Queen Victoria’s coronation took place on Thursday, 28 June 1838 in Westminster Abbey; she had become monarch at the age of 18 on 20 June 1837 upon the death of her uncle King William IV.
Following tradition, the coronation ceremony was in London’s Westminster Abbey and took place after Queen Victoria left Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach before her people. The new railway system allowed for around 400,000 people to travel to London for the festivities.
Lord Melbourne stressed that the public needed to be involved, and a longer route for the people to line up to see the monarch was selected.
The budget was a contentious subject. Some wanted a lavish coronation like that in 1821 and the smaller scaled version for the 1831 event. In the end, a budget of £70,000 was decided on as a compromise between the two.
A new Imperial State Crown was also created for Her Majesty as it was feared that St Edward’s Crown would be too heavy for her head, so a smaller one was created for her. It would later be heavily damaged and redone for King George VI’s coronation decades later.
A lack of rehearsals led to mistakes in the ceremony; however, the Queen did visit Westminster Abbey the night before but insisted she knew the service and what was going to take place. One such event took place when Lord Rolle, 82, fell ascending the steps and the Archbishop placed the ring on the wrong finger.
Even with some mistakes, the ceremony, which began with the Queen in a very long red velvet robe, continued on and lasted for five hours and two costume changes (which included the Queen changing from the red robes into a white linen lace gown to be presented with the Crown Jewels). Music was provided by 157 singers and an 80 piece orchestra, but it was criticised by many. However, Bishop of Rochester was impressed by the music and its ability to remind those in attendance that they were also taking part in a religious service.
British social theorist Harriet Martineau called the service “barbaric” but did share some special moments with her readers. Some may have considered the Treasurer of the Household throwing silver coronation medals into the crowd (which resulted in a mad scramble) as one of the “barbaric” moments to which Martineau referred.
After the coronation, the Queen, wearing the George IV State Diadem, rode through the streets for an hour in a carriage as she returned to Buckingham Palace. There was no coronation banquet as the budget emphasised the carriage procession and not a banquet.
Of course, we have been able to read first-hand accounts by Queen Victoria via her famous journals. In part, she said, “I was awoke [sic] at 4 o’clock by the guns in the Park & could not get much sleep afterwards, on account of the noise of the people, Bands, &c. Got up at 7, feeling strong & well. The Park presented a curious spectacle, — crowds of people up Constitution Hill, — soldiers, Bands, &c. & At 10, I got into the State Coach with the Dss of Sutherland & Ld Albemarle, & we began our Progress.”
She wrote about the carriage ride back to Buckingham saying, “At about ½ p. 4 I reentered the State Coach, the crown on my head & Sceptre & Orb in my hands, & we proceeded the same way as we came, the crowds, if possible, having become still greater. The demonstrations of enthusiasm affection, & loyalty were really touching & shall ever remember this day as the proudest in my life, I came home at a little after 6, really not feeling too tired. — At 8 we dined, besides we 13, my Uncle, sister, & brother Spëth & the German Gentlemen, — my excellent Ld Melbourne & Ld Surry dining.”
Many of the items from the coronation are in the possession of the Royal Collections and housed at Kensington Palace.