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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Dress crisis for the coronation of George IV

George IV’s coronation took place on 19 July 1821. Unsurprisingly, it required a lot of planning. Unfortunately, not all the arrangements were successfully communicated and this led to a dress crisis for many of those fortunate enough to have tickets to the coronation celebration.

Court dress required
A lady in court dress  from A book explaining the ranks  and dignities of British Society (1809)
A lady in court dress
from A book explaining the ranks
and dignities of British Society (1809)
Huish (1) described the coronation dress crisis that resulted from this poor communication:

“Amongst the subjects not the least interesting, or productive of the least anxiety, was the question of dress. It had been repeatedly announced, under the authority of the Lord Chamberlain, that the dress to be worn both by ladies and gentlemen, was to be full court costume. This notification, however, not having been announced in any official form was received with doubt; and many who knew they would receive tickets for the Hall, neglected to provide themselves in the way suggested.

At length an extraordinary Gazette was published, formally confirming the statement which had been previously made. This order was seen but by few till the Tuesday preceding the Coronation, and when it was once generally known, the confusion it produced was truly comic, although to some not a little mortifying."

Dressmakers bribed

"The ladies rushed in swards to their mantua makers, and innumerable dresses, which had pined in solitude for months before, were suddenly drawn forth, and launched into unexpected gaiety.

One good effect was produced in many instances, in which heavy sums were standing in the mantua makers’ books, against the fair votaries of fashion, but which were now immediately discharged, as a bribe to execute the completion of the coronation dress in time. Wretched indeed was, however, the fate of the poor dress makers on this occasion; torn fifty ways at once, they scarcely knew how to act, and at last were incapable of meeting one half the claims of their urgent customers, who were in consequence obliged either to brave the criticism of their acquaintance, by appearing at the Coronation in tasteless attire, or altogether to sacrifice at the shrine of fashion.”

Immediate payment promised

A gentleman in court dress from  A book explaining the ranks  and dignities of British Society (1809)
A gentleman in court dress from
A book explaining the ranks
 and dignities of British Society (1809)
“But still more distressing was the situation of the gentlemen, hundreds of whom never had the honour of wearing a court dress, or perhaps even of seeing one, but who on the occasion were resolved to make any sacrifice for the sake of testifying their loyalty. Orders innumerable, with promises of immediate payment, surprised and delighted the whole fraternity of the tailors.”

Circulating costumaries

“Another class of tradesmen were not less fortunate; we allude to those convenient circulating costumaries which are to be found in sundry parts of the town, where dresses of all sorts, civil, military and ecclesiastical, may be had at five minutes notice. It was no matter whether the dress fitted the wearer – it was a court dress, and that was sufficient.”

The dangers of court dress

“The chapeau, the bag, and the sword, particularly the latter, became with many unmanageable; in some cases it was seen pendent on the right side, which was consequently the wrong one; and in many cases it intruded itself between the legs of its awkward wearer, laying him prostrated on the ground, and the lives of his Majesty’s most loyal subjects were often set at hazard from the bloodless points of the citizens’ swords.”

Note
(1) All excerpts from An authentic history of the coronation of His Majesty, King George the Fourth by Robert Huish.

Sources used include:
Huish, Robert, An authentic history of the coronation of His Majesty, King George the Fourth (1821)
Lamb, Charles (attributed), A book explaining the ranks and dignities of British Society (1809)

4 comments:

  1. I rather like the mention of "... splendid, and in some instances grotesque dresses ... that the Annual Register of 1821 reports that some guests were wearing!

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    1. That seems to fit with what Huish says - perhaps the grotesque ones were those which had been hired at short notice!

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  2. It is taken for granted these days that Royal events are always well organised and follow a long tradition. It seems that much of our current ceremonial procedure only dates back to the Nineteenth Century and the reign of Edward VII.

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    1. This account made me smile and made me think of the film 'Ever After' when there is a rush on gowns when the royal ball is announced!

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