This year marks the 200th anniversary of the coronation of George IV. It took place on 19th July 1821. The coronation ceremony was held in Westminster Abbey, followed by an extravagant coronation banquet held in Westminster Hall. There is a long history of coronation banquets in Westminster Hall dating back to the coronation of Richard I in 1189. But this would be the last coronation banquet to take place in the Hall. George IV’s coronation and banquet cost approximately £250,000 at the time (roughly £27 million in today’s money) and was too expensive to repeat. The following coronation for William IV was only 10 years later in 1831 and to save money after George’s excessive spending during his reign, did not feature a banquet.
This blog was written by Katherine Emery, Assistant Archives Officer.
The coronation was originally planned for 1st August 1820 after the death of George III on 29th January 1820, but delays led to the ceremony being postponed until 19th July 1821. Although George IV had already been ruling as regent for his father since 1811. The main reason for the delays was George’s divorce proceedings with his wife Queen Caroline. Following this Caroline was excluded from both the coronation and the banquet. You can learn more about this on our Queen Caroline Affair blog.
The proceedings of the day began early in the morning with all the guests arriving at Westminster Hall, before formally processing at around 10am to Westminster Abbey for the coronation ceremony. The guests included a wide variety of nobility from peers, peeresses and foreign dignitaries to knights, barons, and dukes. All of which were dressed in their finest, however for some ranks there were strict regulations on what types of fabrics and jewels you could wear. There were also many gallery stands set up outside for the public to sit and watch the procession go by in all its glory.
After the coronation ceremony, everyone processed back to Westminster Hall for the banquet around mid-afternoon. Peers and other esteemed guests requested tickets to not only watch the ceremony but also watch the banquet in temporary gallery seating set up around the Hall. Over 2,000 guests ate at the banquet but many more sat in the galleries to watch the pomp and ceremony of the banquet.
There were several special and important roles for the coronation banquet. For example, the Lord Great Chamberlain was largely in charge of organising the event, along with the Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Gwydyr. You can see that most of the letters in our collection relating to the organisation and preparation of the banquet are addressed to the Lord Great Chamberlain and his deputy. Such as this letter from 8th May 1820 to Lord Gwydyr regarding permissions for the gallery seating to be fitted in Westminster Hall.
Another more ceremonial role was the King’s Champion, a title traditionally passed down through the Dymoke family since 1377 along with the hereditary property, the Manor of Scrivelsby. The Champion would enter Westminster Hall after the first course of the banquet, riding on a horse in full armour heralded by trumpeters alongside the Earl Marshal and Lord High Constable, both also on horseback. A herald would then recite a speech asking if there are any challengers or doubters of the newly crowned King and that the Champion would defend the King in combat. The Champion would then throw down his gauntlet on the ground. This was carried out three times, once at the entrance of the Hall, once in the middle of the Hall and once in front of the King’s table. The Dymoke family still holds this title. The current bearer of the Champion title is a chartered account, Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke.
There were many other smaller ceremonial roles and traditions involved in the banquet. For example, Earl Huntington the Cupbearer to the King and Viscount Montague the Assistant to the King’s Cupbearer would provide the King with a bason and towel to wash his hands before and after the banquet. The King would also be presented with various gifts and offerings including a gift of two live falcons from the Duke of Atholl. The King and the ceremonies were all located in Westminster Hall, but the banquet was not limited to the Hall. There were tables set for banquet guests arranged all over the Palace of Westminster, this included Judges’ rooms, in the committee rooms, and in the library.
Another special role at the banquet included several pugilists, which were the famous boxers of the time. The boxers were Tom Cribb, Jack Randall and Bill Richmond. They attended the banquet both as celebrity star-power and officially as doorkeepers against Queen Caroline potentially gate-crashing the banquet. Bill Richmond was a famous black boxer. He was originally born as a slave in America, brought to the UK as a freedman by Brigadier General Hugh Percy. He was educated and trained as a carpenter before going into a career as a pugilist much later in life, starting when he was in his 40s.
The newly crowned King retired from the banquet at 8pm after a long day of pomp and circumstance, along with the Lord Great Chamberlain and several other noblemen. Most accounts of the day stop here but an account by Robert Huish tells us that the banquet did not stop when the King left. The noble men and women who had been watching from the gallery stands, not partaking in the banquet, descended upon Westminster Hall. This mob of nobility began to take and eat all the food left-over from the banquet not only in Westminster Hall but all the smaller rooms of the banquet around the Palace of Westminster as well. In addition to, as Huish describes, this “scramble” for food, the nobles also tried to steal some of the table decorations and ornate plates and cutlery before the Lord Great Chamberlain returned to the Hall. After the ‘scramble’ there was a serious delay in preparing each person’s carriage, as everyone was trying to leave the event at the same time. This carriage traffic jam meant that some of the guests did not leave Westminster until 3am. Meanwhile, many amusements and post-coronation celebrations had been established for the common spectators, including performances in several theatres and a large crowd gathering in Hyde Park for celebratory fireworks.