‘The most solemn, magnificent, and sumptuous ceremony’: The coronation of George II and Queen Caroline, 11 October 1727

Contemporaries were agreed that the coronation of George II and Queen Caroline on 11 October 1727 was spectacular. In our second Coronation-themed blog, Dr Charles Littleton looks back on the event and considers the roles played by some of those involved in it.

For the Swiss traveller César de Saussure the coronation of 1727 was ’the most solemn, magnificent, and sumptuous ceremony it is anyone’s lot in life to witness’. [Saussure, 239]. John Hervey, Lord Hervey, remembered that:

The Coronation was performed with all the pomp and magnificence that could be contrived; the present King differing so much from the last, that all the pageantry and splendour, badges and trappings of royalty, were as pleasing to the son as they were irksome to the father.

Hervey, Memoirs, i. 66

Saussure noted that English observers agreed that ‘the magnificence of the present coronation has far surpassed that of the preceding’. Indeed, while George I’s coronation in 1714 had cost £7,287, his son’s was budgeted at £9,430.

What impressed these observers most was the procession of the peers and the royal retinue from Westminster Hall to the Abbey that preceded the coronation. Saussure provided an account, cribbed from a printed list of the order of its participants. The peers and peeresses could be easily observed by the crowd, as an elevated walkway had been built between the Hall and the Abbey, and Saussure’s description of the details of their robes of state is rapturous. He was particularly impressed by the jewels – ‘the peeresses were covered with them’ – and Queen Caroline exhausted herself trying to march in a jewel-bedecked skirt.

A black and white print. There are 6 rows and in each row are multiple people facing (walking towards) the left of the print. Above each person, or group of people, is writing. At the bottom it says 'The Magnificent form of the procession usually observed in the coronation of the Kings and Queens of England'.
Fleuron from book: An account of the ceremonies observed in the coronations of the kings and queens of England

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu viewed the show with more cynicism. She thought that the goal of the participants was ‘to conceal vanity and gain admiration…. a visible satisfaction was diffused over every countenance as soon as the coronet was clapped on the head.’ [Lady Mary Wortley Montagu Letters, ed. Halsband, ii. 85-6] One person who, surprisingly, on this occasion did not stand on ceremony was Sarah Churchill, dowager duchess of Marlborough. Saussure recounted how:

When the duchesses were in front of our seats the procession was for a time brought to a stop. The Dowager Duchess of Marlborough took a drum from a drummer and seated herself on it. The crowd laughed and shouted at seeing the wife of the great and celebrated General Duke of Marlborough, more than seventy years of age, seated on a drum in her robes of state in such a solemn procession.

Saussure, 249-50

A number of lords of Parliament were involved in the planning, management and conduct of the ceremony. Peregrine Bertie, 2nd duke of Ancaster, was the hereditary lord great chamberlain, responsible for managing Westminster Hall. As such he enjoyed a number of unusual perquisites. He dressed the king for the coronation, for which he received enough crimson velvet for a robe of state, the clothes the king had worn the previous day and the furnishings of the room where he had slept.

The earl marshal was also an hereditary office, held by the dukes of Norfolk since 1672. Thomas Howard, 8th duke of Norfolk, however, was a Catholic so deputized his duties to Talbot Yelverton, earl of Sussex. The earl marshal handled the arrangements for the coronation itself at Westminster Abbey, where he had authority over the area from the choir screen to the altar. Scaffolding was erected here to hold over 1,750 notables, including 140 foreigners, invited under the king’s authority to attend the consecration and coronation. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster for their part charged for gallery seating in the abbey’s nave. For his duties, the earl marshal was rewarded with a goblet with a lid of pure gold.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, not only conducted the coronation ceremony, but also planned the entire order of service, and his ‘Form and Order’ for the ceremony has served as the template for all later coronations. Another durable contribution from 1727 came from the king’s choice of composer, George Frederick Handel. His ‘Zadok the Priest’ has proved enduring, and has featured in every subsequent coronation. Its premiere may have been shaky, as Wake annotated his own copy of the order of service with the comment ‘The Anthem in confusion: all irregular in the Music’. [David Baldwin, The Chapel Royal, 224]. Wake may have been the most richly rewarded of those involved in the coronation. He received the throne, cushion, and stool on which the king was crowned, and even the pall used to cover his head during the anointing.

A sepia print of the inside of Westminster Hall during a coronation banquet. On both sides are galleries where people are stood looking down. On the ground is an aisle where two rows of people are walking down and three horses. On the sides of this aisle are long banquet tables that have food on top and people sat around.
(c) Trustees of the British Museum

Absent from the coronation itself, Saussure was in the spectator galleries at the lavish banquet held afterwards in Westminster Hall. He described with admiration the technique used to ensure that the candles in the forty chandeliers were all lighted almost simultaneously upon the king’s entry, and the mock chivalry of the king’s Champion entering the Hall on horseback. He was also impressed by the tables groaning under the mountains of food, but was not among the guests who could partake. He and his neighbours were eventually able to share in the feast after some unnamed peers sitting at the tables below tied their excess food to lines lowered by the spectators from the galleries and then hoisted them back up. Once the royal party and peers had left, the doors were thrown open and the populace rushed in to ransack the Hall of the remaining food and furnishings. It was cleared in half an hour.

Despite the disorder that marked the end of the day, Saussure concluded his account in wonder:

I know I cannot possibly give you any correct idea of the magnificence and beauty of all these sights; the spectators on the stands and at the windows were likewise charming to contemplate. I am certain that at least two thousand people had left off wearing the late King’s mourning for that day, and were dressed with taste in bright colours. … As to the populace it was innumerable.

Saussure, 265


Further reading:
César de Saussure, A Foreign View of England in the Reigns of George I and George II: The Letters of Monsieur César de Saussure to his Family, ed. Madame van Muyden (1902)
Andrew C. Thompson, George II (2011)
Roy Strong, Coronation: From the 8th to the 21st Century (2005).
The Form of the Proceeding to the Royal Coronation of Their Majesties King George II and Queen Caroline (1727)
The Form and Order of the Service that is to be performed and of the Ceremonies that are to be observed in the Coronation of Their Majesties King George II and Queen Caroline (1727)

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