Two hundred years ago, when an ageing monarch was about to be crowned and there was dispute over which members of his immediate family he would allow to attend the ceremony at the Abbey, it was not all sweetness and light at a Croydon Coronation party.
By our royal affairs correspondent, JOANNA PLUMLEY
Meghan Markle’s not turning up tomorrow, right?
And even if she did roll up, without a ticket, you don’t think she would be greeted by prizefighters as bouncers, have the Abbey doors slammed in her face (more than once), and finally sent away with a flea in her ear, do you?
But that’s exactly what happened 200 years ago at the coronation of one of King Charles’s ancestors, when George IV had his own wife sent away from the ceremonials.
Bitter disputes among members of the royal family are nothing new.
The reason this comes with some Croydon relevance is that the dispute between George and Caroline of Brunswick, his estranged and exiled wife, was so bitter that not only did it cause the postponement of the coronation by a year, but when the big day finally came around, it led to uproar and fighting at what was supposed to be a celebration party held on Duppas Hill.
Not even the parish parsons were safe, as the Croydon public sided with Caroline over her fat spendthrift of a husband.
The detail is contained in a report from the London Chronicle of 1821, which was passed to arch-archivist David Morgan.
According to the report, a dinner in honour of George IV’s coronation was given to the poor of Croydon on Duppas Hill, with “the Gentleman by whom it was planned” (the report fails to name them; anyone got any suggestions?) on site from 4am to make all the necessary arrangements.
The report estimates around a thousand people had gathered for a bit of a do by 2pm, “in appearance very happy and plentifully supplied with viands”, it says.
But then… “Suddently the scene changed to one of the utmost confusion.
“A reverend gentleman present, having proposed the health of His Majesty, was answered by a call from a great majority of those present for that of the Queen.
“This led to a warm contest…”, we’re assuming that’s Regency period speak for a bit of a dust-up, “… and taking the common course from words to blows.
“The clergyman and his supporters were ejected and driven to their homes which, however, they were not suffered to enter till they said, ‘God bless the Queen’.” That was them told.
The report also says that church bells did not ring at full peal “as the principal ringers refused”.
George had for many years been the Prince Regent during the illness of his father, Mad George III.
The partying prince ran up such massive debts that George III was forced to offer him a deal: he’d have the debt written off on condition he married Caroline. But the couple never got along, Caroline shagging her way around Europe while her husband continued to splash the cash on his own ample appetites.
Push came to shove in 1820, with George’s coronation planned for that August, when Caroline unexpectedly returned to England to claim her right to be crowned as queen consort. Her husband had become so unpopular, the public sided with her. In Parliament, Lord Liverpool and the Whigs also backed her.
The lickspittles in the Tory Government of the day (these modern-day parallels just keep coming) duly introduced a bill “to deprive Her Majesty Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the title, prerogatives, rights, Privileges, and Exemptions of Queen Consort of this Realm, and to dissolve the Marriage between His Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth”.
With all that to contend with, the coronation was postponed until July 19, 1821 – the day of the Duppas Hill party.
The King’s bill never passed into law, but he never sent an invitation to Caroline for the coronation. It’s probably just as well that none of the Queen’s supporters on Duppas Hill that day heard how Caroline was snubbed on the Abbey’s steps, as her pompous and vain husband turned up late for the ceremony and parade, which lasted at least five hours but did not include the Queen.
The Duppas Hill report, though, does go to demonstrate that today’s tabloid-fodder mass hysteria over all things royal is not a new phenomenon at all. And no, we have not been able to confirm that in the 1820s, Caroline was described in yellow-paper headlines as “Our Queen of Tarts”…
Tomorrow’s Coronation has seen other Croydon-related archive material being dug up, such as the fascinating photograph of the Swan and Sugarloaf pub in South Croydon, all decked out with suitably loyal bunting on the day of King Edward VII’s coronation in August 1902.
And even Marks and Sparks at the Whitgift Centre have got in on the act, digging out images from a royal visit from 41 years ago, when the then Prince of Wales popped in for half a dozen eggs and a new sweater… (or not, whatever the case may be).
You can tell it is 1982 from the “Lady Di” hairstyles of so many of the staff members Charles was photographed meeting that day.
According to the Marks and Spencer PR office, “Prince Charles visited the M&S Croydon store as part of his interest in companies with good human relations at work and that treat their staff well.
“During his visit, the prince toured the store and met M&S Croydon customers, store managers, retail supervisors and community leaders.”
In their archive deep dive, M&S found that Charles said that he had “been most impressed by the marvellous atmosphere and team spirit you can feel when you enter the store”.
On his visit, Charles received some gifts for himself (like he needed any) and for “his new-born son, Prince William”. Marks and Spencer, very decorously, deftly avoids mentioning baby Prince William’s mother.
Which prompts the question: how would the Richard Dimbleby character of 1821 have got around mentioning Princess Caroline if there had been wall-to-wall broadcast deference at George IV’s coronation?
And how will Huw Edwards get through tomorrow’s fawn-fest without mentioning Princess Diana?
Read more: My arresting experience the day Prince Charles came to town
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