The Coronations of 1902 and 1911


Mar 20, 2007
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I very much enjoyed participating in the recent discussion on the presentation of debutantes at the English Court. I therefore think it is high time I started a new thread devoted to information and anecdotes about the two great 'State' occasions of the Edwardian Era - the Coronations of Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902 and George V and Queen Mary in 1911.

As we all know, Edward VII was fortunate to be crowned at all. Only hours before the ceremony, when London was packed with thousands of dignitaries from every corner of the globe, he succumbed to an acute attack of appendicitus and almost died. When the Coronation finally took place, in Westminster Abbey on 9th August, it was noted that the King looked 'pale and tired' but was clearly thrilled at the rapturous reception he received from the assembled crowds.

Every Coronation is a spectacular affair but that of Edward and Alexandra was particularly splendid. Not a penny was spared to ensure that the scene within the Abbey was one of unprecedented opulence. Indeed, so thick was the pile on the royal-blue carpet laid down the nave that many peeresses were observed to be struggling to walk upon it - their ermine-lined trains stuck to the velvet like velcro!

As might have been expected, lovely Queen Alexandra rose magnificently to the occasion. To her enraptured Lady-in-Waiting, the Countess of Antrim, 'she made one rub one's eyes and think of fairy stories - and even then, not half is said.' Alexandra's gauze train, hand-embroidered in gold thread by Indian women in tribute to the country she was never allowed to visit, was carried by six young pages, each of whom was a peer in his own right. Her bodice was so thickly encrusted with ropes of diamonds and pearls that her breast seemed to be a sheet of flame. At the moment of the Queen's actual crowning, the canopy was supported by four of England's most beautiful women - the Duchesses of Marlborough, Sutherland, Portland and Montrose. The Duchess of Marlborough (the former Consuelo Vanderbilt) had always maintained a rather cynical outlook on the arrogance of the British aristocracy into which she had married but, in her memoirs, she freely states that she felt tears of emotion fill her eyes as the Archbishop of York brought the crown down on Alexandra's serene brow. As he did so, the serried ranks of peeresses gathered in the nave - duchesses, marchionesses, countesses, viscountesses and baronesses - simultaneously raised their white-gloved arms and put on their own coronets with, as one bedazzled observer later noted, 'a rustle like a million swans' wings.'

Solemn though the occasion was, there were a few characteristically 'Edwardian' touches. In a prominent position, just above the Royal Family, was a box containing a row of the king's 'special favourites' in full magnificence - his current mistress, Alice Keppel, in the centre, flanked on either side by former lovers like Lillie Langtry, Jennie Churchill, Mrs Ronnie Greville and Mrs Arthur Paget. One wag christened this 'the King's Loose Box'.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Thanks for that, Martin. I actually knew none of what you just told - not about Edward's appendicitis or Consuelo's participation in the crowning. I wonder if it rankled that a non-Brit was playing such an important role; just like I wonder if there were any raised eyebrows at William Augustus Spencer's sister, Princess Whoever, serving as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Italy.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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I can't imagine that there would have been many raised eyebrows at Consuelo's participation in the service - we should remember that in 1902, and even more so in 1911, there were dozens of American peeresses!

Consuelo's husband, the 9th Duke, had an even more prominent role than his wife. He carried St. Edward's Crown itself, flanked by the Dukes of Norfolk and Fife and preceded by the Marquess of Londonderry bearing the Sword of State.

If the Dollar Princesses were in evidence at the Coronation, then so too were the actresses and music hall stars who had married into the aristocracy. It is fascinating to consider that, for many of these women, a career on the stage was a direct route from poverty to the peerage. What must have been the thoughts of the Countess of Clancarty, a dazzling beauty who had once trodden the boards as the singer and dancer, Belle Bilton? She was the daughter of a man who laboured in the docks of the East End and yet I've seen pictures of her dressed in her robes for the Coronation of Edward VII, looking every bit as regal and inscrutable as the Queen herself.

Another prominent member of the 'actressocracy' was the lovely Rosie Boote, who married the Marquess of Headfort. She too would have been present at the Coronations of 1902 and 1911, although Cynthia Asquith notes in her diaries that George V was not too happy at the notion of a former Gaiety Girl coming to Court!

I was interested to discover that even more American women married into the Italian aristocracy than they did into the English or French. I gather that, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the government had handed out titles like sweets so that, by the Edwardian Era, the entire concept of a hereditary nobility in Italy had become rather devalued. Wasn't Emma Bucknell's daughter married to an Italian count? And do we know when Spencer's sister became Lady-in-Waiting? In any case, she would not have been present at the Coronation of 1902, since it took place weeks later than originally planned, by which time most of the foreign royals and dignitaries gathered in London had returned home. One notable 'hanger on' was the Crown Princess of Roumania, Edward VII's lovely niece, Princess Marie of Edinburgh. She enjoyed a wonderful summer in her native country as she waited for her uncle's recovery and seemed so reluctant to return to Roumania that one wit christened her 'Marie Remained Here'.

Noelle Rothes and her husband, the 19th Earl, would certainly have attended the Coronations of Edward VII and George V - the latter only months before the 'Titanic' sailed.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Here's a Titanic connection to the 1911 coronation.

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The wigged gentleman is Solicitor-General, Sir John Simon. Sir John had the right to take a lady to the coronation. Being a widower, he chose his ten-year-old daughter. Sir John wears his formal robe of office.

I wonder if Lord Pirrie and Lord Mersey attended. Sir Rufus Isaacs would have.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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A coronation calls for all sorts of finery from those commanded to attend. In both 1902 and 1911, peeresses wore low cut gowns of white, silver or gold satin, intricately embroidered with metallic thread and encrusted with seed pearls and sequins. Over the top, they wore red velvet robes, lined with ermine or miniver. The robes varied slightly in style, according to the rank of the wearer. I believe that, in 1902, an order was initially given that peeresses should NOT wear tiaras but this was quickly repealed and the nave of Westminster Abbey would have been a truly dazzling sight, with each woman literally dripping with diamonds and other precious stones. It was observed that, at the moment of crowning, some peeresses had a struggle to fit their coronets behind their tiaras.

Of course, some women went a bit too far - Queen Alexandra's ever-devoted (and rather plain) Lady of the Bedchamber, Charlotte Knollys, wore so many jewels that some claimed she was trying to outdo her mistress!

For anybody trying to imagine the splendour of the scene in the Abbey when a monarch is crowned, I can't do better than to recommend Handel's quartet of spectacular 'Coronation Anthems'. Beginning with the famous 'Zadok the Priest', they were first performed at the Coronation of George II and Queen Caroline in the eighteenth century and have been played on each subsequent occasion.

There is a very funny story about the famous 'Double Duchess', Louisa Devonshire, who was pushing seventy by 1902 but who had effectively maintained her position at the very apex of London Society. When the ceremony was finally over, there was - naturally - a rush of ladies from the galleries to the handful of lavatories that had been built in an annex of the Abbey. However, according to protocol, the Royal Family had to leave the building before anybody else. Despite her age and venerability, the soldiers on the door commanded the duchess to return to her seat. As a swarm of distressed peeresses hopped from foot-to-foot behind her, like a lot of bejewelled toddlers, Louisa got more and more desperate, first attempting to pull rank before finally trying to force her way through the line. Unfortunately, during the fracas, she fell and rolled all the way to the bottom of the steps, where she landed in a heap of velvet and bruised dignity. Margot Asquith recovered her coronet, which had fallen off, and the Marquis de Soveral (an intimate of the King and Queen) picked her up and brushed her off before she went on her way.

Even when they had made it into the lavatories, some peeresses found that their troubles were only just beginning. Teresa Londonderry's truly magnificent diamond crown fell off and lodged itself in the pan. It took a lot of energy and - eventually - a pair of forceps to extricate it.
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Wow! Now that's an anecdote. Especially striking since it involves the lovely, regal Teresa Londonderry (I know not everyone might characterize her as such but most of the sketches I've read of her were written by friends such as the Countess of Fingall, and so were very flattering).

The thread mentioning Mr. Spencer's sister is here: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5811/56820.html?1180551164

Carole Lindsay mentioned her role at the Italian court, but doesn't mention when it was. I scanned the thread for the prince's name and have forgot it already (Prince Cenci di Cavaro, maybe?)

Emma Bucknell's daughter became the Countess Pecorini. I remember because I think that's a great name.

Yes, I remember seeing an Italian count interviewed on British TV a few years ago who said that there were 1,000 counts in Rome alone. But I'm sure the "real" Italian nobles were very mindful of who could be considered one of their own and who couldn't be.

I've read that in France, a family can be considered noble and not be titled, and can be titled but not be noble. The current Queen of Denmark is married to a Frenchman who I've read has a legitimate right to the title "Count" but whose family is still not noble. And wasn't the noble standing of the Count de Feuillide (sp?), who married Jane Austen's cousin, very dubious?

I think British peers have always been the silver tuna for Americans searching for titled mates. I'm not a fan of Edith Wharton, but I am fascinated by the Old New York she creates in the Age of Innocence (which is why I keep bringing it up); and it has a of couple details that are indicative of the anglo-centricity of 19th century American Society. One of Mrs. Manson Mingott's daugthers is married to an English banker and the other to an Italian marquis, and the two are mentioned together in the same sentence in a way that I doubt very much an Italian banker and an English marquess would be.

But a title from any country is obviously quite something, as we see when Mrs. Mingott scoffs at the Countess Olenska for wanting to divorce her husband and resume her maiden name "when she could be a married lady and a countess!"

One thing I always wonder about is how those Protestant Americans who had to make do with French or Italian noblemen handled the religious question. Would the next Count Pecorini (assuming Mrs. B. had a grandson) be an Episcopalian?
 

Brian Ahern

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Dec 19, 2002
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Oh, and as for Marie of Roumania - she's a magnificent study! And, Martin, I'll try to locate the ET thread on which I once posted a link to an article on Marie's visit to Chicago in the 1920's, when she hung out with Emily Ryerson. The picture painted of Mrs. Ryerson is an interesting one.

I'll have to do it later, though. It's time for me to get some work done
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sashka pozzetti

Guest
I have an interesting little boutonierre that looks like it was sold just before a coronation. it is in a box which was says it was made from the fabric of Coronation gowns. It has been cut up into the shape of a butterfly, and is made of red velvet with yellow antennae and a little pin on the back. I think it is interesting to imagine the smartly dressed Aristocrats in the Abbey, and the enthusiastic cords outside all wearing pieces of the same lavish fabric, but in very different amounts!!!
 
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João Carlos Pereira Martins

Guest
You may say I'm wrong but I'm inclined to say that the Coronation of 1911 was more impressive and spectacular than the one of 1902. This is because at the beginning of George V's reign, the power, the height and the grandiosity were in its maximum and the monarchy took all that benefits. Besides that, let's not forget that both queens of this time were quite different from each other. Alexandra was beautiful and wore splendorous pieces of jewellery in public, but she was regarded as simple and modest in private life. Queen Mary was known for superbly bejewelling herself on formal and state occasions, and she would put a tiara and wear full evening dress every night, even if she was dining alone with the king. Furthermore, her love for jewels was almost a legend and she was very fond of breathtaking displays of pearls, cascades of diamonds and sapphires and heavy and imposing tiaras and she had an enormous collection to use as she wanted, which included many ornaments that had once belonged to Queen Victoria and to her mother-in-law.

Also, although Germany, Japan and the US were already starting to emerge as great global powers in 1911, the British owned the majority of the world's surface at that time, the government safes were full of money from the trade, they had the largest fleet and plenty of natural resources in their Empire, such as silver and gold mines, precious stones from South Africa, oil explorations and India, with thousands of dignitaries, and I believe that the 1911 ceremony was really amazing and grand, a show of colours, uniforms, gliterring tiaras and decorations. Many of you will have a different opinion but I regard George V's coronation as one of the greatest official ceremonies ever held in the world.

Best,
João
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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A small correction, as they say on the charts. Of Handel's anthems, only Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since it was composed. The entire set takes almost 40 minutes to perform. They include the deathless line, "Kings shall be thy nursing fathers and queens thy nursing mothers."

I like Sir William Walton's idea for a coronation march for Prince Charles. He composed two marches for coronations, each named after one of the attributes of a monarch listed in Henry V.

For George VI, Crown Imperial. For Elizabeth II, Orb and Sceptre. For Prince Charles, had Sir William lived to compose it, the march was to be Bed Majestical.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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From the top (as they say):

Brian,

I would agree that the British aristocracy was the one most Dollar Princesses sought to marry into. It was less stuffy than the Austrian, less hidebound than the French, more prestigious than the Italian and MUCH more glamorous than the German! At the beginning of 'The House of Mirth', Lily Bart considers who would be her 'ideal' match and decides that either an English earl or an Italian prince might do.

Although she wasn't American, I can think of at least one foreigner who married into the German nobility - Princess Daisy of Pless, who was the daughter of Edward VII's former flame, Patsy Cornwallis-West, and the sister of the Duchess of Westminster. Come the Great War, poor Daisy (she of the violet embroidered court train) must have found her loyalties sadly divided but, in 1902, she was one of the women who viewed the Coronation from a seat in the 'Loose Box'.

With regard to the French, you are absolutely correct. The 'real' aristocracy has always differentiated itself from those it considers to be arrivistes. In this case, who the 'real' aristocracy actually are is open to question - the nobles who can trace their ancestry back to the ancien regime? Those created under Napoleon? Those created under the Second Empire? I'd be a braver man than I am if I got involved with that particular question!

Teresa Londonderry is certainly a study. I myself would have been terrified of her and it was an equally formidable character like Gladys de Grey who had the courage to tangle with her (and tangle she did). During one of his visits to England, the Shah of Persia was so impressed by Lady Londonderry that he offered to buy her from her husband.

I have read the article you refer to about Queen Marie's visit to Chicago (during her 1926 trip to the States, I believe) and agree that Emily Ryerson comes across as a delightful character. The author, Beverley Nichols, was also acquainted with Lady Duff Gordon. She may have been a great beauty, and was a fascinating character besides, but I think Marie would have been hard work for anybody who had to put up with her for more than a few hours. Consuelo Marlborough was distinctly unimpressed when she came to visit Blenheim. As a footnote to her story, I can add that she was once considered as a possible bride for her cousin, Prince George of Wales. Marie's mother, the Duchess of Edinburgh, who was a daughter of Alexander II of Russia and possessed the pride of the Romanovs in full measure, declared that Marie could NEVER settle for a younger son as she herself had done and so put the stopper on that little dalliance. The irony is that the prince, following the death of the Duke of Clarence, went on to become George V and, had things worked out differently, Marie could have been crowned Queen-Empress in Westminster Abbey. But perhaps he was better off with Princess May. Marie's story is a fascinating one but it doesn't belong on this thread.

On, and by the way - you and I might have to have words about Edith Wharton, Brian. She is far and away my favourite author and I am frankly astounded to learn that you dislike her!

Joao,

It is a debatable question, and ultimately a subjective one, whether the Coronation of 1902 was grander than the Coronation of 1911 (or vice versa). To a large measure, it would depend upon your opinion of the chief protagonists. Queen Alexandra was the more beautiful woman but Queen Mary was the more majestic. I once discussed this very issue with a good friend of mine, a historian and jewellery specialist, and he absolutely shares your opinion that Mary wore her rocks with more 'style' than her mother-in-law.

One important point that you've missed in your post above is that George and Mary subsequently travelled to India to be acclaimed as King-Emperor and Queen-Empress by their subjects there. I have seen a few photographs of the Durbar of 1911 and would argue that THIS was perhaps the most glittering occasion, the high point, in Britain's imperial history. I think (and I may need to check this) that Queen Mary had a special tiara made for the ceremony which was recently seen on the brow of the Duchess of Cornwall.

Each Coronation has had a different flavour. I prefer the little touches in 1902 (the 'Loose Box', the four beautiful duchesses) which made the event so characteristic of the personalities of the man and woman at the centre of attention. It is worth remembering that many people lived long enough to be present at the Coronations of 1902, 1911, 1937 AND 1953 and were able to compare them to one another. Vita Sackville-West gives a wonderful account of the Coronation of 1911 in the final pages of 'The Edwardians'.

Dave,

Thank you for that correction. 'Zadok the Priest' is my own favourite among the 'Coronation Anthems' and it seems fitting that this one, among all four, should have become a fixed part of the ceremony.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Thank you, that is indeed the tiara I had in mind. It is a most impressive piece although it seems a touch OTT when worn with a short, twenty-first century hairstyle. I have never seen the Durbar tiara worn by any other member of the Royal Family in recent years - I imagine there is a collection of jewels held in reserve, so to speak, which can be drawn on when a new member joins The Firm!

I am intending to buy James Pope-Hennessy's classic biography of Queen Mary, which is the seminal work on this brave and formidable woman. I was flicking through a copy at my local bookshop a few days ago and it seems that the royal (or should I say, imperial?) trip to India in late 1911 made a huge impact on both husband and wife. And it appears that George and Mary only returned to England in the first few weeks of 1912 - just months before the 'Titanic' sailed on her maiden voyage.
 
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Brave? Perhaps not. Resilient? Unquestionably. Let's not forget that Queen Mary weathered every storm the twentieth century could throw at her with impeccable style and panache. She saw her husband crowned King-Emperor in India in 1911 and then, over the next four decades, watched imperialism go into an inglorious and terminal decline. Catastrophic wars were waged against Germany, a country with which she had the strongest personal and political connections. In her old age, the inhabitants of that same country perpetrated perhaps the greatest crime in human history - the cold-blooded and systematic extermination of over six million men, women and children. Her Russian cousins, the Romanovs, were butchered in the most savage way by a political regime not WHOLLY friendly to those of royal or aristocratic birth. Her cousins at the other end of Europe, Spain, survived with their lives but were forced into an ignominious exile. Her eldest son rejected his throne, his family, his duty and his heritage to marry a twice-divorced American. If this was not enough, Mary also saw THREE of her other sons (Prince John, the Duke of Kent and George VI) into their graves - besides her husband too, of course.

Was Queen Mary courageous? I don't know. But she certainly came through every difficulty with her dignity magnificently and formidably intact. In my humble opinion, nobody - not Elizabeth II, not the late Queen Mother - has greater claim to being a truly ROYAL survivor.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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OK. Resilient, I'll go with that.

But let's not forget that she was raised for this (which she might very well have regretted, of course, but we'll never know). And she seems to have acquiesced in this, which is understandable maybe in a young girl, but not in a maturer woman, who lived a luxurious life.

You're betrothed to the Prince of Wales (Albert) but he dies. So you are then re-betrothed to his younger brother, and you don't protest, but meekly marry him. I suppose this does show resilience of a sort, but also, maybe, ambition. Then you bear his children, acquiescing in his brutal treatment of them, which results in one unable to sustain being King, and the poor next one having to overcome a dreadful stutter to take up his unwelcome monarchical duties. Worse, you confine Prince John to purgatory because he's 'odd', and bury him anonymously when he dies as a child. Finally, you wear silly hats as an old woman and bully people into giving you their best furniture, silver, pictures etc., merely because you are a Queen.

Doesn't sound too good to me.
 
Mar 20, 2007
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Yet was she so different, and so much worse, than many of her contemporaries? I don't think so. No modern 'working mother', no high-flying banker, lawyer or businesswoman, has more demands on her time than Queen Mary did! It is regrettable that she couldn't spend longer in the nursery when her children were growing up - even more regrettable that she was seemingly so unable to display her maternal feelings more openly - but I for one don't blame her for either of these facts.

'...you confine Prince John to purgatory because he's 'odd', and bury him anonymously when he dies as a child.'

We might wonder why the King and Queen felt so compelled to keep Prince John in seclusion for most of his short life. But epilepsy was not so well understood a century ago - and, having suffered from epilepsy myself, I've looked into the history and treatment of the condition in some depth. Until his premature death, John received excellent care from a nurse who, by all accounts, loved him like a mother. The British public were well aware of his existence and the King and Queen met with considerable sympathy when he died. Coming only months after the end of the most devastating war in history, with an entire nation in mourning, a 'royal' funeral of pomp and circumstance for a young boy barely into his teens might not have been deemed to be in the best of taste.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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OK, Martin. I am sort of convinced, in that I have perhaps been guilty of judging someone who lived some time ago by our own (very self-congratulatory) criteria. Which I regret, especially as I have always said that that is a totally untenable position to take.

I do still think she was probably horrible ... but if I'd been in her position, I expect I'd have been just as horrible, or even more so. But this only goes to show that nobody should be royal, as it simply is impossible, one way or another.
 
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sashka pozzetti

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Are there any impartial contemporary views of Queen Mary by others? I hope you don't mid me saying this but I don't really think that more or less disowning your son because he married an American (shock!) who was twice divorced (further shock!) is in any way brave, or commendable. It is the kind of weak, old fashioned reaction that may have been more understandable at the time, but that doesn't make it admirable now. After all, it was a King (Henry) who (thankfully) gave us divorce, and a Queen (Elizabeth) who sponsored the early European settlement of North America. Obviously there needs to be context, but like Monica, from what I have read, I can't help but be very wary of being too impressed.
 

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