Extravagance, crowds and blunders: the coronation of Queen Victoria
The young Queen Victoria described 28 June 1838 as “the proudest in my life”, when the people of Britain celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. Ellie Cawthorne describes the events of the coronation, including the bits that did not go to plan...
On June 28, 1838, Victoria was woken at 4 a.m. by the sound of ceremonial guns. As the young queen tried, and failed, to get some more sleep before her coronation ceremony later that day, crowds began to throng the streets outside, bells pealed and bands struck up.
Desperate to catch a glimpse of their new monarch, an estimated 400,000 visitors had flocked to London to witness the celebrations. After a succession of old kings, the public was captivated by their new 19-year-old queen.
“The crowds exceeded what I have ever seen,” Queen Victoria recorded in her journal – “millions of my loyal subjects, assembled in every spot. Their good humour and excessive loyalty was beyond everything. I really cannot say how proud I felt to be the queen of such a nation.”
Where was Queen Victoria's coronation
The coronation itself was a five-hour spectacle in the stately surroundings of Westminster Abbey. At £79,000, the extravagant pageant cost more than double that of Victoria’s predecessor, William IV. Wearing sumptuous red and gold coronation robes, the queen was assisted by eight train-bearers dressed in white satin with silver wreaths and pink roses in their hair.
The new imperial state crown placed on her head glimmered with more than 3,000 diamonds, sapphires and other precious gemstones. Luckily, Victoria’s fears “that the Archbishop would not put on the crown properly and well” proved to be unfounded.
More like this
The archbishop injured Victoria’s hand by jamming the coronation ring onto the wrong finger, causing her 'great pain'
What went wrong at Queen Victoria's coronation
Yet the under-rehearsed ceremony did not go entirely as planned. An elderly peer fell down on the abbey steps, prompting satirists to joke “Lord Rolle was rolling.” In response, Victoria rose from her throne and advanced down the steps to meet him, noted by the diarist Charles Greville as “an act of graciousness and kindness which made a great sensation.”
In another incident noted in the queen’s diary, the archbishop injured Victoria’s hand by jamming the coronation ring onto the wrong finger, causing her “great pain”.
- Read more | Dan Jones on how to be a successful monarch
Despite these mishaps, the queen remained calm, reassured by the presence of her friend and mentor, prime minister Lord Melbourne, who stayed close to her throughout. After the ceremony, the tired but jubilant new queen enjoyed a royal banquet before watching fireworks from the palace balcony.
“The enthusiasm, affection, and loyalty were really touching,” she recorded in her diary that evening. “I shall ever remember this day as the proudest in my life.”
This article was first published in the special edition, Elizabeth and Victoria, by BBC History Magazine
Ellie Cawthorne is HistoryExtra’s podcast editor. She also contributes to BBC History Magazine, runs the podcast newsletter and hosts several live and virtual BBC History Magazine events.