Thomas Gray to James Brown, 24 September 1761
I set out at half an hour past four in the morning for the Coronation, & (in the midst of perils & dangers) arrived very safe at my Ld Chamberlain's Box in Westminster Hall. it was on the left hand of the throne over that appropriated to the Foreign Ministers. opposite to us was the Box of the Earl Marshal, & other Great Officers, & below it that of the Princess, & younger Part of the Royal Family. next them was the royal sideboard. then below the steps of the Haut-pas were the tables of the Nobility on each side quite to the door, behind them boxes for the sideboards, over these the galleries for the Peers Tickets, & still higher the boxes of the Auditor, the board of Green-Cloth, &c: all these throng'd with people head above head, all dress'd, & the Women with their Jewels on. in the front of the throne was a Triomfe of foliage & flowers, resembling nature, placed on the royal table, & rising as high as the canopy itself. the several bodies, that were to form the procession, issued from behind the throne gradually & in order, and proceeding down the steps were ranged on either side of the hall, all the Privy-Councellors, that are Commoners, (I think) were there, (except Mr Pitt), mightily dress'd in rich stuffs of gold & colours with long flowing wigs, some of them comical figures enough. the Kn:s of the Bath with their high plumage were very ornamental, of the Scotch Peers or Peeresses, that you see in the list, very few walk'd; & of the English Dowagers as few, tho' many of them were in Town & among the Spectators. the noblest and most graceful figures among the Ladies, were the Marchioness of Kildare (as Viscountess Leinster) Visc:ss Spencer, Countesses of Harrington, Pembroke & Strafford, & the Duchess of Richmond. of the older sort (for there is a grace, that belongs to age too) the Countess of Westmoreland C:ss of Albermarle, & Dutchess of Queensberry. I should mention too the odd and extraordinary appearances: they were the Visc:ss Say & Sele, Countesses of Portsmouth, & another that I do not name, because she is said to be an extraordinary good woman, Countess of Harcourt, & Dutchess of St Albans. of the Men doubtless the noblest and most striking figure was the Earl of Errol, & after him the Dukes of Ancaster, Richmond, Marlborough, Kingston; Earl of Northampton, Pomfret, Visc:t Weymouth, &c: the comical Men were the Earl Talbot (most in sight of anybody) Earls of Delawere & Macclesfield, Lords Montfort & Melcombe. all these I beheld at great leisure. then the Princess and Royal Family enter'd their Box; the Queen, & then the King, took their places in their chairs of state, glitt'ring with jewels (for the hire of wch, beside all his own, he paid 9000£) & the Dean & Chapter (who had been waiting without doors a full hour & half) brought up the Regalia, wch the D. of Ancaster received and placed on the Table. here ensued great confusion in the delivering them out to the Lords, who were appointed to bear them. the Heralds were stupid; the Great Officers knew nothing they were doing; the Bp of Rochester would have drop'd the Crown, if it had not been pin'd to the Cushion, & the King was often obliged to call out, & set matters right: but the Sword of State had been entirely forgot; so Ld Huntingdon was forced to carry the Ld Mayor's great two-handed sword instead of it. this made it later than ordinary, before they got under their canopies, & set forward. I should have told you, that the old Bp of Lincoln with his stick went doddling by the side of the Queen, & the Bp of Chester had the pleasure of bearing the gold paten. when they were gone we went down to dinner, for there were three rooms below, where the Duke of Devonshire was so good to feed us with great cold Sirloins of beef, legs of mutton, fillets of veal, & other substantial viands, and liqueurs, w:ch we devour'd all higgledy-piggledy like Porters. after w:ch every one scrambled up again & seated themselves. the tables were now spread, the cold viands set on & at the Kings table & side-board a great show of gold-plate, & a desert representing Parnassus with abundance of figures of Muses, Arts, &c. design'd by Ld Talbot: this was so high, that those at the end of the Hall could see neither K: nor Queen at supper. when they return'd, it was so dark, that the People without doors scarce saw anything of the procession, & as the Hall had then no other light than two long ranges of candles at each of the Peers tables, we saw almost as little as they; only one perceived the Lds & Ladies sidleing in & taking their places to dine, but the instant the Queen's Canopy enter'd, fire was given to all the Lustres at once by trains of prepared flax, that reached from one to the other. to me it seem'd an interval of not half a minute, before the whole was in a blaze of splendor. it is true, that for that half minute it rain'd fire upon the heads of all the spectators (the flax falling in large flakes) & the Ladies (Queen & all) were in no small terrors, but no mischief ensued. it was out as soon as it fell, & the most magnificent spectacle, I ever beheld remain'd. the K: (bowing to the Lords as he pass'd) with his crown on his head, & the sceptre & orb in his hands, took his place with great majesty & grace: so did the Q: with her crown, sceptre & rod. then supper was served in gold plate, the Earl Talbot, D: of Bedford, & E: of Effingham, in their robes, all three on horseback prancing & curvetting, like the hobby-horses in the Rehearsal, usher'd in the courses to the foot of the haut-pas. between the courses the Champion performed his part with applause. the E. of Denbigh carved for the King, E. of Holdernesse for the Queen: they both eat like farmers. at the board's end on the right sup'd the Ds: of York & Cumberland, on the left Lady Augusta, all of them very rich in jewels. the maple cups, the wafers, the faulcons, &c: were brought up & presented in form, 3 persons were knighted, & before 10 the K: & Q: retired. then I got a scrap of supper, & at one o'clock I walk'd home. so much for the spectacle, wch. in magnificence surpass'd every thing I have seen. next I must tell you, that the Barons of the Cinque-ports, who by ancient right should dine at a table on the Haut-pas at the right hand of the throne, found that no provision at all had been made for them, & representing their case to Earl Talbot, he told them Gentlemen, if you speak to me as High-Steward I must tell you, there was no room for you: if as Ld Talbot, I am ready to give you satisfaction in any way you think fit. they are several of them Gentlemen of the best families, so this has bred ill blood. in the next place the City of London found they had no table neither; but Beckford bullied my Ld High Steward, till he was forced to give them that intended for the Kn:ts of the Bath & instead of it they dined at the entertainment prepared for the Great Officers. 3dly & lastly (this is fact) when the Queen retired while she was in the Abbey, to a sort of closet furnish'd with necessary conveniences, one of the Ladies opening the door to see all was right, found the D:e of Newcastle perk'd up & in the very act upon the anointed velvet closestool. Do not think I joke, it is literally true.
Bussy was not at the ceremony: he is just setting out for France. Spain has supplied them with money, & is picking a quarrel with us about the fishery & the logwood. Mr Pitt says, so much the better! & was for recalling Ld Bristol directly: however a flat denial has been return'd to their pretentions.
When you have read this send it to Pa:
- The Correspondence of Thomas Gray and William Mason, with Letters to the Rev. James Brown, D.D. Ed. by the Rev. John Mitford. London: Richard Bentley, 1853, letter LXX, 269-277
- The Letters of Thomas Gray, including the correspondence of Gray and Mason, 3 vols. Ed. by Duncan C. Tovey. London: George Bell and Sons, 1900-12, letter no. CCXXIX, vol. ii, 228-237
- Correspondence of Thomas Gray, 3 vols. Ed. by the late Paget Toynbee and Leonard Whibley, with corrections and additions by H. W. Starr. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971 [1st ed. 1935], letter no. 345, vol. ii, 752-758