Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Coronation

It was on the 26th of June, 1483, that Richard was proclaimed king, under the circumstances narrated in the last chapter. In order to render his investiture with the royal authority complete, he resolved that the ceremony of coronation should be immediately performed. He accordingly appointed the 6th of July for the day. This allowed an interval of just ten days for the necessary preparations.

The first thing to be done was to send to Middleham Castle for Anne, his wife, who now, since the proclamation of Richard, became Queen of England. Richard wished that she should be present, and take part in the ceremony of the coronation. The child was to be brought too. His name was Edward.

It seems that Anne arrived in London only on the 3rd of July, three days before the appointed day. There is a specification in the book of accounts of some very elegant and costly cloth of gold bought on that day in London, the material for the queen's coronation robe.

Richard determined that the ceremony of his coronation should be more magnificent than that of any previous English monarch. Preparations were made, accordingly, on a very grand scale. There were several preliminary pageants and processions on the days preceding that of the grand ceremony.

On the 4th of July, which was Sunday, the king and queen proceeded in state to the Tower. They went in barges on the river. The party set out from Baynard's Castle, the residence of Richard's mother, and the place where the queen went on her arrival in London.

The royal barges destined to convey the king and queen, and the other great personages of the party, were covered with canopies of silk, and were otherwise magnificently adorned. Great crowds of spectators assembled to witness the scene. Some came in boats upon the water, others took their stations on the shores, where every prominent and commanding point was covered with its own special crowd, and others still occupied the windows of the buildings that looked out upon the river.

Through the midst of this scene the royal barges passed down the river to the Tower. As they moved along, the air was filled with prolonged and continual shouts of "Long live King Richard!" "Long live the noble Queen Anne!"

Royal or imperial power, once firmly established, will never fail to draw forth the acclamations of the crowd, no matter by what means it has been acquired.

On his arrival at the Tower, Richard was received with great honor by the authorities which he had left in charge there, and he took possession of the edifice formally, as one of his own royal residences. He held a court in the great council-hall. At this court he created several persons peers of the realm, and invested others with the honor of knighthood. These were men whom he supposed to be somewhat undecided in respect to the course which they should pursue, and he wished, by these compliments and honors, to purchase their adhesion to his cause.

He also liberated some persons who had been made prisoners, presuming that, by this kindness, he should conciliate their goodwill.

He did not, however, by any means extend this conciliating policy to the case of the young ex-king and his brother; indeed, it would have been extremely dangerous for him to have done so. He was aware that there must be a large number of persons throughout the kingdom who still considered Edward as the rightful king, and he knew very well that, if any of these were to obtain possession of Edward's person, it would enable them to act vigorously in his name, and to organize perhaps a powerful party for the support of his claims. He was convinced, therefore, that it was essential to the success of his plans that the boys should be kept in very close and safe custody. So he removed them from the apartments which they had hitherto occupied, and shut them up in close confinement in a gloomy tower upon the outer walls of the fortress, and which, on account of the cruel murders which were from time to time committed there, subsequently acquired the name of the Bloody Tower.

Richard and the queen remained at the Tower until the day appointed for the coronation, which was Tuesday. The ceremonies of that day were commenced by a grand progress of the king and his suite through the city of London back to Westminster, only, as if to vary the pageantry, they went back in grand cavalcade through the streets of the city, instead of returning as they came, by barges on the river. The concourse of spectators on this occasion was even greater than before. The streets were every where thronged, and very strict regulations were made, by Richard's command, to prevent disorder.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


On arriving at Westminster, the royal party proceeded to the Abbey, where, first of all, as was usual in the case of a coronation, certain ceremonies of religious homage were to be performed at a particular shrine, which was regarded as an object of special sanctity on such occasions. The king and queen proceeded to this shrine from the great hall, barefooted, in token of reverence and humility. They walked, however, it should be added, on ornamented cloth laid down for this purpose on the stone pavements of the floors. All the knights and nobles of England that were present accompanied and followed the king and queen in their pilgrimage to the shrine.

One of these nobles bore the king's crown, another the queen's crown, and others still various other ancient national emblems of royal power. The queen walked under a canopy of silk, with a golden bell hanging from each of the corners of it. The canopy was borne by four great officers of state, and the bells, of course, jingled as the bearers walked along.

The queen wore upon her head a circlet of gold adorned with precious stones. There were four bishops, one at each of the four corners of the canopy, who walked as immediate attendants upon the queen, and a lady of the very highest rank followed her, bearing her train.

When the procession reached the shrine, the king and queen took their seats on each side of the high altar, and then there came forth a procession of priests and bishops, clothed in magnificent sacerdotal robes made of cloth of gold, and chanting solemn hymns of prayer and praise as they came.

After the religious services were completed, the ceremony of anointing and crowning the king and queen, and of investing their persons with the royal robes and emblems, was performed with the usual grand and imposing solemnities. After this, the royal cortége was formed again, and the company returned to Westminster Hall in the same order as they came. The queen walked, as before, under her silken canopy, the golden bells keeping time, by their tinkling, with the steps of the bearers.

At Westminster Hall a great dais had been erected, with thrones upon it for the king and queen. As their majesties advanced and ascended this dais, surrounded by the higher nobles and chief officers of state, the remainder of the procession, consisting of those who had come to accompany and escort them to the place, followed, and filled the hall.

As soon as this vast throng saw that the king and queen were seated upon the dais, with their special and immediate attendants around them, their duties were ended, and they were to be dismissed. A grand officer of state, whose duty it was to dismiss them, came in on horseback, his horse covered with cloth of gold hanging down on both sides to the ground. The people, falling back before this horseman, gradually retired, and thus the hall was cleared.

The king and queen then rose from their seats upon the dais, and were conducted to their private apartments in the palace, to rest and refresh themselves after the fatigues of the public ceremony, and to prepare for the grand banquet which was to take place in the evening.

The preparations for this banquet were made by spreading a table upon the dais under the canopy for the king and queen, and four other very large and long tables through the hall for the invited guests.

The time appointed for the banquet was four o'clock. When the hour arrived, the king and queen were conducted into the hall again, and took their places at the table which had been prepared for them on the dais. They had changed their dresses, having laid aside their royal robes, and the various paraphernalia of office with which they had been induced at the coronation, and now appeared in robes of crimson velvet embroidered with gold, and trimmed with costly furs. They were attended by many lords and ladies of the highest rank, scarcely less magnificently dressed than themselves. They were waited upon, while at table, by the noblest persons in the realm, who served them from the most richly wrought vessels of gold and silver.

After the first part of the banquet was over, a knight, fully armed, and mounted on a war-horse richly caparisoned, rode into the hall, having been previously announced by a herald. This was the king's champion, who came, according to a custom usually observed on such occasions, to challenge and defy the king's enemies, if any such there were.

The trappings of the champion's horse were of white and red silk, and the armor of the knight himself was bright and glittering. As he rode forward into the area in front of the dais, he called out, in a loud voice, demanding of all present if there were any one there who disputed the claim of King Richard the Third to the crown of England.

All the people gazed earnestly at the champion while he made this demand, but no one responded.

The champion then made proclamation again, that if any one there was who would come forward and say that King Richard was not lawfully King of England, he was ready there to fight him to the death, in vindication of Richard's right. As he said this, he threw down his gauntlet upon the floor, in token of defiance.

At this, the whole assembly, with one voice, began to shout, "Long live King Richard!" and the immense hall was filled, for some minutes, with thundering acclamations.

This ceremony being concluded, a company of heralds came forward before the king, and proclaimed "a largesse," as it was called. The ceremony of a largesse consisted in throwing money among the crowd to be scrambled for. Three times the money was thrown out, on this occasion, among the guests in the hall. The amount that is charged on the royal account-book for the expense of this largesse is one hundred pounds.

The scrambling of a crowd for money thrown thus among them, one would say, was a very rude and boisterous amusement, but those were rude and boisterous times. The custom holds its ground in England, in some measure, to the present day, though now it is confined to throwing out pence and halfpence to the rabble in the streets at an election, and is no longer, as of yore, relied upon as a means of entertaining noble guests at a royal dinner.

After the frolic of the largesse was over, the king and queen rose to depart. The evening was now coming on, and a great number of torches were brought in to illuminate the hall. By the light of these torches, the company, after their majesties had retired, gradually withdrew, and the ceremonies of the coronation were ended.