It’s Coronation Day for Charles II

On 23rd April 1661, King Charles II was crowned at Westminster Abbey, and I thought that I would write a little something about it. Just because you know, I think ole Charlie is rather fab.

The night before his Coronation, Charles took part in the traditional procession from the Tower of London to Whitehall, treading the same route as previous Kings. He was however, the last English Monarch to take part in this traditional procession. It started early, and everyone was mustered on Tower Hill at 8am on the morning of 22nd April. The diarist John Evelyn commented that the horses mustered there acted elegantly, which had to be a good thing as the horses were not allowed to be unruly or prove to be a menace. Samuel Pepys (another diarist close to my heart!) commented more so on the houses that lined the procession route, taking note of the rich carpets hanging out of their windows. Good old Samuel Pepys would also prove himself to be a bit of a party animal after the Coronation, getting himself stinking drunk! But more on that later. What’s more, the streets ran with wine as Charles rode through the streets towards Westminster, stopping to watch plays set up in his honour. And along the way, it is said that Charles stopped at St Paul’s, in front of a tavern to kiss the head of a newborn infant!

On 23rd, Coronation Day, Charles made his way to Westminster Abbey. And at 11am Charles entered the Abbey, with his periwigged head bare but he was dressed in full Coronation regalia of ermine, crimson and gold. There was just one problem, during Oliver Cromwell’s time as Protector during the Interregnum, the Coronation adornments had been melted down including the famous crown of King Edward. The goldsmith Sir Robert Vyner came to the rescue however, replacing each piece exactly as it had been at a price of £30,000. The newly made regalia was carried before Charles as he made his way towards the front of the Abbey, with prominent nobles bearing the Crown (Ormond), the Sceptre (Albermarle), The Orb (Buckingham) and the Sword (Shrewsbury). Once they reached the altar, these were laid on top of it and Buckingham, Albermarle, Berkshire and Sandwich held a great cloth of gold over Charles’ head for the annointing ceremony.

At the end of the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the Crown upon Charles’ head and according to Pepys “a great shout began” – can you imagine the sound, and how it must have felt standing upon the Altar in that huge Abbey as your entire audience shouted in happiness at the return of their King? It must have been utterly brilliant! The nobles of the realm then lined up before their King to swear fealty, rising to touch the King’s crown and promising to be ever ready to support it. The Lord Chancellor then read out a General Pardon to all those who had fought against the monarchy in the previous years, and medals were thrown into the air – these medals showed an engraving of an oak, a poignant look back to Charles’ escape from Worcester.

Following this, the party moved across to Westminster Hall. There, in the great space where his father had faced trial, Charles II attended a massive banquet in his honour, watched by his subjects on massive scaffolds built around the room. The space was then filled with music, dancing and feasting and even the weather held out for them. Well, until at about 6pm in the evening a huge thunder storm began and the rain came down in sheets. This meant cancelling the fireworks, although in the streets the celebratory bonfires still raged.

It was at one of these bonfire parties that Samuel Pepys and his wife began to drink to the King’s health. After a while, and after a lot of drinking, Pepys sent his wife home and moved on to one of his friends where they continued drinking. They continued drinking “til one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk and lay there spewing”. A very tipsy Pepys staggered to his friend Sandwich’s house where he woke up to find this he was vomiting too. And he wrote in his diary, “Thus did the day end with joy everywhere”.

The Coronation of Charles II heralded a new era to his people, they had come out of years of darkness at the hand of Oliver Cromwell and had restored their rightful monarch to his throne. And Charles would end up, for the most part, being loved by his people. And what a great start to his reign it was, filled with joy, parties and a very drunk Samuel Pepys!

Further Reading

Fraser A, 1979, King Charles II, Butler & Tanner: London
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man, Faber & Faber: London

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