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Home News The Guardian: \”Coronations of yore that went wrong\”: King Charles’ coronation. \”raining molten wax,\” \”hungry peers,\” and \”fainting guests.\”.

The Guardian: \”Coronations of yore that went wrong\”: King Charles’ coronation. \”raining molten wax,\” \”hungry peers,\” and \”fainting guests.\”.

Photo by Yuvraj Singh on Unsplash

Riots, plague, ceilings raining molten wax, ill-fitting rings … British coronations of yesteryear have not always gone smoothly.

William the Conqueror’s 1066 coronation occurred just months after the Battle of Hastings at a tense time. There was a new king, and the ruling classes had been ousted by the Normans.

But one huge misunderstanding led to pandemonium. During the acclamation and recognition, Norman soldiers outside Westminster Abbey, not familiar with the ceremony, were alarmed to hear “all this cheering and shouting from inside”, said Charles Farris, historian at Historic Royal Palaces.

“There is a bit of a panic. They are not sure if foul play is at hand. They start attacking people, setting fire to some buildings. There’s a riot.

“It’s recorded, almost everybody, except the monks and the churchmen, left the abbey in a panic and started putting out the fires because of this epic misunderstanding.”

Richard I’s in 1189, also led to riots, when a group of Jewish people arrived at Westminster Hall to present Richard with gifts, and were stopped by a crowd of Christians, according to Ian Lloyd’s recently published The Throne, an often humorous account of 1,000 years of British coronations. Antisemitic riots then spread across the city and throughout the eastern counties of England.

There were so many spectators at Edward II’s coronation in 1307 that a section of wall behind the abbey’s high altar collapsed, killing one knight, Lloyd records.

Meanwhile outbreaks of the plague upset several ceremonies. James VI & I had a much-curtailed ceremony due fear of contagion, while Charles I in 1626 cancelled his procession due to the pestilence, writes Lloyd.

Charles II’s in 1661 saw an unseemly squabble between the barons of the Cinque Ports, charged with holding the silk canopy above the king’s head and the king’s footmen. One of the job’s perks was they got to chop up the banner and each keep a piece.

“It was probably made from a beautiful cloth of gold, quite an expensive fabric,” said Farris. But the barons were challenged by the footmen who also wanted the canopy. “They have this big argument. In the end the barons win. But because they have been so distracted, they have subsequently lost their positions on the tables in the coronation banquet. So end up having to sit miles away from the king.”

George II’s consort, Queen Caroline, wore so many hired jewels to his 1727 coronation, she noticeably “clanked her way through the abbey” and a special pulley had to be devised to lift the royal skirt when its occupant needed to kneel in prayer,” Lloyd writes.

Meanwhile, his grandson, George III, and consort Queen Charlotte, in 1761, dispensed with a procession and were transported to the abbey on “his and hers sedan chairs” with George’s biographer stating they looked like “ordinary citizens going to the theatre”.

No one could find the Sword of State, so they improvised, borrowing the Lord Mayor’s pearl sword. Everything ran late, and by the time the Archbishop came to deliver his sermon, it was drowned out by the clatter of cutlery and tinkling of glasses as hungry peers fell to eating mid-service, according to Lloyd.

George IV’s coronation, in 1821, was by all accounts the most opulent and extravagant of all, and would be the last coronation banquet. George wanted to outdo Napoleon, whose ceremony a few years previously had been judged magnificent. But so many things went wrong.

Caroline of Brunswick, from whom he was separated, tried to get into the abbey but was barred. George himself, eager to let the people see his magnificent regal attire, kept walking ahead of the barons meant to hold the canopy above him, so they had to keep running after him.

But the real fun started at his lavish banquet, said Farris, with over 2,000 guests packed into Westminster Hall, watched by thousands more seated on tiered stands, in heat so oppressive people started to faint.

The hall was lit by huge chandeliers. “They have got thousands of candles lighting this event, but the drip pans underneath the candles are not big enough. And at some point, the ceiling just starts raining molten wax,” said Farris.

They are dressed in their fine silks and satins with lots of gold thread, and they are getting rained on with wax. “There is a comic description of people looking up, and as they do, their faces are getting absolutely splattered, undoing all their makeup.”

By contrast, George IV’s successor, the parsimonious William IV, had such a scaled down ceremony in 1831 that it was dubbed the “Half Crown-nation”.

Queen Victoria’s in 1838 was under-rehearsed, her maids of honour kept tripping over their trains, and senior clergy lost their way in the service. One major mishap, though, was that the coronation ring was made for the wrong finger.

“Something gets lost in translation when they make the request to the goldsmith,” said Farris. Intended for the fourth ring finger, the ring was instead made for the little finger.

“So this ring is too small. When it gets to the part of the ceremony when the archbishop of Canterbury puts it on the finger, it doesn’t fit. But being interested in protocol, he forces it on. Queen Victoria actually writes in her diary later that she had to ice her finger to get it off. And it was very painful.”

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