Read Queen Victoria's account of the most amazing spectacle on earth

‘The crowd’s excessive loyalty was beyond everything. How proud I am to be Queen of a nation such as this’: Read Queen Victoria’s captivating account of the most amazing spectacle on earth with the King’s Coronation just weeks away

As King Charles makes preparations for his Coronation, he could do well to learn from the experience of his great-great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, on her own big day 185 years ago. She kept a meticulous daily diary for most of her life, starting at the age of 13. In total, 141 volumes survive, numbering 43,765 pages, including this entry for her Coronation Day, June 28, 1838…

I was awoke at four o’clock by the guns in the Park, and could not get much sleep afterwards on account of the noise of the people and bands. Got up at 7 feeling strong and well; the Park presented a curious spectacle; crowds of people up to Constitution Hill.

I dressed, having taken a little breakfast before, and a little after.

At ½ p. 9 I went into the next room dressed exactly in my House of Lords costume; and met Uncle Ernest [the King of Hanover], Lady Lansdowne, Lady Normanby [both Ladies of the Bedchamber] etc all in their robes.

At 10 I got into the State Coach with the Duchess of Sutherland [Mistress of the Robes] and Lord Albemarle [Master of the Horse], and we began our Progress.

Jenna Coleman as the Queen in the TV series Victoria 

Queen Victoria receiving the Sacrament at Her Coronation on June 28, 1938. By painter Leslie Charles Robert 

It was a fine day; and the crowds of people exceeded what I have ever seen; multitudes – millions of my loyal subjects who were assembled in every spot to witness the Procession. Their good-humour and excessive loyalty was beyond everything, and I really cannot say how proud I feel to be the Queen of such a Nation.

I was alarmed at times for fear that the people would be crushed and squeezed on account of the tremendous rush and pressure.

I reached Westminster Abbey amid deafening cheers at a little after ½ p. 11.

I first went into a robing-room quite close to the entrance, where I found my eight Train-bearers: all dressed alike and beautifully, in white satin and silver tissue, with wreaths of silver corn-ears in front, and a small one of pink roses round the plait behind, and pink roses in the trimming of the dresses. After putting on my Mantle, and the young ladies having properly got hold of it, I left the robing-room and the Procession began.

The sight was splendid; the bank of Peeresses quite beautiful, all in their robes, and the Peers on the other side. The Bishop of Durham stood on one side near me, but he was, as Lord Melbourne [the Prime Minister] had told me, remarkably ‘maladroit’, and never could tell me what was to take place.

At the beginning of the Anthem, I retired to St Edward’s Chapel, a dark small place immediately behind the Altar, with my Ladies, and Train-bearers; took off my crimson robe and kirtle [tunic] and put on the Supertunica of Cloth of Gold, which was put over a singular sort of little gown of linen trimmed with lace. I also took off my circlet of diamonds, and then proceeded bare-headed into the Abbey.

I was then seated upon St Edward’s chair, where the Dalmatic robe [a liturgical vestment] was clasped round me by the Lord Great Chamberlain. Then followed all the various things; and last (of those things) the Crown being placed on my head; which was, I must own, a most beautiful impressive moment.

My excellent Lord Melbourne, who stood very close to me throughout the whole ceremony, was completely overcome at this moment, and very much affected; he gave me such a kind, and I may say, fatherly look.

Soldiers from various infantry and cavalry regiments of the Indian Army seated with members of the British public on the Queen Victoria Memorial, the Mall, on the afternoon of the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 

The shouts, which were very great, the drums, the trumpets, the firing of the guns, all at the same instant, rendered the spectacle most imposing.

Poor old Lord Rolle who is 82, and dreadfully infirm, in attempting to ascend the steps, fell and rolled quite down, but was not the least hurt; when he attempted to re-ascend them, I got up and advanced to the end of the steps, in order to prevent another fall.

When Lord Melbourne’s turn to do Homage came, there was loud cheering; they also cheered the Duke of Wellington [victor at the 1815 Battle of Waterloo]; it’s a pretty ceremony; they first all touch the Crown, and then kiss my hand.

When my good Lord Melbourne next knelt down and kissed my hand, he pressed my hand and I grasped his with all my heart, at which he looked up with his eyes filled with tears and seemed much touched, as he was, I observed, throughout the whole ceremony.

After the Homage was concluded I left the Throne, took off my Crown and received the Sacrament; I then put on my Crown again, and re-ascended the Throne. At the commencement of the Anthem I descended from the Throne and took off the Dalmatic robe, Supertunica, &c., and put on the Purple Velvet Kirtle and Mantle.

There was another most dear Being present at this ceremony, immediately above the Royal Box, and who witnessed all; it was my dearly beloved angelic Lehzen [Louise Lehzen, who had been governess to the young Victoria], whose eyes I caught when on the Throne, and we exchanged smiles.

I then again descended from the Throne, and repaired with all the Peers bearing the Regalia, my Ladies and Train-bearers, to St Edward’s Chapel, where an Altar was covered with sandwiches, bottles of wine. The Archbishop came in and ought to have delivered the Orb to me, but I had already got it, and he (as usual) was so confused and puzzled and knew nothing; and – went away.

King Charles III during a visit to the Animal and Plant Health Agency in Addlestone, Surrey

There we waited for some minutes; Lord Melbourne took a glass of wine, for he seemed completely tired; I replaced my Crown (which I had taken off for a few minutes), took the Orb in my left hand, and the Sceptre in my right, and thus loaded proceeded through the Abbey, which resounded with cheers, to the first Robing-room. And here we waited for at least an hour. The Archbishop had (most awkwardly) put the ring on the wrong finger, and the consequence was that I had the greatest difficulty to take it off again, which I at last did with great pain. Lady Fanny [train-bearer Lady Fanny Cowper], Lady Wilhelmina and Lady Mary Grimston [both Ladies in Waiting], looked quite beautiful.

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At about ½ p. 4 I re-entered my carriage, the Crown on my head, and Sceptre and Orb in my hand, and we proceeded the same way as we came – the crowds, if possible, having increased. The enthusiasm, affection and loyalty was really touching, and I shall ever remember this day as the proudest of my life. I came home at a little after 6, really not feeling tired. At 8 we dined. Besides we 13: my Uncle, Sister, Brother… and my excellent Lord Melbourne dined here. He came up to me and said: ‘I must congratulate you on this most brilliant day’; and that all had gone off so well. He said he was not tired, and was in high spirits. He asked kindly if I was tired; said the Sword he carried (the 1st, the Sword of State) was excessively heavy. I said that the Crown hurt me a good deal.

He was much amused at Uncle Ernest’s being astonished at our still having the Litany; we agreed that the whole thing was a very fine sight. He thought the robes, and particularly the Dalmatic, ‘looked remarkably well’.

‘And you did it all so well; excellent!’ said he with the tears in his eyes. He said he thought I looked rather pale, and ‘moved by all the people’ when I arrived; ‘and that’s natural; and that’s better’.

The Archbishop’s and Dean’s Copes [cloaks] (which were remarkably handsome) were from James the 1st’s time; the same that were worn at his Coronation [in 1603].

Spoke of the Bishop of Durham’s awkwardness; Lord Rolle’s fall, &c. Spoke of Soult [Marshal Soult, who attended the Coronation as the French representative and who had been Napoleon’s chief of staff at the Battle of Waterloo] having been much struck by the ceremony; of the English being far too generous not to be kind to Soult.

After dinner before we sat down we spoke of the numbers of Peers at the Coronation; which, Lord Melbourne said, with the tears in his eyes, was unprecedented.

I observed that there were very few Viscounts; he said: ‘There are very few Viscounts’; that they were an odd sort of title, and not really English; that they came from Vice-Comites; that Dukes and Barons were the only real English titles; that Marquises were likewise not English; and that they made people Marquises when they did not wish to make them Dukes.

Spoke of Lord Audley who came as the 1st Baron, and who Lord Melbourne said was a very odd young man, but of a very old family; his ancestor was a Sir Something Audley in the time of the Black Prince. I then sat on the sofa for a little while. Uncle Ernest drove out to see the Illuminations.

I said to Lord Melbourne when I first sat down, I felt a little tired on my feet; ‘You must be very tired’ he said. Spoke of the weight of the robes, &c.,&c.; the Coronets; and he turned round to me with the tears in his eyes, and said so kindly: ‘And you did it beautifully, every part of it, with so much taste; it’s a thing that you can’t give a person advice upon; it must be left to a person.’

To hear this, from this kind impartial friend, gave me great and real pleasure. Spoke of my intending to go to bed, &c.; Lord Melbourne said: ‘You may depend upon it, you are more tired than you think you are.’

I said I had slept badly the night before; he said that was my mind, and that nothing kept people more awake than any consciousness of a great event going to take place and being agitated.

Stayed in the drawing-room till 20 m. p. 11, but remained till 12 o’clock on the balcony looking at the fireworks in Green Park, which were quite beautiful.

Extract from The Royal Archives – RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 28 June 1838 (Princess Beatrice’s copies) 

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