In the late 1980s, French President Francois Mitterand ordered a new look for a centuries old museum and palace – the Louvre, in the heart of Paris. Mitterand basically stuck a huge glass pyramid in front of a venerable building dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Today, you take the pyramid for granted. At the time – this modernist structure was loved and despised in equal measure. But nobody imagined that over a decade later, the Louvre pyramid would be depicted as the final burial place of Mary Magdalene – the companion of Jesus!
Thanks to American author Dan Brown, the glass pyramid attained a mystical significance that escaped everybody at its unveiling in 1989. Back then, it was one of the President’s grand projects to beautify the city. Costing an eye watering US$850 million at the currency value of the time and taking six years to complete. Designed by the Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, it was intended to ensure that the Louvre would emerge as the biggest museum in the world.
Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene, and the Louvre
Now strictly speaking – before Dan Brown lovers scream me off the stage – Mary Magdalene, according to his novel The Da Vinci Code, is not buried under the pyramid you see soaring above ground but a sister pyramid that is inverted.
This is a nearby accompanying pyramid whose large glass base is in the Place Du Carrousel. So, at the end of the Da Vinci Code movie, when you see Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) having his moment of realisation – it’s happening as he walks across glass panes that form the flat base of the inverted pyramid.
He has deduced that Mary Magdalene is buried under this chalice-like shape of a pyramid. Suggestive of the female womb as has been heavily hinted throughout with upturned V-shapes being male phalluses and the reverse being female. Its subterranean tip meets the top of another much shorter pyramid as you can see in my video below. It’s beneath THAT third pyramid, were you can find Mary Magdalene.
I’m an avid collector of old newspapers going right back to the one page news sheets of the late 17th century. Over the years, I’ve held on to contemporary newspapers when their front pages are massively compelling. Such was the case on the 31 August 1997 as I returned in a mini-cab from a night out clubbing in London to hear that Princess Diana had been involved in a serious car crash in Paris. Through the night I got hold of the tabloid papers as they printed updated editions every hour right up to the moment that her death was confirmed.
I’ve not shown these newspapers before because even two decades later – it seemed far too sensitive. But with a quarter of a century now gone by, I’m sharing them here for you to see. However, handling these newspapers and looking at the headlines still sends a chill down my spine.
The death of Al Fayed – but not Princess Diana
At 2am, the News of the World reported sensationally that Princess Diana’s “boyfriend” Dodi Al Fayed had been killed while Diana “suffered serious neck injuries”. The driver of their Mercedes had also been killed. The Prefect of Paris police confirmed that the accident had happened as Diana’s car was chased by press photographers on motorbikes.
The car was in such bad shape that the police thought it was miraculous that anybody survived. At that stage of the night, the ambulance crew attended to the “partly conscious” princess. The French radio station RTL reported that a photographer sat by the roadside nearby “distressed after seeing the serious condition of Princess Diana”. I reproduce that front page below.
By 3am, the Sunday Mirror was still of the view that while Dodi Al Fayed was dead, Princess Diana was “terribly hurt” but still alive. Al Fayed had been given a heart massage next to the car but could not be revived. The newspaper called its update on the situation an “emergency edition” – shown below.
The death of Princess Diana is announced
Then at 6am, the News of the World dropped its usual red-coloured banner and went entirely black on the front page in what it called a “shock issue” of the newspaper to announce that Princess Diana was dead. She had died at around 3am London time.
I was working at the BBC in the late 1990s as a news producer – what they called a ‘Senior Broadcast Journalist’. So, going into work I was confronted by a hive of activity as the BBC went into full rolling news mode. This, by the way, was still the early days of 24 hour news and the coverage was on the main BBC channels as it would only be in November 1997 that the 24-hour news channel was launched – on which I was an early producer.
One newspaper that shall remain nameless decided not to lead with the Diana story on the grounds, I assume, that they thought it was too tacky. Or maybe populist. Anyway, the prize for claiming the moral high ground for that pompous newspaper was unsold copies piled up in the supermarkets and newsagents.
The death of Princess Diana in August 1997 left the country numbed but few of us anticipated the outpouring of very public grief from a sizeable part of the population. As with the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II, it revealed emotions around the monarchy that can bubble up to the surface in the event of such a tragedy.
In July 1821, George IV was crowned as king of the United Kingdom at Westminster Abbey. The event was a riot of glitzy kitsch with no expense spared that went some way to establishing the model for the modern coronation. But it was a comical – or rather tragicomic – day that saw George’s own queen barred from the event while he sweated inside under the weight of extravagant robes of his own design.
Meanwhile, the streets of London saw both celebration and civil unrest.
No expense was spared for this royal event. King George IV spent twenty times more than his father’s coronation had cost. My calculation allowing for inflation was that he splashed out £25million in today’s money. Though half the cost was covered by reparations imposed on France which had been defeated six years earlier in the wars against its emperor Napoleon. George viewed himself as the conqueror of France and his coronation was a kind of victory lap.
I’ve gathered many of the following details about the coronation and events around it from contemporary newspaper accounts.
A feast of bling at the coronation of King George
The coronation crown was the largest item of royal bling ever created. It included a staggering 12,314 diamonds! After the coronation, George IV pressured parliament into buying the massive bauble but MPs and Lords said no. Gradually stripped of its jewels over the years, the unloved crown went on a curious journey ending up at the Museum of London in the 20th century, then Asprey the jewellers, then the Sultan of Brunei, and finally into the Royal Collection which has placed its forlorn remnant in the Tower of London.
But George didn’t have just one crown fashioned for his coronation. Another item of stunning headwear made for the event was the Diamond Diadem, which has been worn by queens and queens consort at coronations ever since. Most famously, it was worn by the late Elizabeth II when she modelled for the iconic stamps we knew and used for decades in this country to send our mail. Here it is pictured below (article continues after this image).
At George’s coronation, all the nobility were ordered to have special clothes tailored copying Tudor and Stuart designs. This was English history cosplay on a grand scale. The king’s own coronation robe was 27 feet long and needed to be carried by nine pages. It was later sent to the waxwork museum Madame Tussauds. During the proceedings, George perspired profusely under his ridiculously rich and heavy attire.
King George’s queen excluded from the coronation
The Times newspaper noted the George IV’s coronation followed the structure of his father’s crowning sixty years later but there were huge differences. For a start, King George III was crowned alongside his wife as queen. In stark contrast, George IV’s estranged wife Queen Caroline was excluded from the coronation. She was reduced to banging on the doors of the abbey which were slammed in her face and at one point, guards stuck their bayonets under the queen’s chin to make the point she wasn’t welcome. Broken by this humiliating ordeal, Queen Caroline died three weeks later!
There were riots by supporters of the queen in London which meant that whereas the coronation of George III required 3,000 troops to maintain order – the enthronement of his son saw 20,000 troops on the streets. Having failed to be crowned alongside her husband, Queen Caroline petitioned the Archbishop of Canterbury to have her own coronation a week later while the abbey was still suitably decorated. Needless to say, that didn’t happen.
A wave of national apathy for the coronation of King George
On 28 July 1821, The Morning Chronicle took stock of the coronation that had happened just ten days before. It mocked the “court journals” that had drooled over this “pompous” ceremony without pointing out “the perfect apathy with which it has been regarded by the great body of the people of England”. The newspaper remarked that so indifferent were the masses that it would be a topic of study for future historians.
What The Morning Chronicle believed it was witnessing was something stirring deep in the national soul – against the monarchy:
“Superficial observers may think temporary causes sufficient to account for it; but an indifference so marked and universal – so entire a want of sympathy on the part of the people with those observances, which in the hands of their feudal tyrants were at once the instruments of gratification and delusion, can only be fairly ascribed to causes of a more general and permanent operation.”
Instead of inspiring awe, the pomp and pageantry had many wondering gloomily how much it was going to cost. The newspaper was concerned that after a century of reining in royal power, King George was showing signs of old-style absolutist monarchy and his ministers, who should have been able to control him, had allowed this grandiose coronation to take place.
“The truth is that the whole thing is out of date and the attempt at transferring the forms of chivalry to the cold realities of a modern court produces all the effects of a ‘travesti’.”
This newspaper assumed a much bigger figure for the true cost of the coronation than the one I gave above from other sources. It estimated half a million pounds which at today’s value is an eye watering £53.7 million. The Morning Chronicle believed that downscaling the coronation to a simple oath taking would have saved the Treasury what it lost in revenue from the recent abolition of the Agricultural Horse Tax.
Crowds leave the coronation of King George for baser amusements
Once King George IV’s procession had entered Westminster Abbey, most of those outside departed hastily for Green Park according to The Observer newspaper. The reason being that a certain Mr Green was to ascend in a large hot air balloon as a stunt to celebrate the coronation. Watching this daredevil act of bravery enthralled the crowd more than the crowning of the king. There was some concern as Mr Green ascended until he was entirely lost from view eventually managing to descend again near South Mimms in the county of Essex.
At sunset, an estimated half a million people descended on Hyde Park to watch a firework display. This included an “illuminated transparency” of King George IV drawn in a carriage by “milk white horses”. According to one account, whole oxen and sheep were roasted in Hyde Park to feed the multitude.
I live close to an area of south London still called Vauxhall. Before the Victorians stuck a railway line through it, this was a centre of public entertainment. The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens saw the city’s glitterati rubbing shoulders with politicians, entertainers, thieves, prostitutes, and thrill seekers attracted by a night of entertainments. For the king’s coronation, Vauxhall witnessed a huge masked ball.
The Morning Chronicle newspaper listed what visitors could expect to experience. Ramo Samee was a celebrity magician from India whose act included fire eating, sword swallowing, and a curious trick that involved swallowing beads followed by a string and then regurgitating a strung necklace. The equally renowned Mr Wilson would perform on the tightrope. A performance of Italian marionettes called the Fantoccini and a Chinese shadow puppet show called the Ombres Chinoises would also feature that evening.
Ten years later, King George IV breathed his last – one of the least mourned monarchs to ever sit on the throne. It was up to Queen Victoria to bring some dignity and respect back to an institution that could very easily have not survived the 19th or early 20th century.
Now that Charles III is King – he takes over the royal palaces and that includes an impressive Tudor spread just outside London called Hampton Court Palace. A royal residence seized from its original owner Cardinal Wolsey by his boss, King Henry VIII. He expanded it into the incredible series of structures you see today.
I visited in April 2022 – fifty-two years after I went as a child (see my film below). It’s as magical today as it was in 1970. Though the way it’s presented has changed a bit. But all the main features are still very much in evidence. The cavernous kitchens that served jumbo-sized meals to courtiers and the king twice a day. The manicured gardens with the maze that delights children. And the great vine for gardening enthusiasts.
The palace is closely associated with three of Henry’s wives. The intertwined letters A and H you can see carved at certain points refers to the thousand days in which Henry took Anne Boleyn to be his second queen. After arranging for Anne to be beheaded with a sword on charges of treason, the overbearing monarch married Jane Seymour but she died in childbirth at Hampton Court.
Wife number five was the teenage Catherine Howard who was put under effective house arrest at this palace after being accused of adultery. She would also lose her head. As a child I remember a guide at Hampton Court telling us that her ghost could still be heard imploring the king in high pitched screams to forgive her indiscretions. He didn’t.
A century later, and King Charles the first was imprisoned in his own palace at the end of a civil war that had pitched royalists against parliamentarians. The king managed to escape as he knew his own palace and its various exit points. But was recaptured and executed outside the Banqueting House in London. The Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell – who headed up Britain’s first and only period as a republic of sorts – lived at Hampton Court enjoying its regal splendour.
But as you’ll see in the film below, that splendour wore thin by the end of the 1600s with King William III setting out to demolish the entire palace and rebuild it in the baroque style. He got half way there. So today, you have the remains of a Tudor palace bolted on to a grand Versailles-style edifice. It’s a curious stylistic jumble.
In 1737, King George II gave up on the place preferring Kensington Palace while George III developed what would become Buckingham Palace. It remains a royal palace and part of the new king’s palatial portfolio but it’s managed to be passed on as opposed to Charles III having any power to change it in any way.
Regular visitors to the blog know that I have a huge archive of old books and newspapers stretching back 300 years. And one dusty, crumbling specimen is a photo album published for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.
It includes images that reveal a Britain that is at once familiar and very different. In this most royal of weeks, leading up to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II as I write, let me share some of these images with explanations. They are a fascinating insight into England 120 years ago.
The first scene below is in front of Buckingham Palace. The building may look a bit unfamiliar because in 1913, sixteen years later, a new Portland stone facade was slapped on the front of the palace to match the gleaming white Victoria memorial in front and to create a more impressive backdrop for royal events. Behind the facade is the original palace that was built throughout the first half of the 19th century.
What we see is an honour guard of sailors on the left and “blue jackets” on the right who may look like police but – and correct me if I’m wrong – were actually sailors as well, sent to put down the Boxer Rebellion in China amongst other things.
With the next image, we glimpse Queen Victoria leaving for her Diamond Jubilee procession. Note that today’s impressive railings around the palace are absent and obviously the memorial to Victoria mentioned above isn’t there either as she was still very much alive. The Mall has yet to be turned into the wide roadway we see in 2022.
Below we get a view of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee procession going through the City of London near the Bank of England and Mansion House. In the foreground towards the left you can see a large group of ‘Bluecoat’ boys from Christ’s Hospital school. The pupils were from poorer backgrounds. The school was founded by King Edward VI in 1552.
It was housed in the remains of a Franciscan monastery shut down during the Protestant Reformation of Henry VIII. Five years after this photo was taken the boys were moved to a new school outside London ending centuries of being based in the middle of the city. The school is still thriving and today admits girls.
The next image has the Diamond Jubilee procession heading down Pall Mall towards Trafalgar Square and a huge multi-level stand has been erected at the junction. Of particular interest is the reference to “various West Indian regiments” as these could have come from Jamaica, Barbados, and other Caribbean colonies, which now are questioning their future in the Commonwealth following the death of Queen Elizabeth II who was still their head of state.
Finally, Queen Victoria arrives at St Paul’s cathedral, which remains an iconic presence on the London skyline. The masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren, constructed after the Great Fire of 1666 that incinerated the ancient medieval cathedral. The buildings to the right are mostly still there but elsewhere around the cathedral, the Blitz of the Second World War levelled a great number of buildings.
Note the amount of soot on St Paul’s. I remember it took until the middle of the 1980s for London to be cleaned of all its soot revealing a very different city to the dark place I grew up in. Creamy exteriors we had previously thought to be pitch black.
At 6.30pm on 22 January 1901, Queen Victoria breathed her last aged 81. Like her descendant Queen Elizabeth II, she was at a favourite country residence, in this case Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. Victoria’s reign had spanned the 19th century, starting in 1837 though she would be out-reigned by Elizabeth. Her funeral would be the first that we would recognise as a modern royal event with massive attention to detail, long processional routes, and mass media coverage.
Whereas her immediate predecessors had confined the whole business of the funeral to Windsor, Queen Victoria was processed around London for maximum public view. Firstly, her coffin arrived by train at Victoria station. It was then taken along the streets of London to Buckingham Palace, then down the Mall turning at St James’s Palace, along Piccadilly to Hyde Park, up the Edgware Road, and eventually to Paddington station for the train to Windsor.
Her body ended up at the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore, just south of Windsor Castle, where she was laid to rest next to her long dead husband Prince Albert. Within her coffin, she was attired in her white wedding dress and veil, which is unusual as we often associate the older Queen Victoria with dowdy black.
Rather mawkishly, a plaster cast of Prince Albert’s hand was placed in hers alongside mementoes of John Brown, the Scottish personal assistant of Victoria who had enjoyed an unusually close relationship with the queen after her husband’s death. He had died in 1883.
In the year 1901, there were a lot more royal families ruling Europe than there are today. Germany, Austro-Hungary, Russia, Portugal, Italy, and many other countries still had monarchs. And many were related to Queen Victoria who was something of a matriarch to all these European royals.
The titles of those present reads like an article in the Tatler. The King of the Belgians and his Grand Marshal of the Court; Count de Bourboulon, Envoy Extraordinary of Prince Ferdinand of Bulgaria; the Hereditary Grand Duke of Baden; the Grand Duke of Saxe-Meiningen; and Count D’Avricourt, representing the Prince of Monaco. Also present were the King of the Hellenes, Grand Duke Michael of Russia, and the Crown Prince of Denmark.
The British Empire announces the death of Queen Victoria
As Queen Victoria ruled an empire that spanned the globe, announcements of her death were made in all the dominions and colonies. The Governor of New Zealand Lord Ranfurly had formerly been a member of the Queen’s personal staff and had hoped to re-enter her service. He was “deeply moved” according to The Times.
In Australia, the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Moran, and other senior clerics “preached powerful sermons eulogizing the Queen and her reign”. A day of mourning was proclaimed in India as Victoria was official the Empress of that country. Eighty-one-gun salutes, representing each year of her life, were fired throughout India.
South Africa, the bloody Boer Wars were still raging between the British Empire and two Boer republics. Queen Victoria’s military governor in the Orange River Colony pledged its allegiance to the new king, Edward VII. While in Pretoria, Lord Kitchener proclaimed the accession.
La Liberte newspaper in France reported on the “exchange of honours” between Victoria’s son, the new Edward VII, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who was Victoria’s grandson. But it warned that as Britain was now weakened by the war in South Africa, it had to be on its guard against the threat of war with a “great European nation or with the United States”. Just over a decade later, Britain would be at war with Germany – so prescient words indeed.
The cost of the funeral of Queen Victoria
In March 1901, a month after the funeral, the Daily Telegraph gave a breakdown of the funeral’s cost – which totalled £35,000. In today’s value, that would be: £4,781,513.49. Allowing for the recent spike in inflation. About £15k at 1901 value went on travel and accommodation for troops; £8.5k on entertaining royal and foreign guests; and £4,300 on hire of carriages, railway, and steamer expenses.
Below is a photograph of Queen Victoria not long after she died – viewer discretion is advised if you find this kind of image distasteful.
On 29 January 1820, King George III died bringing an end to a very long reign of sixty years, long surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II who was on the throne for seventy years. George III was Elizabeth’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. Because of intermarriage, they’re related in other ways too. Unlike the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, that of King George was a chaotic and disorganised affair as news reports of the time testify.
Aged 82 and after sixty years on the throne, King George III died at Windsor Castle. Once news had arrived in central London, the Privy Council descended on Carlton House, the extravagant home of his son the Prince Regent, who was about to become George IV. The new spendthrift monarch was set on demolishing Carlton House, deeming it wasn’t good enough for his new role.
He had long waited for his father to pass away and now was able to become the undisputed monarch.
According to The Observer, the body of his late father George III wasn’t embalmed in the “usual manner” but wrapped in cerecloth, a very medieval way of preserving the body. This involved binding the king’s body with strips of fabric impregnated with wax to exclude air and therefore decomposition.
The king had once been a hefty figure, generously proportioned. But The Observer reported that at death “the corpse of his Majesty exhibited a painful spectacle of the rapid decay which had previously taken place in his constitution. His once vigorous frame was reduced almost to the appearance of a skeleton”. For this reason, conventional embalming was deemed to be too difficult to perform on a body that had wasted away.
Tightly wrapped, the king was then placed in a mahogany coffin with an interior fold of white satin. This was then placed inside a lead coffin, which was then inserted into yet another mahogany coffin.
“The whole will finally be enclosed in the state coffin, which will be covered with crimson velvet, richly ornamented with gilt nails, and bearing the royal arms.”
On top of this funereal Russian nesting doll of multiple coffins was the following inscription:
Serenissimi Potentissimi et Excellentissimi Monarchae
Dei Gratia, Britanniarum Regis, Fidei Defensoris
Regis Hanoverae ac Brunsvici et Lunenburgi Ducis
Obiit xxix die Januarii. Anno Domini MDCCCXX
Aetatis sure LXXXII, Regnique sui LX
The funeral was to be in Windsor where George had died so he lay in state in the castle and was then removed to his tomb. This meant that vast crowds descended on this small town just outside London. The streets became a sea of confusion with a jumble of carriages and “jaded horses”. And things only got worse.
The chaotic funeral of King George III
There was little by way of crowd control and those who had come to gawp at George were not especially well behaved or dignified in their conduct:
“Males, females, and children, were huddled together in an indiscriminate mass and the shrieks of the latter as they were crushed against each other, or against the railing by which their numbers were confined, were so dreadful, that apprehensions were entertained of the most serious mischiefs, and many were extricated with difficulty from a state of the greatest peril.”
The Observer’s description is chilling and leaves a lot of unpleasantness to the imagination. Having emerged from that hell, mourners found themselves flung into another. At each entry point into another part of Windsor castle people were “sucked into the vortex of an impatient throng”. The report went on:
“It was a complete scramble, in which the infirmities of age, the delicate habits of many respectable and beautiful females, who were intermingled with the throng, and the helplessness of infancy, were alike disregarded.”
Ten years later, George III’s son George IV would die after just ten years on the throne. His passing was far less mourned, but some lessons had been learned from the chaotic scenes in 1820. And in 2022, we see a police operation around the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II that beggars belief in terms of scale and cost.
On June 26, 1830 – one of the most unpopular monarchs of England died. King George the Fourth breathed his last. And it seems that nobody particularly cared. This was possibly the worst royal funeral ever!
Goodbye to a hated king!
The Times published an astonishing commentary referring to George as a “pompous and secluded monarch” who had easily identifiable vices while his virtues were not in evidence. “There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king. What eye has wept for him? What heart has heaved one throb of unmercenary sorrow?”
It then went on to say: “If George IV ever had a friend – a devoted friend – in any rank of life, we protest that the name of him or her has not yet reached us.” The reason, the commentary continued, was his utter selfishness.
“Selfishness is the true repellent of human sympathy. Selfishness feels no attachment and invites none – it is the charnel-house of the affections.”
The London Medical Gazette pulled no punches on July 17, barely three weeks after the king’s death, detailing the “remarkable degree of obesity in the person of his late majesty”.
“We understand that the quantity of fat enveloping the several viscera in the person of his late Majesty was very great. An immense deposit was found about the kidneys, and the adipose matter seemed even to have pervaded the ‘intersfical’ texture of these glands.” There was so much fat around George’s heart, The Times was sure it had “oppressed its action to a considerable extent”.
When it came to reporting the king’s funeral a month later, The Times said it was required to cover the event “though at the sacrifice of more important matter”. “Our hearts sicken at the insincerity of the closed and darkened house, the dismal knell, and ‘all the forms, modes, and shows of grief’ wherewith the court sycophant bemoans departed majesty, and with obsequious bow, and smirking smiling face, rejoices in the event”.
The Morning Chronicle reported that on the day of the funeral ‘common-place jokes’ were being told by courtiers.
The whole lying in state and funeral was conducted at Windsor Castle which George IV had spent a vast amount of money refurbishing at a time when the country was in economic turmoil. We’re used to the idea of British royal occasions being perfectly stage managed but before Queen Victoria – this was not the case.
Both the funerals of George IV and his father George III were chaotic. At this funeral, both women and what were described as “effeminate” men complained loudly about the crush of the crowd. Once mourners found themselves by the coffin of the king, The Times noted that there was far less interest than there had been for king George III.
And on the streets of Windsor, “the only sign of mourning” was in what people were wearing. “There is no affectation of grief”, the Times reported, “no sound of lamentation in the street”. The procession to the king’s tomb was described as “more tumultuous than magnificent – more pretending than interesting”.
And quite shockingly to us after seeing the respect shown to Queen Elizabeth the Second – The Times noted that when the “Royal Body appeared, not a single mark of sympathy was exhibited”. The VIP guests found themselves seated without a view because royal servants and their friends who lived locally including carpenters and upholsterers had taken the best seats and refused to give them up.
London shut down as the funeral was a public holiday and people thronged the streets – especially Fleet Street and The Strand. But there were rowdy scenes. St James’s Church in Piccadilly held a special service for the king but only six people turned up. At St James’s Clerkenwell, the preacher condemned the king railing against the “voluptuousness of his companions” and his “habits of reckless expenditure”. He continued: “In no portion of his life was he fortunate in his choice of friends”.
As for George’s stormy relationship with his wife, “it would be well for the memory of his late Majesty if the alienation from the Queen formed no part of his history”.
Before the Royal Funeral – His Majesty’s grim death
Details of George’s final hours of life were given. Contrast that with the scant details provided about the last day of Queen Elizabeth II. King George IV was moved from his bed into a chair as death clearly approached with his fixed and his lips quivering. Attempts were made to revive him splashing Eau de Cologne on the royal face “and such stimulants as were at hand”.
The king tried to raise his hand to his chest and whispered: “Oh God, I am dying!”. Then after a few seconds: “This is death!”. The king’s doctors were not present but once they got to what was now a corpse, they noted his chest was “much swollen as well as the abdomen and legs” while the upper part of his body “exhibited all the appearances of extreme emaciation”.
Aside from heart disease, the king also had cancer and The Times described the lead up to his death with obvious relish: “The torture which the King must have suffered during the paroxysms of this disorder, must have been excruciating. His moans were at times even heard by the sentinels on duty in the Quadrangle”. So disturbed were the soldiers on guard by the noise that they moved away from the king’s apartments to avoid hearing it.
In short, despite some people’s best efforts, George IV was ushered out of this world with little dignity or respect.
Some of England’s royal palaces have gone missing – lost at some point in history. Grand structures that once dominated the landscape have vanished into thin air. So, what happened to them?
Every day I pass by an office block called Edinburgh House in south London – a typical post-war block on a busy street. Hard to believe it was once Kennington Palace – built by the Black Prince, one of the military heroes of the Middle Ages. Yet today, not a scrap of the place is left. Why?
Kennington is one of several lost palaces in London alone. There is the mystery of Baynard’s Castle, a looming presence on the river Thames up until the 17th century. Now the site of a 1970s brutalist monstrosity.
One of our largest lost royal palaces
Or the vast 1,500-room Whitehall Palace that King Henry VIII built in Westminster and from where the Tudor monarchs terrorised the country with their conflicting ideas on religion. Whitehall rivalled the Pope’s new Vatican palace in the 16th century and was only eventually outshone by Versailles, constructed by the ‘sun king’, Louis XIV. Today, a solitary building – Banqueting House – is all that remains.
Where the Savoy Hotel now stands was once the Savoy Palace, home to John of Gaunt. He was the brother of the aforementioned Black Prince and arguably the most powerful politician of the medieval period. But his once sumptuous home has gone. A victim to a wave of violence that swept the city.
To find out more about our lost royal palaces, watch the film below for some answers that might surprise you!
This week just gone saw the death of Queen Elizabeth II who has been a constant in my life as somebody born and raised in the United Kingdom. It’s an event that’s had a justifiably big impact. But in the hours and days that have followed, I’ve watched with a quizzical eye some of the allegedly ancient traditions unfold. Normally involving men in strange costumes yelling proclamations around the country. But to what extent has much of this royal tradition been invented?
In other words, is it all as old as they’d like you to believe?
Well, it may come as a shock to both Britons and royal watchers around the world to know that some of these venerable traditions really aren’t that old. Unless you regard fifty, one hundred and even two hundred years as incredibly ancient. In fact, a great deal of the pomp has grown with the development of mass media and the public appetite for spectacle.
The monarchy has also been deployed during volatile political periods in the 19th and 20th century to curb radical and even revolutionary currents stirring within the British population. In an excellent book – The Invention of Tradition – edited by the late Eric Hobsbawm, things you may have regarded as both eternal and true like Scottish tartan were breezily demolished. The book showed how royal glitz has been an effective distraction from growing social unrest.
The book also examined how royal ‘tradition’ was extended to the Indian Raj and colonial Africa to foster deference and the idea of an empire upon which the sun would never set. For example, the British took the idea of the ‘durbar’, a traditional royal feudal gathering in India, and turned it into the Imperial Durbar. Three grand processional events held by the British in 1877, 1903, and 1911. At the third one, King George V oversaw the proceedings in person as Emperor of India (a title invented in Queen Victoria’s reign and scrapped in the 1940s after Indian independence).
So let’s look at some other traditions around the monarch that may not be quite as old as if often claimed:
The State Opening of Parliament: The website for Parliament claims this ceremony is 500 years old. But then it lets the cat out of the bag admitting that in its ‘modern’ form – ie, what you see on TV – it’s only existed since 1852 when Queen Victoria established the route to be taken and much of the ritual. Indeed, in the early part of Victoria’s reign, a state opening would have been impossible because the Houses of Parliament had burned down and were being rebuilt.
The Honours system: If you think the honours system with the OBE, MBE, and CBE dates back centuries, I’ve got bad news for you. It celebrated its centenary in 2017 having been introduced in the closing years of the First World War and the same year as the Russian Revolution.
The national anthem: While the music and words to the national anthem, do date back to the mid-18th century, the anthem only started to be used in earnest at royal occasions from the mid-19th century. It wasn’t even played at the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837.
In short, we can rightly point an accusing finger at the Victorians whose love of kitsch – and frankly rather camp – takes on medieval history and ritual are well recognised. They created much of the royal ‘tradition’ that we believe dates back countless centuries.