The Ceremony of Crowning Queen - Consorts - Woman's Part in the Royal Progress - A Bodyguard of Ladies - The Herb Woman and Her Maids - Train-bearers - The Holders of the Canopy - An Old Custom Revived
The place occupied by women in the coronation pageants of this country has always been an important one, though more important in the past than in the present.
True, the Court of Claims is not occupied in deciding whether this or that noble peeress shall carry the Queen's train, or hold the canopy at her anointing; those services are settled by the Queen's choice, but no one belonging to her Majesty's sex has ever been appointed to bear her crown, carry her sceptre, or her ivory rod with the dove.
Men have enjoyed the monopoly of carrying the Regalia before the King and before the Queen throughout the centuries. But though women have been excluded from participation in these offices, it may be recalled that William the Conqueror instituted most of the feudal rites and ceremonies connected with the Coronation and the subsequent banquet at the crowning of his fair queen, Matilda of Flanders. In her honour the Coronation banquet, which survived until the reign of George IV., was first instituted; in her honour the champion first rode into the banqueting hall to challenge to mortal combat any who should dare to question that the Lady Matilda, Duchess of Normandy, was not the lawful queen of these realms. At this feast in her honour the offices of the grand carver, the butler, the cellarer, and the pannetier, etc., were created, and have occupied the Court of Claims until modern times.
It is of further interest to note, with regard to the position of women in the great ceremonial, that it has always been customary to crown the queen consort with almost equal honours to those accorded to the king. The crown is placed upon her head, the sceptre in her hand, the Coronation ring upon her finger, and she is consecrated to her high office with the holy oil. Nothing is lacking to give distinction to the queen consort. Her robes and jewels outvie even those of the king. It is in her crown that the priceless Koh-i-noor diamond is set. Her face appears in joint profile with the king upon the Coronation medals; she rides with his Majesty in the State coach in all the progresses connected with the pageant, and is queen of the feast at the Royal entertainments; and in the Coronation of 1911 she shares the honours, attending the State receptions in Dublin, Edinburgh, and Wales, and in that great culmination of the event, the Coronation Durbar in India.
The superior position of the queen-consort is in marked contrast to that of the husband of a queen regnant. He receives no crown, no sceptre, no ring, and is accorded no regal position in the Coronation ceremony of his wife. We may take, for example, the rather pitiable figure made by Prince George of Denmark at the Coronation of Queen Anne. No chair of state or throne was provided for him near to that of his wife in the sacrarium; he sat at the head of the peers in virtue of his secondary title of Duke of Cumberland, and as such knelt in homage to the Queen.
Anne's is the only case on record of a queen regnant being crowned in the presence of her consort, if we except Mary and William, who were crowned as equal sovereigns; but the same inequality is observable between consorts who were married to a monarch already crowned. While a queen consort was almost invariably crowned after her marriage, the custom was not observed when the regal consort was a man.
Women took a conspicuous part in the Royal progress from the Tower through London on the eve of the Coronation, which was customary in olden times. The Coronation procession of Mary Tudor was remarkable for the number of her own sex who took part in it, as indeed was natural, seeing that she was a maiden monarch, and the first queen regnant of these realms.
A picturesque office held by women at coronations in the past was that of herb strewers. It was customary for the king's herb woman, attended by her maids, to go in advance of the procession along Westminster Hall to the Abbey, strewing herbs and flowers for their Majesties to walk upon.
The herb women performed their office at the Coronation of each of the former Georges. They made a very pretty feature at the Coronation of George IV., wearing wreaths upon their heads, and garlands of flowers about their dresses. That was the last occasion on which they performed their quaint and beautiful office. William IV. and the good Queen Adelaide determined, as times were hard, to have as little expense as possible at their Coronation, and the herb women and the banquet in Westminster Hall, with its old rites and ceremonies, were abandoned, and have not since been revived.
The place given to women in the Coronation of Queen Victoria seems surprisingly small when we consider that she was in the first blush of maidenhood, a figure of sweet, attractive femininity, beloved by all the women in the land, and chivalrously adored by the sex which had not the honour to belong to that of the Queen. Her dainty feet should certainly have walked to the Coronation altar over June roses and sweet smelling thyme.
The Coronation of Queen Victoria.
The Queen receiving Holy Communion from the Archbishop of York, attended by her train-bearers, the Mistress of the Robes, and ladies of her household
From the painting by Sir George Hayler
Doubtless it would have gratified her maiden fancy to have had herb women strewing the way with flowers, but precedents are iron-bound things, and because it had pleased the middle-aged William IV. and Queen Adelaide to dispense with the herb women and with the processions of peeresses, these features were not revived for the Coronation of the girl-queen.
She had, however, train-bearers of her own sex and was further attended by her Mistress of the Robes, the stately Harriet, Duchess of Sutherland, who rode in the State coach with her Royal mistress, and by the various ladies of her household-six Ladies of the Bedchamber, eight Maids of Honour, and eight Women of the Bedchamber. In the grand procession up the Abbey the Princesses of the Royal blood walked in their places. First came the
Queen's mother, the Duchess of Kent, followed by her Majesty's aunts, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Gloucester, dressed in robes of purple velvet, their trains borne by pages. Four duchesses held the canopy over the Queen at her anointing.
It has invariably been the office of women to hold the canopy over the queens during their anointing, and to attend them for the rearrangement of their attire, not always a sinecure, for in the olden times the prelates were given to deal generously with the oil, and the queen's ladies had to dry the places where she had been anointed with cotton-wool.
With the Coronation of King Edward and Queen Alexandra, we reach a period when women figure but slightly in the actual pageant. The Queen's train was borne by eight pages, and the only ladies who had a place in the grand procession up the Abbey were the Duchess of Buccleuch, Mistress of the Robes, technically chief train-bearer, and four Ladies of the Bedchamber, four Women of the Bedchamber, and four Maids of Honour.
The latter passed to their appointed seats in the Abbey, but the Mistress of the Robes attended the Queen to the scene of the Coronation, and stood behind her chair of State, the four peeresses appointed for the services of the anointing being the Duchess of Portland, Duchess of Sutherland, Duchess of Marlborough, and Duchess of Montrose, who were summoned by the Deputy Garter to hold the rich pall of cloth of gold over the kneeling figure of the Queen before the altar while the Archbishop of York anointed her with the sacred oil.
At the Coronation of George V. and Queen Mary the old custom has been revived of having young ladies of the nobility as train-bearers, Queen Mary having a preference for being attended by those of her own sex.
The King's Herb-woman, Miss Fellowes, with her six maidens, strewing the way with herbs at the coronation of George IV. This was the last occasion on which this quaint and picturesque custom was observed