King Edward VII's Coronation

Flora Maguire returns to Cheltenham in the second book in the series. It is summer of 1902 and the country is celebrating the coronation of a new king.

When Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901, after nearly 64 years as Queen, her son, Albert Edward assumed the throne as Edward VII at the age of 59.  His was the longest service as Prince of Wales in history, only surpassed by Prince Charles on April 22, 2011.

Victoria and her son had a difficult relationship, with different approaches to both duty and life. 'Bertie' as he was known was the first royal heir to attend university, studying Chemical Engineering at Cambridge.

Prince Albert died of typhoid handling one of Edward’s first scandals, and Victoria blamed Bertie for his death and said of Edward : “I never can or shall look at him without a shudder.”

Bertie fulfilled most of the widowed queen’s ceremonial duties, although he was forbidden from seeing State Papers. His coronation was planned for June 26, 1902, a year after his ascension. It had been so long since the last coornoation, the courtiers had to refer to old records as they had no idea how a coronation should proceed.  The ceremony was to be held at Westmineter Abbey with a banquet which would include 2500 quails, and hundreds of chickens, partridges, and sturgeons.

Viewing stands were erected by local businesses along the route and had purchased refreshments to sell to the crowd- St. George’s hospital had spent £2000 on building stands (about £200,000 in today’s currency), and another £500 on refreshments.  By mid-June, London’s hotels were full as the crowned heads of Europe arrived, most of them related to ‘Bertie’

On Saturday June 14, the king woke with lower abdominal pain.  His physician, Sir Francis Laking, was summoned, and by noon the King was feeling better and set out on a planned weekend excursion with Queen Alexandra to the Royal Pavilion at Aldershot, about sixty miles southwest of London. That evening the King and Queen attended a military tattoo, after which the king’s abdominal pain returned along with a fever.

Sir Francis Laking arrived at Aldershot early that morning, by which time the king had developed rigors and increasing pain. Laking consulted with Thomas Barlow, another physician and Mr. Alfred Fripp, a surgeon at Guy’s Hospital, and the King’s personal surgeon since 1897. Lord Victor Crichton was also summoned by Laking and boarded the royal train at Waterloo for Aldershot, but was intercepted by a telegram recalling the summons as the King was feeling better. The King was annoyed a surgeon had been sent for, concerned about the rumours which would begin  so close to the coronation date.

On Monday, June 16, the King, after consultation with Drs. Laking and Barlow travelled to the Royal Palace at Windsor by carriage. He was heavily medicated, leaving the Queen to review the troops in his stead. He rallied at Windsor, but continued to have intermittent fevers.  On Tuesday, June 17, Sir Francis Laking again advised consulting with a surgeon,but the king wouldn't hear of it. Laking stayed to persuade him and finally, he agreed   Edward “confessed that the company of his physician had its limits,” and agreed to see Mr Frederick Treves, Surgeon-Sergeant to the King, and a surgeon at London Hospital.

Mr. Treves examined the King for the first time on Wednesday, June 18, and advised rest, after which the King improved.  By Saturday, June 21, the King’s fever had gone and the swelling in his abdomen was nearly resolved.  By this time rumours of the King’s illness began to circulate, but when the Press Council asked for confirmation Sir Francis Knollys sent out a response which  said, “Windsor Castle, - Not a word of truth in reports. – Knollys.”

By Monday, June 23, the King returned to Buckingham Palace and that evening attended another grand pre-coronation State dinner. An eight-course meal including quails, saddle of lamb, ortolans, consume, gateau, ices, and anchovy canap├ęs and different wines served with each course.

By the early morning on Tuesday, June 24th, the King’s fever had returned, along with the pain and abdominal mass.  Urgent consultations were obtained with Drs. Laking, Barlow, and Mr. Treves, but also with the two most eminent surgeons in the realm, Lord Lister and Sir Thomas Smith, all of whom were in agreement that the King required emergency surgery for appendicitis.

The King refused; and was reputed to have said, "I shall go to the Abbey,” with Dr Treves responding, “then you shall go as a corpse.”  The King finally agreed and Frederick Hewitt was summoned to Buckingham Palace, where an operating theatre was created, in the billiard room. Some accounts say the king knighted his doctors before his surgery, though others that this happened afterwards.

The King had had a 48inch waistline, was a heavy smoker with bronchitis, and suffered obstructive apnoea with the anaesthetic and turned purple with hypoxia. Sir Frederick took hold of the King’s beard and pulled his chin forward, opening the airway enabling him to breathe again:

Sir Frederick Treves removed a large abscess and the King emerged from the operating room at 2:00pm. The next day he was “sitting up in bed smoking a cigar.” Within two weeks it was clear he would make a full recovery.

The crowds that had descended upon London for the Coronation dispersed, and the crowned heads of Europe returned home. The enormous amount of food obtained for the celebrations was quietly packed off to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the charities in London’s East End all reported enormous largesse to distribute amongst the poor, who “had never eaten so well.”

The Coronation was rescheduled for August 9th, although the majority of the King’s extended family did not return for the new date. The ceremony was simplified to accommodate the recovering king, who was well enough to physically support the 80-year-old and ailing Archbishop of Canterbury. He even assisted the frail cleric to his feet at one point.  After the ceremony, the King was asked whether he was tired, and he replied, “Wonderfully, I am not.”

Painting of the Coronation by Edwin Austin Abbey
Most English towns held their own celebrations, from bonfires, to tree planting, concerts showing of Georges Melies’ film etc. Cheltenham held a tree planting ceremony plus concerts and a showing of Melies film. In the Cotswolds village of Bourton-on-the-Water, villagers set up goalposts in the section of the River Windrush that runs through the centre of the village for a riotous game of football.  The tradition of ‘football in the river’ has been played every August Bank Holiday since, with two teams of six play in knee-deep water for fifteen minutes each way and ends with a fair on the green.

Football In The River
King Edward's reign lasted only nine years, but he was charming, a bon viveur, fastidious about his dress, and a notorious royal womaniser with a reputed 50 extra-marital affairs to his name. He was also involved in two divorces but was adored by his wife, Queen Alexandra and was an affectionate father, possibly due to his mother’s disinterest in him as a boy.

Film of Coronation Procession

The coronation inside the Abbey was not filmed, but the director Georges Melies made a film using actors which was shown in cinemas round the country.

George Melies' Film 



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