Alexandra of Denmark, and Emperor of India, Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Temple, coronation, Edward VII, King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions, Koh-i-Noor Diamond, perityphlitis, Westminster Abbey
Edward VII (Albert Edward; November 9, 1841 – May 6, 1910) was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from January 22, 1901 until his death in 1910.
The eldest son of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and nicknamed “Bertie”, Edward was related to royalty throughout Europe. He was Prince of Wales and heir apparent to the British throne for almost 60 years.
During the long reign of his mother, he was largely excluded from political influence and came to personify the fashionable, leisured elite. He travelled throughout Britain performing ceremonial public duties and represented Britain on visits abroad. His tours of North America in 1860 and of the Indian subcontinent in 1875 proved popular successes, but despite public approval, his reputation as a playboy prince soured his relationship with his mother.
When Queen Victoria died on 22 January 1901, Edward became King of the United Kingdom, Emperor of India and, in an innovation, King of the British Dominions. He chose to reign under the name of Edward VII, instead of Albert Edward—the name his mother had intended for him to use—declaring that he did not wish to “undervalue the name of Albert” and diminish the status of his father with whom the “name should stand alone”.
The numeral VII was occasionally omitted in Scotland, even by the national church, in deference to protests that the previous Edwards were English kings who had “been excluded from Scotland by battle”. J. B. Priestley recalled, “I was only a child when he succeeded Victoria in 1901, but I can testify to his extraordinary popularity. He was in fact the most popular king England had known since the earlier 1660s.”
The 1838 coronation of Queen Victoria, Edward VII’s mother and predecessor, had been an unrehearsed and somewhat lacklustre event in the Abbey, though the newly extended street procession and celebrations around the country had been a great popular success.
The success of Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees had created the expectation that Edward’s coronation would be an expression of the nation’s status as a great imperial power. In December 1901, an Executive Coronation Committee was formed, whose leading member, Viscount Esher, worked closely with the King to set the agenda for the event.
Esher had been responsible for organising the Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and was one of the driving forces behind the renewed enthusiasm for royal ceremonial. The position of Director of Music was given to Sir Frederick Bridge, the organist and choirmaster at Westminster Abbey; the first Abbey organist since Henry Purcell to be given that role. Bridge had successfully transformed the quality of music at the Abbey and had directed the music at the Golden Jubilee, for which he had been made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order.
Illness and postponement
By the time of his accession, the 59-year-old Edward was overweight and fond of large meals and cigars. He launched himself into his new role, but his first busy months on the throne were bedevilled by a succession of illnesses and injuries. On June 23, three days before the date set for the coronation, Edward and his wife, Alexandra of Denmark, returned from Windsor Castle to Buckingham Palace in preparation.
Foreign journalists noted that he appeared “worn and pale” and was leaning heavily on his cane. That evening, the King and Queen hosted a formal dinner for seventy British and overseas royal guests.
On the following day at noon, a telegram marked “OFFICIAL” was dispatched around the Empire, with the news that the coronation was postponed and that the King was undergoing an operation. Shortly afterwards, a bulletin was released from Edward’s medical team, stating that “The King is suffering from perityphlitis.
The condition on Saturday was so satisfactory that it was hoped that with care His Majesty would be able to go through the Coronation ceremonies. On Monday evening a recrudescence became manifest, rendering a surgical operation necessary today”. It was undersigned by, among others, Lord Lister and Sir Frederick Treves, who actually carried out the operation on a table in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, to drain his abdominal cyst.
On June 26 itself, a “solemn service of intercession” was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, which was attended by many of the British and foreign dignitaries who were in London for the coronation. Although workmen immediately received instructions to begin dismantling the wooden stands that had been erected along the route of the procession, Edward was insistent that regional celebrations and a planned “Coronation Dinner for the Poor of London” should go ahead.
Organized by Sir Thomas Lipton, 500,000 dinners were served to Londoners on July 5 at 800 locations around the capital. The King personally contributed £30,000 towards the cost and there were donations by commercial companies and wealthy individuals. The confectionery maker Rowntree’s provided each diner with a tin of chocolate and a rather better one for the 60,000 people who had acted as stewards, on the grounds that they would “be of greater influence socially than the poor”.
Many people had intended to watch the coronation procession, and rooms along the planned route had been rented out at high rates for the expected day of the coronation. The postponement of the coronation led to many demands for refunds on the rental contracts, resulting in the “Coronation cases”, which set an important precedent in the doctrine of frustration of purpose in the English common law of contract.
he contents of the service itself had been carefully selected to ensure that its spiritual character was maintained, while keeping the ceremony as brief as possible. The draft was mainly the work of Randall Davidson, the Bishop of Winchester.
The service was conducted by the elderly and infirm Archbishop of Canterbury, Frederick Temple, who died before the end of the year. He steadfastly refused to delegate any part of his duties and had to be supported throughout by two other bishops. Because of his failing eyesight, the text of the service had to be printed in gigantic type onto rolls of paper called “prompt scrolls”; they are preserved in the Lambeth Palace Library.
Archbishop Temple provided most of the upsets in an otherwise splendid ceremony; he was unable to rise after kneeling to pay homage and had to be helped up by the King himself and several bishops, he placed the crown back-to-front on the King’s head, and when a colleague enquired after his well-being, he was told to “go away!” in a loud voice that was plainly heard by the congregation.
The King also deviated from the order of service; when the Prince of Wales touched the Crown and kissed his father’s left cheek in the traditional gesture of homage, the King rose to his feet and threw his arms around his son’s neck in an unusual display of affection. Another disruption came from the King’s sister, Princess Beatrice, who noisily, albeit accidentally, dropped her service book from the royal gallery onto a gold-plate table.
Because he was still convalescing, Edward had been crowned with the Imperial State Crown instead of the heavier St Edward’s Crown. Alexandra was crowned immediately after her husband by William Dalrymple Maclagan, Archbishop of York, with a new crown containing the Koh-i-Noor diamond.