Coronation Connections

06th May 2023

What was the historic involvement of the Dukes of Richmond in past coronations? This article, published recently in The Goodwood Magazine, delves into the details!

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At eleven o’clock on the morning of the 2nd June 1953, Frederick Gordon Lennox, 9th Duke of Richmond waited in eager anticipation in the vestibule of Westminster Abbey. Wearing robes of crimson velvet edged with miniver pure, he held a gold rod that glittered with emeralds, sapphires and rubies surmounted by a gold monde and an enamelled dove with outstretched wings. The Sceptre with the Dove, made in 1661 for King Charles II’s coronation after the previous crown jewels were melted down by Oliver Cromwell, symbolises the sovereign’s spiritual role. Richmond clasped it tightly. Behind him, acting as his page boy, was his thirteen-year-old godson, Simon Benton Jones. Clad in a bright yellow frock coat with red cuffs, a lace jabot, cream breeches and white silk stockings, Benton Jones was beaming with pride as he carried his godfather’s ducal coronet.

The atmosphere in the vestibule was alive with a palpable sense of excitement. After fifteen minutes, there was some commotion. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II entered and took up her position between her supporters and two rows of Gentlemen-at-Arms, behind Richmond and the other bearers of the Royal regalia. The choristers began their rousing anthem and Richmond and Benton Jones took their first step forward. As the procession moved up the nave of Westminster Abbey, the historic home of the coronation ceremony since 1066, the 8000 guests present were privy to a splendid sight; among them, the 9th Duchess of Richmond in her crimson robes scanned the technicoloured sea of ceremonial outfits and feathered plumes for her husband.

When the procession reached the Queen’s Chair of Estate, Richmond relinquished the Sceptre with the Dove to the Archbishop of Canterbury to be placed with the other crown jewels on the altar. As the Queen sat on St Edward’s Chair, the seat upon which all monarchs since the 14th century have been crowned, she was invested with the regalia; the Sceptre with the Dove was placed in her left hand. Just before the crowning, Richmond’s coronet was delivered to him by Benton Jones, and as the St Edward’s crown touched The Queen’s head, cries of ‘God Save the Queen’ resounded through the Abbey and Richmond, together with the ‘princes and Princesses, and the Peers and Peeresses’, put on his coronet. When the Queen ascended her throne, Richmond took up his position directly behind her, receiving from her the Sceptre with the Dove. Then, when The Duke of Norfolk, the senior Duke of the realm, knelt before the Queen in homage and pronounced words of fealty, Richmond mirrored him from behind the throne. Placing the Sceptre with the Dove back into Her Majesty’s hands, Richmond could be relieved that he had fulfilled the duty asked of him and had done so without any mishaps. All those practices had paid off.

Surveying the Abbey from behind the Queen’s throne, memories of the last time he had undertaken the role in 1937 perhaps stirred. Then, it had been King George VI who had sat before him and his nephew Charles Vyner, who tragically died in the Second World War, who had accompanied him. If Richmond felt the presence of his own past, he may also have heard the whispers of his forebears. Richmond’s grandfather, the 7th Duke had been appointed by George V in 1911 to bear the Sceptre with the Dove. Like his grandson, he had brought with him a suitably aged page - between 10 and 14 years – donned in the red and yellow colours of the Richmond livery. Keeping an eye out for him were the Earl and Countess of March, and Lord Settrington; their beautifully illustrated invitations with Britannia holding the Orb and Sceptre flanked by Corinthian columns remain treasures of the collection today. The 6th Duke had been appointed by Edward VII to undertake the same honour in 1902, but he wrote sadly of the impossibility of carrying it out due to his age, asking his brother-in-law, Lord Lucan to be his deputy.

Born a year after the 7th Duke died, the 9th Duke considered the role to be very much a family tradition, and in the lead up to 1953 when putting in his claim (a formality required), he wrote ‘we’ve all done it since William IV myself included last time!!!’. It had been the 5th Duke who had borne the Sceptre with the Dove for William IV. Like the 9th Duke, he would undertake the honour a second time, for Queen Victoria in 1838. This surely is how Queen Victoria’s leather coronation glove and a damask cushion shimmering with cloth of silver from the ceremony found their way into Goodwood’s collection. In his letter the 9th Duke could have gone back further, for the custom began in 1702 with the 1st Duke at Queen Anne’s coronation. While the 2nd Duke fulfilled the role of Lord High Constable of England for George II, his son the 3rd Duke held the Sceptre with the Dove for George III in 1761. He scrawled his attendance at the coronation and preparations prior to it in his leather bound appointment book.

Rather wonderfully, this little book remains at Goodwood today, enabling us to glean a sense of what the 3rd Duke witnessed all those years ago. Numerous other treasures also survive offering insights into the experiences of the other Dukes of Richmond, including the 9th Duke and Duchess’ coronation robes, Vyner and Benton Jones’ outfits, Queen Victoria’s glove, personal invitations, admittance cards and letters. This year, for our exhibition, Goodwood will bring these items together to illustrate and better explore the role the Dukes of Richmond have historically undertaken in past coronations. It is after all coronation year, so how could we resist!

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