The ferocious winter storm and the power cuts attendant upon it have meant that my little series on some of the costumes worn at George IV’s Coronation has been slightly delayed. But, now that power has been restored, here is the first post…
George IV’s coronation in 1821 was the most spectacular and certainly the most expensive English coronation up to that point in history. But knowing George and his extravagances as we do, it would have been surprising had it not been anything else. Jane Austen would no doubt have been horrified by it all. She was no admirer of George, his morals or his politics and she especially detested his treatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick. In a letter to her great friend, Martha Lloyd dated 16th February 1813 she wrote:
Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband
She would, I am sure,have been horrified by the fact that, despite still being his wife- albeit now estranged and discredited- Caroline was banned from the ceremony and turned away from the doors of the Abbey itself. However, this post is not meant to be a definitive account of the coronation- there are may of those available to read in print and on the internet- but merely to look at the some of costumes worn, and which were recently on display at George IV’s seaside folly, The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, in the Dress for Excess exhibition, which closed on Sunday.
Note I use the term “costumes” for however else can you really describe these items of clothing? They were not fashionable, contemporary clothes, but were extravagant costumes deliberately designed to give the onlooker the definite impression of watching the ancient customs of an ancient royal family. They were based on designs from the Tudor era to give the impression of antiquity.
Today we shall look at the sumptuous train that George IV wore. Here is George in his coronation robes and splendour, as painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence:
The reason for the references to past times was that George desperately wanted to out shine Napoleon’s coronation- a new comer to the scene- which had taken place in Paris in 1804, and here is David’s spectacular version of it ( in which Josephine very calculatedly steals the show!) for you to compare Napoleon’s neoclassical vision with George’s mock Tudor version:
Below is the engraving of George in his robes by James Stephanoff . One of the engravings for the illustrations which were included in Sir George Nayler’s commemorative book, The Coronation of George IV ( 1821)
This shows the King attired in the robe and train, and, as yet, uncrowned. He is followed by his attendants, depicted as they would have walked in the procession to Westminster Abbey, where the coronation took place, from their marshalling point in Westminster Hall. The King’s attendants were eight sons of Peers, and the Master of the Robes. The lucky eight peer’s sons were( from left to right) the Earl of Surrey, the Marquess of Douro, Viscount Cranborne, the Earl of Brecknock, the Earl of Uxbridge, the Earl of Rocksavage, the Earl of Rawdon and Viscount Ingestre. The last figure is of Lord Francis Conyngham who was the Master of the Robes.
This is how this part of the Coronation procession was described in an anonymous but contemporary report of the Coronation, A Brief Account of the Coronation of His Majesty George IV, July 19th 1821″ :
The King in the Royal Robes wearing a cap of estate, adorned with jewels, under a canopy of cloth of Gold bourne by 16 Barons of the Cinque Ports. His Majesty’s train bourne by 8 eldest Sons of Peers, assisted by the Master of the Robes.
Note nothing was said about George’s luxuriant brown wig, which he also wore to give an impression of youth…
Here is a print from that same account showing the Coronation procession snaking from Westminster Hall, past St Margaret’s Parish Church, on to the Abbey on the right of the print:
The train that George IV wore was kept in the Royal Collection until the 1830s when it was sold to Madame Tussauds. Here is a photograph of the train as it is now, and how it appeared on show in the Gallery at the Pavilion:
©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photographer Jim Holden.
The train now measures 16 feet long and is beautifully embroidered in silver wire. The border is made of representations and trophys of the emblems of the United Kingdon, again in silver wire. The main body of the train is embroidered with stylised “Tudor” roses. The train is made of crimson velvet. Do please click on the photograph , which I have been given special permission to use by Brighton Museum Service, so that you can see the details of the embroidery.
So, while it is debatable that George managed to out-do Napoleon in splendour ( or indeed, taste),it is interesting to know that French money- part of the reparations paid to Britain for the Napoleonic wars- was used to pay for this spectacle. Here is a scan of my copy of an Account of the Money Expended at His Majesty’s Coronation:
If you click on the image and enlarge it you can see that the furnishing and the decoration of Westminster Abbey and Westminster Hall, the Regalia ( which included the fabulous Hope Diamond and 12,314 “hired” diamonds from the firm of Rundell Bridge and Rundell of Ludgate Hill) ...the Dresses etc of the Persons attending and performing the various Duties..cost £111,172 9 shillings and 10 pence. An astounding sum of money. The French money- some £138,238- had been paid to Britain as part of the reparations after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. Even so, the total cost of the Coronation was an eye watering £238,238 and 2 pence. This is equivalent today to something between £9 and 18 million.
Next, the costumes of the Herb Women .