George III's Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton.

The Gold State Coach

LONDON, January 8.

Yesterday the old State Coach, built for King George I and the Carriages of his late Majesty, given by the late Master of the Horse to the Servants, were sold at Bever’s Repository; it is remarkable the Gold Lace of the State Coach, which was taken off before the sale and burnt, amounted to 53l. 19s.

A new superb State Coach is building for his Majesty, which, when finished, will be the most magnificent ever seen in this Kingdom.

(Derby Mercury, 9 January 1761)

George III had taken the throne on 25 October 1760, upon the death of his grandfather, George II (George III’s father, the old king’s eldest son, had died in 1751). His coronation took place almost a year later, on 22 September 1761, but if he was hoping that his new State Coach would be ready for the occasion, then he was going to be sorely disappointed. It took almost two years for the coach to be completed, for it was no ordinary coach. It would be, the new king decided, the most elegant and magnificent coach that had ever been seen in his kingdom.

George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.
George III in his coronation robes, by Allan Ramsay.

It is said a new State-Coach is going to be built (from a design already made by a celebrated English Artist) which for elegance, taste, and grandeur, will, it is thought, excel any thing of the kind ever yet doe in Europe; and we have the pleasure to add, that the construction, painting, and every other part of the same, is to be the work of our own countrymen.

(Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761)

Sir William Chambers, a Scottish/Swedish architect was responsible for the original design, while the contract for building the vehicle was given to the coachmaker, Samuel Butler. Then came the ornamentation, carved sculpture by Joseph Wilton which was then gilded by Henry Pujolas and decorated by the metal chaser, George Coyte.

Sir William Chamber's design for the new State Coach, 1760.
Sir William Chamber’s design for the new State Coach, 1760. © Royal Collection Trust

The whole concept was for the coach to be the most wonderful – and therefore the most expensive – ever to have been built in England, and the decoration was full of symbolism. It was intended that ‘when riding in the coach, the King would appear as Neptune, monarch of the seas, and also Apollo, leader of the muses of artistic innovation’.

There are four Triton, mythical sea-gods placed on the body of the coach and, at the front, almost appear to be pulling the coach. Whether it was intended or not, in motion the coach rocked about as if it was rolling on the high seas, to the distress of those inside! When George III’s younger son, William IV used the coach during his reign in the 1830s, he complained that it was just like being on board a ship ‘tossing in a rough sea’, and as he’d served in navy for many years, he ought to have known.

The Gold State Coach, built in 1762.
The Gold State Coach, built in 1762. © Royal Collection Trust

The first outing of this magnificent new state coach was on 25 November 1762 when the king travelled in it to the State Opening of Parliament. So great was the public interest, that anyone with rooms in and around Parliament Street were able to rent them out at exorbitant rates for the day, and those ladies and gentlemen lucky enough to get one leaned out of the windows to watch the king pass by in his state coach, drawn by eight horses. As it turned out, watching from above was by far the safest vantage point.

London, November 25

This Day, about two o’clock, his Majesty went to the House of Lords from St James’s in his new State Coach, drawn by eight fine cream coloured horses, ornamented with blue ribbands and Morocco trappings. His Majesty went through the Park, and was attended by the Lords Oxford and Cadogan, the Master of the Horse and other principal Officers of State. The crowd was so great on this occasion, and carriages so numerous, that they extended quite from St James’s to the Parliament House, and it was with great difficulty that foot passengers could pass along the streets. In Parliament Street, one of the horses which drew his Majesty’s Coach fell down, and occasioned some little confusion, but we do not hear of any damage.

(Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 December 1762)

George III's Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton.
George III’s Procession to the Houses of Parliament in his new State Coach, attributed to John Wootton. © Royal Collection Trust

The crowds were so great that they led to injuries and even – reportedly – to death. The first accident occurred just as the coach left the gates of the Royal Mews on Charing Cross when a young woman fell beneath the hooves of one of the Life Guards horses. We haven’t found any further report on her, but it reads as if she survived her accident. The deaths were due to the immense press of people in confined spaces.

In the narrow passage leading from Spring Gardens into the park, a woman and child were crushed to death, and their bodies were laid on the grass in the park; another woman and a lad are said also to have been crushed to death near the Horse Guards, and several were beat down and trampled on, and had their arms broke, and otherwise much bruised; and divers women lost their hats, capuchins, gowns, shoes, &c. I the crowd.

(Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762)

The Gold State Coach is still used for ceremonial occasions, but has been modernised over the years to give a (slightly!) more comfortable ride.

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 September 1762

Derby Mercury, 26 November 1762

Leeds Intelligencer, 20 January 1761

Royal Collection Trust: notes against object RCIN 917942, Design for the State Coach by Sir William Chambers and object RCIN 5000048, the Gold State Coach.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821.

The scramble for a royal heir

Although George III had 15 children, and all but two of them survived to adulthood, grandchildren – at least legitimate ones – were thin on the ground. In 1817, when the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales died in childbirth (her son was stillborn), there was something of a constitutional crisis.

Princess Charlotte of Wales, after George Dawe, 1817.
Princess Charlotte of Wales, after George Dawe, 1817. Royal Collection Trust.

Three of the king’s daughters had married, but none of them had any surviving issue.  The two eldest sons, George, the Prince Regent (and future George IV) and Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had both separated from their wives long before; both were now childless, and weren’t in a position to provide an heir.

The Soldier's Return: Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albay and his wife, Princess Frederica.The Soldier's Return.
The Soldier’s Return: Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albay and his wife, Princess Frederica.The Soldier’s Return. © British Museum

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex was married and had children, but as he had married secretly and in contravention of the 1772 Royal Marriages Act, his union was deemed invalid and his children barred from the line of succession.

Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Prince Augustus, Duke of Sussex (1773-1843). Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland was also married, to his first cousin, Frederica of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, but the couple – at that time – had no children (a daughter had been stillborn in 1817).

And so, an unseemly scramble to a) marry and/or b) beget an heir to the throne broke out. In 1818, there were three royal marriages.

Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, the king’s youngest surviving son (he was 44), was first off the starting block; he married Augusta of Hesse-Kassel in her homeland on 7 May 1818, and again in London (at Buckingham Palace) on 1 June. In a recurrent theme for the family, this marriage would, however, prove childless. Prince Edward, Duke of Kent was only a few weeks behind his younger brother; he settled on Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and married in Coburg on 29 May, and again at Kew Palace on 11 July. The royal family tree is a tangled one and this marriage is a perfect example. The new Duchess of Kent had been the sister-in-law of the duke’s deceased niece, Princess Charlotte of Wales.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria's mother)
Victoria, Duchess of Kent. © Royal Collection Trust

Rounding up the year’s royal weddings was the king’s third son, Prince William, Duke of Clarence who already had a brood of ten children by his long-term mistress, the actress Dorothea Jordan, all born illegitimately and given the surname FitzClarence. He married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen at Kew on 11 July in a double ceremony with his brother, Prince Edward.

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV), Dorothea Jordan and some of their brood of children.
La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence, Dorothea Jordan and some of their children.

The race to produce an heir was well and truly on. So, how did it play out?

After three weddings in 1818, several royal children were born the following year. The Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a daughter, but she lived only a few hours and the Cambridges had a son. On 24 May 1819, Princess Alexandrina Victoria, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kent was born and, three days later, the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland had a boy, Prince George. The little princess took priority over the princes in the succession because her father, the Duke of Kent, was older than the Dukes of Cumberland and Cambridge.

Edward, Duke of Kent, 1818.
Edward, Duke of Kent, 1818. © Royal Collection Trust

George III died in 1820, and the Prince Regent took the throne as King George IV. At his death, ten years later, the Duke of Clarence was next in line and he ruled as William IV (the second son, Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany had died in 1827, still estranged from his wife). William IV’s wife and queen, Adelaide, suffered a succession of miscarriages and stillbirths, and the couple had no living children.

George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust
George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust

Princess Alexandrina Victoria, born because of that mad scramble for an heir, was next in the line of succession. Her father, the Duke of York, had died of pneumonia before she was a year old. In the portrait of her as a child with her mother (below), the young princess holds a miniature of her father.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821.
Victoria, Duchess of Kent with Princess Victoria (holding a miniature of her late father, Edward, Duke of Kent) by Sir William Beechey, 1821. © Royal Collection Trust

Princess Alexandrina – known to her close family as Drina – is obviously much better known as Queen Victoria. She came to the throne on 20 June 1837 upon the death of her uncle, William IV, but as a woman was unable to also inherit Hanover which since George I had been held dually with the British crown. That went to the next male heir, her uncle Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland who became King of Hanover. Victoria’s cousin, Prince George, who was born just three days after her own birth, would in time become the last King of Hanover.

Hanoverian Family Tree. (Image sourced via the National Archives, © Royal Family History)
Hanoverian Family Tree. (Image sourced via the National Archives, © Royal Family History)

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life. The Duke of Clarence (later William IV), Dorothea Jordan and some of their brood of children.

The Duke of Clarence’s Views on Marriage

For those familiar with this period of history, you will no doubt be well aware of the relationship the Duke of Clarence had with the actress Dorothea Jordan and that she had 10 illegitimate children with him.

Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), 'Mrs Jordan', as 'Peggy' in 'The Country Girl'; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Romney, George; Dorothea Bland (1762-1816), ‘Mrs Jordan’, as ‘Peggy’ in ‘The Country Girl’; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

To ensure the continuity of the family line though, William, Duke of Clarence was persuaded/coerced/cajoled/bullied into marrying, take it as you will.

Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217
Johann Georg Paul Fischer (1786-1875)William IV (1765-1837) when Duke of Clarence  Engraved 1818. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420217

We came across this extract from a letter in The Georgian Papers written by his mother Queen Charlotte to Prinny (George, Prince Regent) in 1817 which we thought would be of interest and quite clearly shows Queen Charlotte’s view of the Duke of Clarence’s illegitimate offspring.

I doubt he will think it advisable to marry by that I mean his pecuniary affairs which lay heavy at his heart as to what relates to his children I should think that is a point which if he marries must be settled amongst themselves, for as they are not to live under the same roof I cannot see why if the princess is reasonable she should object to see those children. I enclose the copy and make no further comments upon it as it will explain the whole.

Next, we have Williams extremely heartfelt view about any possible marriage. The underlined words are of his doing, not ours.

Bath December 18th, 1817

Dear Madam

Your Majesty having requested me to put my thoughts in writing on the subject of the letter from the Prince Regent I take up my pen to state as clearly as I can my sentiments and real situation.

I acknowledge a private and public duty and only wish to reconcile the two together: if the cabinet consider the measure of my marrying one of consequence they ought to state to me what they can and will propose for my establishment for without previously being acquainted with their intentions as to money matters I cannot and will not make any positive offer to any Princess: I have ten children totally and entirely dependent on myself. I owe forty thousand pounds of funded debt for which of course I pay interest, and I have a floating debt of sixteen thousand pounds: in addition to all which if I marry I must have a town house and my house at Bushy completely repaired and entirely new furnished: thus situated and turned fifty it would be madness in me to marry without previously knowing what my income would be: If that settlement is made which I can consider adequate I shall only have to explain my real situation as the fond and attached father of ten children to the Princess whom I am to marry: for without a complete understanding of my full determination to see when and where I please my daughters I cannot and will not marry. As for the Princess, I think under all consideration the Princess of Dannemark (sic) is probably the most proper provided her character is that which I should trust will bear investigation.

I hope I have expressed myself to your Majesty’s satisfaction: one comfort at least I have that I have opened my heart most fully and entirely and shall therefore leave in your Majesty’s hands these lines as the complete sentiment that must ever dictate my line of conduct on a measure in which both my public and private duty is concerned.

I remain

Dearest Madam

Your Majesty’s most affectionate and dutiful son

William

Clearly, the suggestion of him marrying the Princess of Dannemark fell on deaf ears, but marry he did, for in July 1818 a suitable match was found for him – Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen who was half his age.

Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection
Queen Adelaide (1792-1849) C. 1833. Watercolour on ivory laid on card | RCIN 420661.Courtesy of the Royal Collection

Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide
Hereford Journal July 8th, 1818 announcing the arrival of Princess Adelaide

The couple married only a week or so after having met. Was it a happy marriage? Well, apparently so as it lasted until his death in 1837.

Featured Image

La promenade en famille: a sketch from life by James Gillray. The Duke of Clarence, Mrs Jordan and some of their children.