Tag Archives: George IV

From Westminster Hall to Antarctica – the Coronation of George IV

I went to Antarctica in the Spring expecting to have a complete holiday from the Regency. When we sailed past Coronation Island in the South Orkney Group I assumed it was named for Queen Victoria’s crowning, or even a later monarch. But no, this island (one of three so named worldwide) commemorates George IV and was named in December 1821 by two very early Antarctic explorers, the sealers Captain Nathaniel Palmer (American) and Captain George Powell (British). Either news was reaching south very fast or Powell, knowing when he had left British shores that George had become king in 1820, named the island retrospectively. He certainly claimed the South Orkneys in the name of the King – quite how much discussion about  that went on with his American colleague is not recorded! If Powell was hoping for royal favour he unfortunately did not live to receive it, dying in Tonga in 1824.

Back in London on 19 July 1821 George IV was crowned in one of the most magnificent, and completely over the top, coronations in British history. The entire day was too packed with incident for one blog post – not least the dreadful spectacle of the distraught Queen trying to gain  admittance to the Abbey – so I’ll just concentrate on the procession itself. The print I am working from was published on July 24th, just three days after the coronation, and the artist is giving the view from approximately what is now the bottom of Whitehall looking out over the modern Parliament Square in the right foreground and New Palace Yard on the left, now enclosed by railings. The Thames can be glimpsed to the left and Westminster Bridge is beyond the large tree.

I have had to scan the print in halves because of its size. It shows clearly the covered processional way (coverings not shown in order to reveal the participants) weaving its way from the front of Westminster Hall on the left, snaking round the gardens in front of St Margaret’s Church (in front of the Abbey with the Royal Standard flying from its tower) and disappearing from sight before its entry at the West door of the Abbey.

The covered walk was twenty five feet wide (almost eight metres), covered in blue carpet and raised three feet (a metre) above the ground so spectators had the best possible view. The route was lined with stands and galleries with ticketed seats selling from two to twenty guineas each. (That might have helped pay for almost half a mile of blue carpet!)

The procession started half an hour late at half past ten in the morning and was headed by the King’s Herb-Woman and six attendant maids scattering sweet-smelling herbs and petals. Behind them came the chief officers of state, all in specially designed outfits and carrying the crown, the orb and the sceptre, preceded by the Sword of State and accompanied by three bishops carrying the paten, chalice and Bible to be used in the ceremony. The peers in order of precedent, splendid in the robes, followed next and those Privy Councillors who were commoners had their own uniform of Elizabethan costume in white and blue satin.

The King wearing a black curled wig and a black Spanish hat with white ostrich feather plumes had a twenty seven foot long train of crimson velvet spangled with gold stars and walked to the Abbey under a canopy of cloth-of-gold carried by the Barons of the Cinque Ports (also in special outfits). Music was provided by the Household Band.

After the ceremony, at four o’clock the King, now very weary, walked back to Westminster Hall and the great banquet served to three hundred and twelve male guests. Ladies and peeresses, who were not served any refreshments, had to watch their menfolk gorging themselves from the massed galleries that had been built inside the Hall. Amongst the food were 160 tureens of soup. 80 dishes of braised beef, 160 roast joints, 480 sauce boats, 1,190 side dishes and 400 jellies and creams.

The climax of the banquet was the arrival of the King’s Champion, in full armour, mounted on a white charger. The Champion threw down his gauntlet three times, but no-one stepped forward to challenge the King who toasted his Champion from a gold cup. Possibly the medieval glamour of the moment might have been diminished if people had realised that the Champion, from a family who long held the hereditary position, was actually the twenty year old son of a Lincolnshire rector and his charger had  borrowed from Astley’s Amphitheatre.

The Champion’s stable is visible on the extreme left of the print.










Filed under Buildings, Gentlemen, High Society, Prince Regent, Royalty, Traditions

Discovering Sir Walter Scott – Or, Confessions of an Historical Author

I had better start this post with a confession – I have never read anything by Sir Walter Scott, the Regency’s favourite author and the man who almost single-handed created the historical novel genre as we understand it today. And that is bad of me, because for someone who writes historical novels and who specialises in the Regency, I should have done. And I will read some, just as soon as I’ve met my current deadline.

We were driving back from a touring holiday in Scotland in August when I looked at the map and saw Abbotsford marked, dredged in my memory, came up with Scott and suggested we visit.
My husband grumbled that he knew nothing about Scott (he’s a zoologist, so he has an excuse), so I had better fill him in while we were driving there. All I could come up with was that Scott was blamed for the excesses of the “tartan and shortbread” Scottish tourist industry, had been hugely prolific, wildly popular with the reading public and had got himself into vast debt. We had encountered him on numerous occasions when researching for Following the Great North Road (available for Kindle) because he was a constant traveller between Scotland and London, considering the Swan at Ferrybridge to be the best inn on the Great North Road.
He was also kicked in the head by his horse while drilling with the Edinburgh Light Horse at Portobello just outside Edinburgh (and also on the GNR) and finished The Lay of the Last Minstrel while confined to bed recovering.
None of this amounted to much of an introduction, let alone an explanation of why Scott was so popular at the time and still has such a grip that Abbotsford has become a literary shrine.

AbbotsfordThe visit to the house was preceded by an excellent exhibition in the visitor centre, so we studied that and got the basic facts straight. Scott was born in 1771 in Edinburgh to a very respectable professional family. (Lawyers, medics, professors). He spent his first four years in Roxburghshire while recovering from the polio that left his left leg permanently affected and this encounter with Borders history apparently fired his precocious imagination.
He returned to Edinburgh for his education, became a rather unsuccessful Advocate and then was appointed Sherriff-Depute of Selkirkshire in 1799. He was already writing poetry and was obsessed with Scottish history and legends, so this new post was ideal, giving him the opportunity to travel widely.
He wrote his vast Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders (1802), followed by epic poems The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808) and The Lady of the Lake (1810) which proved hugely popular with a reading public whose tastes were embracing the romantic and who were fascinated by wild and rugged landscapes. But poetry was not enough for him, and besides, Byron was beginning to encroach on his territory. He turned to fiction with Waverley (1814), Guy Mannering (1815), The Antiquary (1816), The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818), The Bride of Lammermoor (1819) and Ivanhoe (1820). He was also writing essays, lyrics, short stories, historical and biographical work and highly-regarded critiques of contemporary fiction – he reviewed both Emma and Frankenstein, for example.
Despite being staggeringly prolific in his writing, Scott was still holding the Sherriff-Depute post and needed a base for his travels that would also accommodate his family. In 1812 he bought Newarthaugh, a farmhouse “on a bare haugh and bleak bank by the side of the Tweed.” It was small for a man with a wife and four childrgardensen, but he started by making only small changes to the house, which he renamed Abbotsford, instead buying land to increase the estate from 110 acres to 1,400.

The house grew in stages almost haphazardly. “I have always had a private dislike to a regular shape of a house…when the cottage enlarges itself and grows out of circumstance, which is the case at Abbotsford, the outs and the inns [sic] afford, without, so much variety and depth of shade, and, within, give such an odd variety of snug accommodation that they far exceed in my estimation the cut-lugged bandbox with four rooms on a floor and two stories rising regularly above the other!”
Money was no object – it was pouring in from his writing – and Scott could afford architects and builders, artists and craftsmen.

Hall He also collected voraciously, acquiring books for his wonderful working library, which survives intact, and curios and historical pieces. There are too many to do more than just mention a few – a cast of the skull of Robert the Bruce, the original keys to Edinburgh’s Old Tolbooth prison, the gaol door and some of its stonework, oak panelling from Dunfermline Abbey and a piece of oatcake from Culloden battlefield are amongst the wealth of historic, curious and just plain odd items. The great hall, is shown left, Scott’s study is  below, right, and the library, below left.
Scott could afford to indulge himself with his building and collecting until disaster struck in 1826. His publishers, Archibald Constable of Edinburgh, went bankrupt and Scottstudy2 was financially involved through a partnership. There was no limited liability in those days and Scott himself was bankrupted. But in an extraordinary move the creditors allowed him to write himself out of debt. Abbotsford was put in trust and the Scott family permitted to remain there while he worked – “My own right hand shall pay the debt.” From then on he worked relentlessly, despite the death of his wife and his own failing health. By the time he died in September 1832 the debt was virtually cleared.

libraryScott is often “blamed” for the outbreak of tartan-itis that culminated in Queen Victoria’s obsessive use of the pattern at Balmoral and the proliferation of tartan tourist goods today, but this stemmed from his efforts to help George IV. George, who was not such a fool as he is often portrayed, wanted to heal the rifts between England and Scotland that led to the Jacobite rebellions. He wanted to throw himself into Scottish history and completely bought into Scott’s romantic vision of the Scottish past. When he visited in 1822 the Edinburgh city council commissioned Scott to stage manage the event and he created a wonderful show, including assisting the king to dress in tartan, which had been outlawed since the 1745 rebellion.
Despite the fact that George managed to create the most ludicrous version of Highland dress that a portly middle-aged man could ever have worn (shown here in a detail of the portrait by Wilkie), this was an important gesture and enthusiasm for tartan as a potent symbol of national identity surged.GIVWilkie
Four years before the royal visit, in 1818, Scott had used the then Prince Regent’s enthusiasm for his work to petition him to allow a search for the “Honours of Scotland” – the Scottish crown jewels.
In 1707, the Act of Union between England and Scotland decreed that they must always remain in Scotland. But there were fears that they might become a symbol of Scottish independence, so they were put into a strongbox in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle which was then locked, barred with double doors, and the key conveniently ‘lost’.
George agreed to Scott’s request and the room was broken into, the chest opened and the crown, sword of state and sceptre – the oldest surviving crown jewels in Europe – were found safely inside. They still remain in Scotland today, on display in Edinburgh Castle.
Abbotsford House remains essentially as Scott left it, although with some 1850s extensions at the side. But his study, the library and the wildly eccentric great hall feel as though he has only just walked out to stroll beside his beloved River Tweed for some more inspiration.


Filed under Buildings, Literature

St James’s Palace Part 2 – George III and the Regency

The Palace in 1809

The Palace in 1809

George III moved to St James’s Palace on his accession in 1760 and was married there the next year.  The ramshackle old palace did not suit the couple and in 1762, the year that Prince George (later to be Prince Regent and George IV) was born, George bought Buckingham House on the other side of St James’s Park.  The newly-weds moved there, renamed it the Queen’s House, and used St James’s Palace for state occasions, which included the births of the royal children.

The King held Levées in the afternoon on Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Mondays when Parliament was sitting. These were men-only occasions and formal Court dress or, for officers, dress uniform was worn. Male members of the royal family, ministers and ambassadors were expected to attend and MPs who supported the government of the day often came too. They would line the walls of the Privy Chamber (for those of the highest office) and the Presence Chamber and the King would circulate around the room before retiring to the King’s Closet and holding a Privy Council.

Court dress for men

Court dress for men

Drawing Rooms were held on Thursday afternoons and on Sundays after the morning service at the Chapel Royal. (Today this is the only part of the palace open to the public. Services are at 8.30 am and 11.30am, October to Good Friday.) Men and women were admitted: this was the opportunity for newcomers to Society to be presented and courtiers intending to marry would present their spouses. Drawing Rooms were also the occasion when new ambassadors were received, newly appointed senior officers and ministers would come to ‘kiss hands’ and decorations would be bestowed.Full court dress was worn, which for women meant vast hooped skirts, even when the fashion was for a high waistline, creating a ludicrous silhouette. When George VI came to the throne he allowed hoops to be dispensed with, but ostrich plumes continued to be compulsory. Jane Austen’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, attended a Drawing Room in her youth, before she was widowed and remarried Jane’s brother Henry. She complained bitterly about the great weight of the gown.

After the formal business was over the royals would work around the room speaking to the guests and later Queen Victoria recalled learning the art of ‘cercléing’.

After 1788, with the onset of the King’s illness, Levées and Drawing Rooms were held only intermittently at St James. In 1810 John Wallis noted, ‘…since [George III’s] last illness, this palace is almost deserted; a levee only is holden here now and then when the king comes from Windsor, for that purpose. Windsor is now the favourite residence.’ From then on one of the royal princes would preside or, for Drawing Rooms, the Queen.

On the King’s 72nd birthday in 1810 there were great celebrations on June 4th, featured in detail in all the papers. The Morning Chronicle reports that the royal family visited The Queen’s Palace in the morning but the King remained there in the afternoon while the Queen and her family processed to St James’s Palace. They were not only without the King, but also the Duke of Cumberland who was recovering from a murderous sword attack by his valet which left him badly cut around the head (or, as gossip persisted in stating, he had murdered the valet and had been wounded during the fight!) and Princess Amelia who had been in poor health for some time. The paper hints that many ladies had held off from ordering court dress in case they needed to change it for mourning. Princess Elizabeth was in tears throughout, although whether from worry about her siblings, or distress that her father could not attend, is not clear.

The Morning Chronicle devoted two full pages to describing the Drawing Room, the balls and illuminations in the evening and five and a half columns to details of the gowns worn by the ladies.

Although their parents were living at the Queen’s House (or perhaps because of that!) the royal dukes moved into apartments at St James’s Palace with, of course, the exception of the Prince Regent who had Carlton House built for himself. When he succeeded to the throne he redeveloped The Queen’s House to become Buckingham Palace, with State Apartments that removed the necessity to use St James’s. The old palace became the home of other royals, retired courtiers and  palace officials, a role it continues to fulfil as London home to the late Queen Mother, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Here is part of the detailed description of the gown worn by every lady attending the Drawing Room for the King’s Birthday in 1810. (Morning Chronicle June 5th)


Filed under Buildings, Royalty