Coronations for Children: Pomp versus Precedence

The coronation of King Charles III—the first since his mother’s in 1953—has caused a lot of ink to be spilled on both sides of the Atlantic.  Much of the commentary has revolved around the question, can such an expensive ceremony, a relic of the feudal and imperial pasts, be meaningful in a diverse secular society?As acts of national communion, coronations have never been ossified, but rather evolving rituals.  Their history shows that accommodations to political circumstances have always been necessary to make the transfer of power appear legitimate, seamless, and inevitable.  And they have always been subject to snafus, being magnificent events enacted in real time by real people, that dynamic further complicated by their capture in illustrations and broadcasts for future consumption.


Important changes in ideas for the presentation of the coronation’s pageantry to little subjects are reflected in children’s books.  The earliest picture I found in the collection was a wood cut 25 x 30 mm in a sixpenny school book, The New Universal Primer, an easy Book…authorised by His Majesty King George to be used throughout Great-Britain and Ireland (Derby: J. Drewry, not before 1769). Unsurprisingly it offers neither an accurate likeness of the monarch nor a description of the magnificent 1761 ceremony.  The only important points the text makes are that subjects must kneel hatless in the sovereign’s presence and that his sons are princes and his daughters princesses.  Prints would have provided more satisfyingly detailed representations of the event..

Cotsen 2270.

A more lavish, detailed book was published in 1820 by John Harris on the occasion of the accession of George IV, Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England; shewing the Costume of the different Ranks, from the King to a commoner; with the Regalia used at the Coronation.  (George, always ruinously extravagant, had vowed his crowning would “eclipse” Napoleon’s.) The frontispiece shows the King’s Champion, a hereditary office whose duties required the holder to ride in full armor into Westminster Hall during the traditional banquet ready to fight any challenger of the new monarch’s claim to the throne. This coronation was the last time it was performed.

The first edition, which had to be ready in advance of July 1820, was issued before the embarrassments of the ceremony’s delay because of George’s unsuccessful attempt to divorce his consort, from whom he had been estranged for years, and Caroline’s exclusion when she asked for admission to Westminster Abbey.  The earliest Sir Harry Herald upheld the monarch’s dignity, which was yet to be tarnished, with its solemn procession of the ranks in their robes, beginning with the archbishop of Canterbury and ending with the livery, which the artist cleverly created across the double-page spreads.The traditional hierarchy of ranks are shown quite differently in the panoramas like the one Robins published in 1838 (Cotsen 14359) capturing the spectacle of Victoria’s progress from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. The young queen can be glimpsed through the state carriage’s windows and her power is manifested in the show that precedes her, a long orderly procession of bands of mounted musicians, Life Guards, equerries, Officers of her Majesty’s Household, splendid carriages of the royal family, foreign diplomats and dignitaries from around the world.   Crowds line the scaffolds on the streets, wave flags on balconies and perch on rooftops, a reminder that the queen’s investiture rests on the assent of her subjects, as well as the support of the society’s ranks and orders.  The organizers’ decision to make the coronation a day of popular celebration for working people was condemned by at least one powerful faction as degrading the majesty of the occasion.The coronation of Edward VII and Alexandra as king and queen of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, and emperor and empress of India in 1902 (thirty-one rulers of the Indian princely states attended for the first time) was to be well-rehearsed to insure its spiritual character and brevity. The Coronation Picture Book by Duncan Tovey and illustrated by John Hassall punctured the pageantry in a good-humored fashion by commemorating the British nation, to whom it was dedicated.  Among the well-known types are the raffish artist drawing from his eyrie on a chimney in Parliament Street, the bobby restraining the gawking bystanders, and the old tar.  Representatives of the aristocratic ranks are comical, like the peer hiding a snack in his coronet or the other falling asleep on his feet. The king and queen do not make an appearance, but the crowd of their loyal subjects throw their hats in the air and cheer lustily as they pass by beyond the page.The Bairn’s Coronation Book (London: J. M. Dent, 1902, Cotsen 4675) by Clare Bridgman and illustrated by Charles Robinson offered an introductory account for young readers of the same event designed to draw them into the religious ritual, teach them some interesting facts about the regalia—scepter, orb, golden spoon, swords of state, and throne—and thrill them with colorful, stately pictures of the people in the processions.  In addition to pictures of pages and choristers, real-life children who had important parts to perform in the ceremonies, Robinson provided whimsical sketches and drawings of chubby toddlers playing at the responsibilities delegated to grown-ups.  The last pictures in the book evoke the excitement of staying far past one’s bedtime to enjoy the magical effects of torchlight, bonfires, and fireworks in the darkness as one in the crowd of merrymakers.

As the spectacle of the coronation was opened up to ordinary people as an elevated kind of popular entertainment, the importance of parade of the ranks and orders continued to diminish as a feature of the ritual.  Pomp was gradually trumping precedence.

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This is a copy of Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England…with the Regalia used at the Coronation (1820)and it shows George IV and his estranged Queen Caroline of Brunswick

What’s the difference between these two pictures?

First edition of 1820

First edition of 1820

Third edition of 1821

Third edition of 1821

So why was the pretty young Queen removed from the picture?

The Prince Regent (the future George IV) had been waiting in the wings since 1811, when his father George III descended into madness.  The prospect after a new monarch after all this time was probably reason enough for the children’s book publisher John Harris to bring out Sir Harry Herald  in the new Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction series.  (It has been suggested that  Sir Harry Herald was inspired by Charles Lamb’s Book of the Ranks and Dignities of British Society (1805), but close comparison of the two works  does not bear this out.)

The ceremony promised to be spectacular, as the new monarch, having been ruinously extravagant his entire life, was intimately involved in the arrangements and planned to spare no expense.  Nearly six months would pass from the king’s death on January 29, 1820 until the coronation on July 19, so there was ample time for the design and construction of fabulous robes and new crown for George, among other things.

Presumably this delay was also to Harris’s advantage in making ready by mid-July the text and handsome wood-engravings of Sir Harry Herald.  But Harris could not have foreseen the next act in the royal marriage’s roiling drama.

In 1794, George had agreed to marry his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who was a Protestant of royal blood, which meant Parliament would increase his allowance, allowing the settlement of huge debts.  The wedding was a disaster, as the two were obviously mismatched and  each found the other repulsive.  Since 1814, Caroline had been living abroad in exchange for a generous allowance.  But now that she was nominally the Queen of England–albeit estranged from her husband, who had initiated divorce proceedings against her–she returned to England on June 5, where she was put on trial for adultery.

Championed by the opposition movement and beloved by the masses, she was found innocent at the end of June. Although she was advised not to take her place as Queen during the coronation, she turned up at Westminster Abbey, was denied entrance, and made a spectacle of herself.

The surprising number of changes large and small to the different editions Sir Harry Herald suggest that Harris was trying to respond the rapid and surprising succession of events.

Queen's Regalia, 1820 (1st) ed.

Queen’s Regalia, 1820 (1st) ed.

Could the color depiction of a harmonious royal couple in Westminster abbey that appeared in the first two editions have been hastily made in early July, to reflect Caroline’s apparent triumph?  Was the “replacement” image of George being crowned without his consort in attendance quickly contrived a few months later for the 1821 third edition in order to reflect reality?  (Having been barred from

Westminster Abbey, Caroline died three weeks later, leaving England without a Queen.)  The picture of the Queen’s coronation regalia, which Caroline never wore, was also excised from this edition.

Opening leaves of the 1824 (4th) ed., with ills. of both the king and queen excised.

Opening leaves of the 1824 (4th) ed., with ills. of both the king and queen excised.

And does the disappearance of the king’s portrait–oddly, the only depiction of the king in this “Coronation” book–from the fourth edition of 1824 indicate the publisher’s (and perhaps the nation’s) deep disenchantment with its monarch, whose popularity had plummeted shortly after coming to power?

1821 (2nd) ed. title-page, with George IV's "Coronation Medal"

1821 (2nd) ed. title-page, with George IV’s “Coronation Medal”

Ironically, a picture of the Queen’s regalia (unidentified as such) adorns the front wrapper of the 1824 edition, replacing a Coronation medallion of George, portrayed much like Augustus, which adorned the 1821 edition’s wrapper.  The hand-colored engraving of the Queen’s regalia had appeared in the 1820 first edition but it was then unceremoniously omitted from the 1821 third edition–along with the queen herself.


Front wrapper of 1824 (4th) ed. (left), recycling the 1820 ed. ill., here untitled, of the "Queen's Regalia" colored engraving. (right)

Front wrapper of 1824 (4th) ed. (left), recycling the 1820 ed. ill., here untitled, of the “Queen’s Regalia” colored engraving. (right)




Maybe it didn’t happen exactly this way.  But two other changes suggest Harris was well aware that demand for coronation memorabilia would not, unlike George’s popularity, plummet after the event.  The lovely illustration of the gentleman and lady in court dress in the 1820 first edition was excised from later editions.


Gentleman & Lady in "court dress" from the 1820 ed.

Gentleman & Lady in “court dress” from the 1820 ed.


The 1821 third edition also added an illustration of the magnificent new crown George had made for the coronation (which he seems to be wearing in the “God Save the King” portrait).

Illustration of the "New Imperial Crown" (not depicted in the 1820 ed.), with the crown formerly-known as the "Imperial Crown" (now labeled "St. Edwards Crown").

Illustration of the “New Imperial Crown” (not depicted in the 1820 ed.), with the crown formerly-known as the “Imperial Crown” (now labeled “St. Edwards Crown”).

Could it be that Harris was trying to ensure that Sir Harry Herald, one of the most visually attractive titles in the Cabinet of Amusement and  Instruction, would not become dated prematurely despite the tumult of the times?  A close comparison of the illustrations in these three editions (see below) certainly suggests that Harris was busily engaged in changing this title for some reason. The publisher even changed the title of the book slightly to emphasize the coronation and the spectacular–some of it newly redesigned–coronation regalia.

George IV being crowned in the 1821 ed. ("God save the King") with overlay of the New Imperial Crown (from leaf 15. Are they they the same?

George IV being crowned in the 1821 ed. (“God save the King”) with overlay of the New Imperial Crown (from leaf 15. Are they they the same?

Thus, Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Dignitaries of England, Shewing the Different Ranks…with the Regalia used at the Coronation becomes Sir Harry Herald’s Graphical Representation of the Coronation Regalia, with the Degrees and Costume of Different Ranks.   The regalia assumes pride of place over the dignitaries…and even over the monarch(s) wearing it!

Opening leaves of the 1820, 1821, and 1824 editions of Harry Herald, showing the progressively diminishing royal presence.

Opening leaves of the 1820, 1821, and 1824 editions of Harry Herald, showing the progressively diminishing royal presence.

Comparison of the leaves in Cotsen’s three editions of Sir Harry Herald

  1820 1821 1824
Leaf # (1st ed.) (3rd ed.) (4th ed.)
1   TP TP TP
2   king’s champion king’s champion king’s champion
3   king / queen king  alone (crowned) archbishop / chancellor
4   archbishop / chancellor archbishop / chancellor duke / marquis
5   duke / marquis duke / marquis earl / viscount
6   earl / viscount earl / viscount bishop / baron
7   bishop / baron bishop / baron knight / judge
8   knight / judge knight / judge dr. div. / sgt at law
9   Dr. div. / sgt at law Dr. div. / sgt at law admiral / field marshall
10   admiral / field marshall admiral / field marshall general / naval captain
11   general / naval captain general / naval captain Lord Mayor
12   gentleman / lady Lord Mayor St Edward’s chair
13   Lord Mayor St Edward’s chair St Edward’s crown / regalia
14   alderman / sheriff St Edward’s crown / regalia New Imperial Crown
15   councilman / livery New Imperial Crown ampulla / annointing spoon
16   Lord mayor ampulla / annointing spoon Great Seal
17   queen’s regalia Great Seal yeoman of guard
18   yeoman of guard yeoman of guard advertisement

–Andrea Immel (with help from Jeff Barton)