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by Giles Gossip.
The coronation of our monarchs presents a wide field of meditation to an intelligent eye. It is an epitome of the genius of the monarchy, and a miniature exhibition of the leading events of our annals.
Connected, in point of fact, with the first establishment of Christianity in this island, it also perpetuates some of the earliest British notions of public liberty; and while it confirms the hereditary claims of each succeeding prince, it is introduced by a recognition of some of the most ancient rights of the people,
"Mighty states, _characterless_, are grated To dusty nothing,"
says that great dramatist who has so largely alluded to English coronations in his historical plays. These ceremonies exhibit the character of each const.i.tuent portion of the political body from age to age; and are chiefly valuable, perhaps, as preserving a chain of _national ident.i.ty_, unbroken by conquest, or by civil war; by changing dynasties, or the most important revolutions of the empire: on the other hand, they present to us a vast _variety_ of character and events.--They are a.s.sociated with the gloom, "the dim religious light" of Anglo-Saxon history, with the stormy character of the Conquest and the Norman domination; they bring before us the lofty Plantagenet, the proud Tudor, and the tyrannical but unfortunate House of Stuart, in all the pomp, and strife, and vanity of their respective pretensions.
But the general reader will require a _clue_ to this symbolical kind of instruction: a companion to his recollections of such an exhibition, which, without destroying the vividness and pleasure of the pageantry, shall connect its objects with the march of history, the advance of civilization, and the final settlement of our laws and liberties. "To converse with historians," says an accomplished writer, "is always to keep good company;" while, "to carry back the mind _in uniting_ and to make IT old," is the one great difficulty which Lord Bacon points out in the study of history. Every effort, therefore, to smooth this difficult path, and to introduce the rising generation to such company, will be properly appreciated by the anxious and intelligent parent; and such is the design of this little volume. It is the especial business of the historian, certainly, to instruct; but the more he can keep alive our _interest_ without flattering either our pa.s.sions or vices, the more effectually will he accomplish his great object, and swell the train of the votaries of truth.
-- 1. ANECDOTES OF THE REGALIA AND ROYAL VESTMENTS.
"History--the picture of man--has shared the fate of its original.
It has had its infancy of _Fable_; its youth of Poetry; its manhood of Thought, Intelligence, and Reflection."--ANON.
No. 1. _The Regal Chair._
The Regalia of England are the symbols of a monarchical authority that has been transmitted by coronation ceremonies for upwards of ten centuries. But the incorporation of England, Scotland, and Ireland, into one united kingdom,--an event peculiar to the coronation of George IV, to have recognised,--has connected the history of the Imperial Regalia with some tales of legendary lore, the truth of which, if this circ.u.mstance does not demonstrate, be a.s.sured, gentle reader, nothing will. Irish records are said to add at least another thousand years of substantial history to the honours of that solid regal seat, or coronation chair, in which our monarchs are both anointed and crowned: while some of our own "honest chroniclers" a.s.sign to it a still more marvellous antiquity.
Holinshed gives us the history of one Gathelus, a Greek, who brought from Egypt into Spain the identical stone on which the patriarch Jacob slept and "poured oil" at Luz. He was "the sonne of Cecrops, who builded the citie of Athens;" but having married Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, he resided for some time in Egypt, from whence he was induced to remove into the West by the judgments p.r.o.nounced on that country by Moses. In Spain, "having peace with his neighbors, he builded a citie called Brigantia (Compostella)," where he "sat vpon his marble stone, gave lawes, and ministred justice vnto his people, thereby to maintaine them in wealth and quietnesse," And "Hereof it came to pa.s.se, that first in Spaine, after in Ireland, and then in Scotland, the kings which ruled over the Scotishmen received the crowne sittinge vpon that stone, vntill the time of Robert the First, king of Scotland." In another part of his "Historie of Scotland," Holinshed mentions king Simon Brech as having transmitted this stone to Ireland, about 700 years before the birth of Christ, and that "the first Fergus" brought it "out of Ireland into Albion," B.C. 330. One important property of this stone should not be unnoticed. It is said, by the writers from whom the foregoing particulars are derived, to furnish a test of legitimate royal descent; yielding an oracular sound when a prince of the true blood is placed upon it, and remaining silent under a mere pretender to the throne. We heard various joyful acclamations on the recent "royal day;" but (perhaps from that very circ.u.mstance) could not distinguish the sound in question.
Apart from these legends, the real history of the [Saxon: hag-fail], or Fatal Stone, is curious; and has induced the learned Toland to call it "the antientest respected monument in the world." It is to be traced, on the best authorities, into Ireland; whence it had been brought into Scotland, and had become of great notoriety in Argyleshire, some time before the reign of Kennith, or A.D. 834. This monarch found it at Dunstaffnage, a royal castle, enclosed it in a wooden chair, and removed it to the abbey of Scone, where for 450 years "all kingis of Scotland war crownit" upon it; or "quhil y^e tyme of Robert Bruse. In quhais tyme, besyde mony othir crueltis done be kyng EDWARD Lang Schankis, the said chiar of merbyll wes taikin be Inglismen, and brocht out of Scone to London, and put into Westmonistar, quhaer it remains to our dayis."
An ancient Irish prophecy, quoted by Mr. Taylor in his learned "Glory of Regality," a.s.sures us, that the possession of this stone is essential to the preservation of regal power. It runs literally, "The race of Scots of the true blood, if this prophecy be not false, unless they possess the Stone of Fate, shall fail to obtain regal power." King Kennith caused the leonine verses following to be engraved on the chair:--
Ni fallat fatum Scoti quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem Regnare tenentur ibidem.
Thus given by Camden,
Or Fate is blind, Or Scots shall find, Where'er this stone A royal throne.
A prophecy which is said to have reconciled many a true Scot to the Union in Queen Anne's time; and which, since the extinction of the Stuart family, is remarkably fulfilled in the claims of the House of Brunswick,--George IV. being now the legitimate heir of both lines.
At or near a consecrated stone, it was an ancient Eastern custom to appoint kings or chieftains to their office. Thus we read in Scripture of Abimelech being "made king by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem," (the earliest royal appointment, perhaps, of which we have any traces in history;) and of Joash having the "crown put upon him"
while he "stood by a pillar, as the manner was." Subsequently, and among the northern nations, the practice "was to form a circle of large stones, commonly twelve in number, in the middle of which one was set up, much larger than the rest: this was the royal seat; and the n.o.bles occupied those surrounding it, which served also as a barrier to keep off the people who stood without. Here the leading men of the kingdom delivered their suffrages, and placed the elected king on his seat of dignity." From such places, afterwards, justice was frequently dispensed.
"The old mun early rose, walk'd forth, and sate On polished stone, before his palace gate; With unguent smooth the lucid marble shone, Where ancient Neleus sate, a rustic throne."
HOMER'S _Odyss._ POPE'S _Tr._ [Greek: G]. 496--10.
Thus arises the name of our Court of King's Bench.
At the coronation of our kings, the royal chair is now disguised in cloth of gold; but the wood-work, which forms its princ.i.p.al parts, is supposed to be the same in which Edward I. recased it, on bringing it to England.
Shakspeare's RICHARD III. inquires--
"Is the _Chair_ empty? Is the Sword unswayed?
Is the King dead? The empire unpossessed?
What heir of York is there alive but We?"
And the Earl of Richmond describes him, in admirable allusion to the foregoing facts, as
"A base foul _stone_, made precious by the foil Of England's chair, where he is falsely set."
[Footnote 1: See Toland; Sir J. Ware's Antiq. of Ireland, vol. ii. pp.
10, 124, &c.]
[Footnote 2: Called also by the Irish Cloch na cinea[.m]na, or, the Stone of Fortune.]
[Footnote 3: History of the Druids, p. 104.]
[Footnote 4: Chron. of Scotland, lib. i. cap. 2.]
[Footnote 5: P. 54.]
[Footnote 6: Judges ix. 6.]
[Footnote 7: 2 Kings, xi. 12, 14.]
[Footnote 8: Taylor's Glory of Regality, p. 31.]
[Footnote 9: Richard III.]
No. 2. _Of the Crowns._
We, can only speak to the growth and antiquity of their present "fashion," none of those now used being of older date than the reign of Charles II. This monarch issued a commission for the "remakeing such royall ornaments and regalia" as the rebellious Parliament of his father had destroyed, in which "the old names and fashions" were directed to be carefully sought after and retained. Upon this authority, we still have the national crown with which our monarchs are actually invested called St. EDWARD'S, although the Great Seal of the Confessor exhibits him wearing a crown of a very different shape.
Whether the parent of our present crowns were the Eastern fillet, in the tying on which there was great ceremony, according to Selden,--the Roman or Grecian wreath, a "corruptible crown" of laurel, olive, or bay,--or the Jewish diadem of gold,--we shall leave to antiquarian research.
"This high imperial type of [England's] glory"
has slowly advanced, like the monarchy itself, to its present commanding size and brilliant appearance. From the coins and seals of the respective periods, several of our Anglo-Saxon princes appear to have worn only a fillet of pearl, and others a radiated diadem, with a crescent in front. aethelstan's crown was of a more regular shape, resembling a modern earl's coronet. On king Alfred's there was the singular addition of "two little bells;" and the identical crown worn by this prince seems to have been long preserved at Westminster, if it were not the same which is described in the Parliamentary Inventory of 1642, as "King Alfred's crowne of gould wyer worke, sett with slight stones."