Long May She Reign
In the early hours of 20 June 1837, William IV died at Windsor Castle having fulfilled his promise to live long enough to ensure his niece had reached her majority. William IV had been prevented from having a real relationship with Victoria because her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had kept her daughter sheltered at Kensington Palace as she disapproved of the immorality at court. The duchess had also fallen under the spell of her aide, Sir John Conroy, who had designs on ruling the country through Victoria.
On the day she finally became queen, Victoria related in her diary how she had been awakened very early in the morning by her mother informing her William Howley, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Francis Conyngham, 2nd Marquess, had come to speak to her. Victoria, still in her night clothes, was informed by the two men that her uncle had died and she was now Queen of the United Kingdom. Victoria, normally not afforded the luxury, spent an hour alone before ordering her mother’s bed be moved out of her room. Christened Alexandrina Victoria, the new queen declared she would henceforth be known as Victoria and her mother was banished from sight when the queen moved to Buckingham Palace.
Victoria’s coronation was planned for 28 June 1838 but it wasn’t quite the glorious affair intended. The popularity of the monarchy had declined under the Hanoverians so the succession of a pure young queen had renewed public interest. The budget provided for the coronation was a mere £79,000 which was far less than the previous two monarchs, William IV and George IV, had been allowed and it resulted in the omission of a coronation banquet. Even so, many ministers still bemoaned the cost of the ceremony and leaders of the opposition objected to the plan of making the event a public celebration.
The ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey and was modelled on the typical medieval coronations common in England, however the day was full of mishaps due to a lack of direction and rehearsal. The London Evening Standard reported vast crowds of spectators were already forming along the processional route in the early hours of the morning, however they were said to be in good humour and were behaving in a respectful manner while the various regiments took their places. The procession began at 9:40 a.m precisely when the High Constable of Westminster, in full ceremonial dress, began to move and a 21 gun salute sounded at 10 a.m to indicate the queen had taken her place in the State Coach.
The large procession consisted of heads of state, dignitaries, foreign royalty and members of the British royal family who made their way to the Abbey ahead of Victoria’s own entourage which consisted of twelve carriages. The queen’s carriages carried her maids of honour, as well as dignitaries with prominent roles in her household, such as Lord Conyngham and the Marchioness of Lansdowne, as well as various pages, grooms and ladies of the bedchamber who walked alongside. The State Coach, drawn by eight cream-coloured horses, conveyed Queen Victoria; Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland; William Keppel, 4th Earl of Albemarle; and, Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch.
The doors of Westminster Abbey were opened very early that morning and the first of the peers and peeresses, in their velvet robes and with coronets in hand, began to take their seats, to the left and right of the throne. A large gallery had been erected behind the altar to accommodate 613 government ministers from the House of Commons who wore court dress or military uniforms. The rest of the seats on either side of the throne were taken up by foreign ambassadors and diplomats resplendent in their uniforms.
Queen Victoria arrived at the Abbey ninety minutes after leaving Buckingham Palace, however she immediately made her way to the Robing Room and it was another fifteen minutes before she finally made an appearance. Victoria was attended by eight train bearers: Lady Caroline Lennox; Lady Adelaide Paget; Lady Mary Talbot; Lady Frances Cowper; Lady Wilhelmina Stanhope; Lady Anne Fitzwilliam; Lady Mary Grimston; and, Lady Louisa Jenkinson. The various ceremonies conducted throughout the coronation took five hours to complete so it was a very long day for all involved. Anyone who has seen the televised coronation of Elizabeth II will be familiar with certain aspects of the coronation, including the offerings of the regalia and the fours swords. However, the first mishap happened when the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the ruby ring on the wrong finger and forced it on so tightly, the queen had a hard (and painful) time removing it later.
Queen Victoria was crowned with the Imperial State Crown made for her by Rundell and Bridge which has four fleurs-de-lis and four crosses pattée, supporting two arches topped by a monde and cross pattée. The frame is made of gold, silver and platinum, and decorated with 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 5 rubies. The more famous stones on the crown are the Black Prince’s Ruby, set on the front cross pattée; St. Edward’s Sapphire, set on the cross at the top; and, the Stuart Sapphire, set on the front of the circlet. The St. Edwards Crown, traditionally used at coronations since the 13th century, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell but a new version was made for Charles II’s coronation in 1661. The St. Edwards Crown fell out of favour as it was considered too heavy and wasn’t used again until the coronation of George V in 1911. The Imperial State Crown was damaged in 1845 when it was being carried at the annual State Opening of Parliament and was redesigned in 1937.
Queen Victoria’s wore a cream dress with a gold brocade overlay and the dalmatic robes were made from Spitalfields gold tissue embroidered with gold thistles, roses and shamrocks to symbolise each part of the kingdom. Victoria also wore a second robe of scarlet trimmed with a gold border and ermine. In her diary, Victoria described the maids of honour as being “dressed alike & beautifully, in white satin, & silver tissue, with wreaths of silver wheatears on the front of their hair & small ones of pink roses, round the plait, behind. There were also trimmings of pink roses on the dresser.”
Queen Victoria reigned for 63 years, 7 months and 2 days, and was the longest reigning monarch in British history and the longest reigning queen regnant in world history until she was surpassed by her great-great-granddaughter, Elizabeth II, on 9 September 2015. She was also the last Hanoverian to sit on the British throne as her son, Edward VII, belonged to the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.