The Peerage and the Coronation of George I

The death of Queen Anne on 1 August 1714 heralded the arrival of a new dynasty in Britain – literally – the kingdom had to await the arrival of the new king from Hanover on 18 September. Continuing our Coronation blog series, Dr Stuart Handley examines the preparations for and proceedings of George I’s coronation in 1714.

Following the death of the queen, according to the Act of Regency of 1706, a group of regents, both appointed and ex officio, took over running the country. On 1 September the Privy Council set up a committee composed of 15 councillors (all members of the House of Lords except for the marquess of Annandale) to look into the Coronation. At their first meeting on the 3rd, there was discussion about the Coronation medal, with Master of the Mint, Sir Isaac Newton’s designs being rejected. The chosen design bore the inscription ‘the Nobles and the People Consenting.’

Two sides of the same gold medal. One has an image of the side profile a man with long flowing hair. One side has an image of a king being crowned on a throne, next to him is a person holding a shield.
(c) Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Tenison, archbishop of Canterbury, had been one of those to attend the meeting, although the effort led to him suffering from bouts of sudden vomiting. His age led to some modifications to the ceremonial. He did not join the procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, but met the king at the door. A concession was also made to the king’s assumed poor grasp of English when it was decided to conduct most of the ceremony in Latin, which all the main participants could understand.

The aged Tenison, primate since 1694, was the key to the ceremony. He had spent the previous year secluded in Lambeth, protecting his health and ensuring that he out-lived the ailing queen. The chief fear was that if Tenison died the queen would appoint a high church Tory, or even a Jacobite, to succeed him.

Tenison’s age may have been a factor in several missteps during the ceremony. The two bishops traditionally assigned to assist the monarch as supporters, the bishops of Bath and Wells and Durham were subjected to several humiliations. First, they were unable to accompany the king under his canopy by ‘colonels and military men’ thrusting them out of the way. Then, Tenison refused to let them take communion with the king, forcing them to bow to both altar and monarch and retire as gracefully as possible. [Marshall, George Hooper, 130-1].

One of the Countess of Cowper’s companions felt that Tension overdid his demands for the congregation’s consent, asking: ‘does the old fool think that anyone here will say no to his question, when there are so many drawn swords.’ [Cowper Diary, 3-5]. However, Tenison was hardly responsible for the Sicilian and Venetian ambassadors quarrelling over their positions in the gallery reserved for foreign ministers, or for the collapse of some scaffolding which killed over 20 people.

Two other bishops had important roles during the Coronation. Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester was widely believed to harbour Jacobite sympathies, and indeed had been rumoured to have offered to don his episcopal robes and proclaim the Pretender on the queen’s death. Ironically, as he was also dean of Westminster, he was assigned a key role in crowning the new monarch.

The other prominent bishop was William Talbot, of Oxford (later to be translated to Durham), a kinsman of the lord chamberlain, Charles Talbot, duke of Shrewsbury, who was selected to preach the Coronation Sermon. Taking his text from Psalm 118: 24-25, ‘this is the day which the Lord hath chosen, we will rejoice and be glad in it’, Talbot propounded the view that divine providence had directed events towards the accession of King George. The Jacobite commentator Thomas Hearne denounced it as:

very poor, silly, flattering stuff. Unbecoming a Christian, and a scholar, and shows him to be a cringing, time-serving man, and a great rebel and a rogue

Hearne, iv. 422

The Coronation certainly captured the imagination of the elite. The countess of Mar irked her sister, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, by referring to preparations for the event. Tickets were much sought after. The Whig lawyer, Alexander Denton, ended a letter to Lord Wharton about Buckinghamshire politics with a request for a ticket, while the earl of Oxford provided tickets for his nephews. Nevertheless, it was expected to be a gruelling occasion. Peers had to be in place in the House of Lords by 8 a.m. wearing their robes and coronets, with proceedings continuing until late in the afternoon.

Members of the Lords were summoned to attend by individual letters sent out on 6 October by the earl of Suffolk in his role as deputy Earl Marshal. Matters were complicated by the announcement on 19 October of the Coronation honours list. This added five new (British) barons, a viscount and eight new earls, many of them already peers but rewarded with promotions to higher titles. These creations and promotions took their place in the Coronation procession according to their new rank.

Total attendance among the members of the House of Lords can be estimated with reference to The Whole Ceremony of the Coronation (1715), which suggested that about 130 to 135 members of the House of Lords attended (including all but three of those honoured on the previous day). Counting is not straightforward as many peers held official positions and appeared twice in the lists. Catholic peers were not invited, but stalwarts of Queen Anne’s last ministry turned out. Not only Oxford, but Lord Harcourt, the duke of Ormond and Viscount Bolingbroke all graced the occasion, the last having failed in previous attempts to wait upon the king. As he paid homage, the king asked who it was, and upon being told, Bolingbroke ‘turned round and bowed three times down to the very ground’. [Cowper Diary, 3-5].

Of the 16 Scottish Representative Peers elected in 1713, ten attended the Coronation, as did 22 Scottish non-representative peers. With the bishoprics of Ely and Gloucester vacant, 24 bishops were invited. Blackall of Exeter and Lloyd of Worcester did not sit after the Hanoverian Succession and were absent, as were Nicolson of Carlisle and Manningham of Chichester. Fleetwood of St. Asaph and Tyler of Llandaff ought to have been present, as both were seeking promotion, but they do not appear to have attended either.

A print of a King who is a white man and has long, dark, permed hair. He is wearing a crown and holding an orb and sceptre. He is stood up wearing long robes that trail on the floor. There is a large curtain in the backdrop.
(c) Trustees of the British Museum

A banner raised on the roof of Westminster Abbey served as a signal for the guns in Hyde Park and at the Tower of London to commence their salute. Medals were distributed to the crowd and the procession returned to Westminster Hall for dinner and the traditional appearance of the champion. Much fatigued the members of the House of Lords retired to their abodes.


Further Reading:
Diary Mary Countess Cowper, Lady of the Bedchamber to the Princess of Wales, 1714-1720 (1864)

A print of rows of men sat behind each other. The main row in view has 10 men sat next to each other. They are all wearing white wigs and red gowns.

Find the inaugural blog of our Coronation series here.

Read more blogs from our coronation series here.

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