26th June 1902. Two days before he was diagnosed with appendicitis so it had to be postponed. Many dignitaries returned home. The deferred coronation took place on 9th August.
Why was this coronation notable? At university we learned about this coronation … in contract law class. Many people with rooms overlooking the processional route rented them out for the occasion. When the coronation was postponed, the would-be spectators wanted their money back and a spate of law cases followed. Generally they succeeded if the contract implicitly or expressly stated that the room hire was for the purpose of viewing the proceedings, not otherwise.
George V (and Queen Mary)
George was not born to reign. He became the heir to the throne in 1892, aged 26, on the death of his older brother, Prince Albert. He became king on the death of his father, 6th May 1910, with his coronation taking place on 22nd June 1911. His 25-year reign was marked by the Great War and the Depression. He died on 20th January 1936 aged 70.
Why was this coronation notable? The guest list saw an assemblage of European royalty that would never be replicated. Within ten years the map of Europe would be redrawn. The VIP list included the German Crown Prince (the King’s first cousin once removed), the Grand Duke of Hesse (the King’s first cousin), Prince Henry of Prussia (another first cousin), the Crown Prince of Denmark (another first cousin), the Crown Prince of Sweden (another first cousin), Archduke Karl of Austria, the Crown Prince of Romania (yet another first cousin), Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich of Russia, Infante Ferdinand of Spain, the Crown Prince of Serbia, the Prince of the Netherlands and many more
Why was this coronation notable? Because it didn’t happen: Edward’s ten-month reign ended with his abdication on 10th December 1936. By then plans for his coronation, set for 12th May 1937 were well in hand. But they weren’t wasted …
George VI (and Queen Elizabeth)
On Edward VIII’s abdication the unready and reluctant Prince Albert found himself king, taking the name “George VI” to emphasise continuity with his father. With so many arrangements already made, his coronation took place on 12th May 1937. Just over two years later the country was again at war. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” – certainly true of WW2 and George VI. The stress of wartime leadership coupled with the effects of heavy smoking led to his premature death on 6th February 1952.
Why was this coronation notable? The coronation procession (but not the ceremony inside the abbey) was broadcast on TV, the country’s first major outside broadcast – at the time there were probably no more than 1,000 TV sets in the UK perhaps watched by 10,000 people. It was also the first coronation to be filmed, and the first to be broadcast on radio.
For her first ten years there was little expectation that Elizabeth would in time become queen. Then the abdication of her uncle moved her up the line of succession, to become heir presumptive (presumptive because in theory her parents could have produced a son who would have become heir apparent). After years of war and the austerity that followed, the new Elizabethan age was greeted with enthusiasm.
Why was this coronation notable? The 2nd June 1953 coronation was televised with more than half the adult population (viewer estimates vary: 20-27 million) watching, many on sets obtained specifically for that purpose. It would be the last coronation for nearly seventy years.
And the only coronation that most of us have witnessed:
King Charles III (and Queen Camilla)
In contrast to Queen Elizabeth’s three hour ceremony watched by 8,000 guests, Charles’ coronation was a slimmed down affair, with the ceremony lasting about an hour with only 2,000 guests present. In spite of the much larger population, UK viewer figures are put at around 20 million, much lower than the 29 million who watched Queen Elizabeth’s funeral.
Why was this coronation notable? Those participating included Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh members of the House of Lords.