Day in History: Coronation of George III and Queen Charlotte

  September 23, 2012 at 10:49 am by

George II of Great Britain

When George II died on 25 October 1760, his grandson succeeded him as George III at the age of 22. The new King was very popular; as Dr Johnson said, he enjoyed “the great advantage of not being his grandfather”. Unlike his two predecessors of the House of Hanover, George III was raised in England and spoke English as his first language, which furthered endeared him to people.

George III fully understood the demands of his new position. In his accession speech, he declared: “Born and educated in this country, I glory in the name of Britain.” The speech had of course been written for him, but he personally inserted that particular line for he felt it described the life of dedication and duty he was prepared to live.

As soon as George III ascended to the Throne, the search for a suitable wife intensified. Colonel Graeme was sent to the various royal courts of Europe with a mission of finding a bride for the King. During his stay in Mecklenburg, he reported the charms possessed by the seventeen-year-old Princess Charlotte. The King was convinced and announced to his Council in July 1761 his intention to wed the Princess; Lord Hardwicke was sent to Mecklenburg to solicit her hand in the King’s name. Charlotte’s brother, Adolf Friedrich IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, received the King’s representatives with every honour that the little court was capable of showing for the prospect of such prominent alliance was very pleasing.

Marriage of George III and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

On 8 September 1761, in the Chapel Royal of St James’s Palace, George III married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz: the bride and groom had met for the first time on their wedding day. Despite this, their marriage was a successful one and produced fifteen children. George never took a mistress (unlike his grandfather and his sons), and the couple enjoyed a genuinely happy marriage. Even towards the end of his reign, when George III was plagued by an illness, they remained devoted to each other.

Once the wedding was conducted, the couple had to start preparing for even a grander and more important event – their joint Coronation, which was to take place a fortnight later at Westminster Abbey. While details of a King’s coronation are precise and perfected throughout the centuries, a  Queen Consort’s coronation is somewhat more confusing affair, usually consisting of a fairly simple ceremony towards the end of the King’s coronation.

All London was now agog and people said that no one could think or talk of anything except the grand event. So many carriages battled to reach Westminster Abbey on Coronation day that many of them collided in chaos. On the grand day, on 22 September 1761, George and Charlotte were carried to Westminster Hall separately in sedan chairs and then escorted into the abbey on foot, each under a canopy. The dignity of the royal couple and the “reverent attention which both paid to the service” were favourably commented on.

Coronation of George III and Queen Charlotte

When the crown was placed on George’s head a huge cheer went up from  the congregation. The King felt it would be inappropriate to receive Holy Communion wearing his Crown, so he decided to lay it aside, since neither the order of the service, nor the Archbishop of Canterbury gave him guidance on this point. It is said that at this point a jewel fell from George III’s crown, which was perceived as a bad omen by some (although the authenticity of this story is disputed). At George’s request Zadok the Priest was sung as the anthem.

Queen Charlotte was wearing a crown that had specifically been created for her, starting a trend that would be followed by Queen Adelaide and all Queens Consort after her. Unfortunately, her Crown didn’t survive to our times; however, based on the portrait of the Queen in her coronation robes by Allan Ramsay, it was quite similar to the one later created for Queen Adelaide, albeit slightly more bejewelled. The diamonds set in the crown were said to be a gift from her own family: George IV would have them set into the famous insignia of the Order of St. Patrick (later stolen from Dublin Castle).

As the ceremony was nearing its end, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s turn to deliver his sermon. At that point, the ceremony became a rather more relaxed affair: the congregation took the opportunity to eat the supplies of food (mainly, cold meat and pies) and wine that they had prudently brought with them or were handed round by servants, with the rather undignified clattering of plates, glasses and cutlery accompanying the Archbishop’s solemn speech.

Queen Charlotte in her Coronation robes

After the Coronation Service came the Coronation Banquet in Westminster Hall, presided over by the Lord Steward, the Lord High Constable and the Deputy Earl Marshal. All three of them were on horseback, as was the king’s champion, who arrived in full armour and dramatically threw down his gauntlet to challenge anyone who dared dispute the new king’s right to the throne (which no one, quite sensibly, did). Hungry spectators up in the galleries let down baskets and handkerchiefs to more privileged friends at the tables below who then sent them back up filled with chicken drumsticks and bottles of wine.

It is said that the whole of London didn’t sleep for several days, celebrating the glorious occasion and the start of a promising reign. And indeed, George III reigned for nearly 60, longer than any of his predecessors: to this day, he remains Britain’s longest-reigning King.

He was initially very popular not only in Britain, but also in its colonies. Although his reign is now mostly associated with the loss of American Colonies and the illness he suffered from towards the end of his reign (presumably, porphyria), his legacy is divided. He was nicknamed “Farmer George” by satirists, though that nickname came to be perceived quite favourably later on, especially since his modest way of life was in stark contrast with his son’s opulent lifestyle.

George III in his Coronation robes

George III was indeed passionately interested in agriculture; under his reign, the British Agricultural Revolution reached its peak and great advances were made in fields such as science and industry. There was unprecedented growth in the rural population, which in turn provided much of the workforce for the Industrial Revolution. He also funded the construction and maintenance of William Herschel’s telescope, the biggest one in existence at the time. Incidentally, when Herschel discovered the planet Uranus, it was initially named Georgium Sidus (George’s Star).

To read more about King George and Queen Charlotte, visit this thread – George III (1738-1820) and Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818).

Filed under British Royals, Historical Royals
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One Response to Day in History: Coronation of George III and Queen Charlotte

  1. Father Andrew L. J. James, Ph.D. says:

    Though I am descended from various “patriots,” who opposed Our Sovereign Lord the King (one of whom is buried about 10 miles from where I am seated, at this moment), the Revolution was fought to prevent colonists from paying taxes to England, in recompense for England’s protection during the “French and Indian War,” as the Seven Years’ War is called here. George, III, was vilified, pointlessly. An attempt to collect for the protection offered, seems to me to quite sensible. (Capt. James Stuart, my great grandfather times 5, was burnt at the stake by Indians, at Chilicothe, OH, during that war. Perhaps our family does not owe anything for the “protection”?) Ah, “history.”

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