Gateway to the Classics: Richard II by Jacob Abbott
Richard II by  Jacob Abbott

The Coronation

The coronation of a monarch is often postponed for a considerable time after his accession to the throne. There is no practical inconvenience in such a postponement, for the crowning, though usually a very august and imposing ceremony, is of no particular force or effect in respect to the powers or prerogatives of the king. He enters upon the full enjoyment of all these prerogatives and powers at once on the death of his predecessor, and can exercise them all without restraint, as the pubic good may require. The coronation is merely a pageant, which, as such, may be postponed for a longer or shorter period, as occasion may require.

Richard was crowned, however, a very short time after his father's death. It was thought best, undoubtedly, to take prompt measures for sealing and securing his right to the succession, lest the Duke of Lancaster or some other person might be secretly forming plans to supplant him. King Edward, Richard's grandfather, died on the 22d of June. The funeral occupied several days, and immediately afterward arrangements began to be made for the coronation. The day was appointed for the 16th of July. On the 15th the king was to proceed in state from the palace in the environs of London where he had been residing, through the city of London, to Westminster, where the coronation was to take place; and as the people of London desired to make a grand parade in honor of the passage of the king through the city, the arrangements of the occasion comprised two celebrations on two successive days—the procession through London on the 15th, and the coronation at Westminster on the 16th.

On the morning of the 15th, an imposing train of the nobility, led by all the great officers of state, assembled at the residence of the king to receive him and to escort him through the city. Richard was dressed in magnificent robes, and mounted upon a handsome charger. A nobleman led his horse by the bridle. Another nobleman of high rank went before him, bearing the sword of state, the emblem of the regal power. Other nobles and prelates in great numbers, mounted many of them on splendidly-caparisoned horses, and in full armor, joined in the train. Bands of musicians, with trumpets and other martial instruments in great numbers, filled the air with joyful sounds, and in this manner the procession commenced its march.

In the mean time, the Londoners had made great preparations for the reception of the cortége. Conduits were opened in various parts of the city, to run with wine instead of water, in token of the general joy. In the heart of the city an edifice in the form of a castle was erected in honor of the occasion. This castle had four towers. In each of the towers were four beautiful young girls, all about Richard's age. They were dressed in white, and their duty was, as the king went by, to throw out a quantity of little leaves of gold, which, falling upon and all around the king, produced the effect of a shower of golden flakes of snow.

The procession stopped before the castle. There were conduits flowing with wine upon two sides of it. The young girls descended from the towers, bringing golden cups in their hands. These cups they filled with wine at the fountains, and offered them to the king and to the nobles who accompanied him. On the top of the castle, between the four towers, there stood a golden angel with a crown in his hand. By some ingenious mechanism, this angel was made to extend his arm to the king, as if in the act of offering him the crown. This was a symbol representing the idea often inculcated in those days, that the right of the king to reign was a divine right, as if the crown were placed upon his head by an angel from heaven.

After pausing thus a short time at the castle, the procession moved on. The streets were filled with vast crowds of people, who drowned the music of the trumpets and drums by their continual acclamations.

In this way the royal procession passed on through London, and at length arrived at the gate of the palace in Westminster. Here Richard was assisted to dismount from his horse, and was conducted into the palace between two long lines of knights and soldiers that were stationed at the entrance and upon the staircase to honor his arrival. He was glad that the ceremony was over, for he was beginning to be very tired of riding on horseback so many hours, and of being so long in the midst of scenes of so much noise, excitement, and confusion.

The next day was the day appointed for the coronation itself. Richard was dressed in his royal robes, and shortly before noon he was conducted in great state from the palace to the church. He was received by a procession of bishops and monks, and conducted by them to the grand altar. The pavement before the altar was covered with rich tapestry. Here Richard kneeled while prayers were said and the Litany was sung by the priests. His barons and nobles, and the great officers of state, kneeled around him. After the prayers were over, he was conducted to an elevated seat, which was richly decorated with carvings and gold.

A bishop then ascended to a pulpit built against one of the vast Gothic columns of the church, and preached a sermon. The sermon was on the subject of the duty of a king; explaining how a king ought to conduct himself in the government of his people, and enjoining upon the people, too, the duty of being faithful and obedient to their king.

Richard paid little attention to this sermon, being already tired of the scene. He was, moreover, bewildered by the multitude of people crowded into the church, and all gazing intently and continually upon him. There were bishops and priests in their sacerdotal robes of crimson and gold, and knights and nobles brilliant with nodding plumes and glittering armor of steel. When the sermon was finished, the oath was administered to Richard. It was read by the archbishop, Richard assenting to it when it was read. As soon as the oath had thus been administered, the archbishop, turning in succession to each quarter of the church, repeated the oath in a loud voice to the people, four times in all, and called upon those whom he successively addressed to ask whether they would submit to Richard as their king. The people on each side, as he thus addressed them in turn, answered, with a loud voice, that they would obey him. This ceremony being ended, the archbishop turned again toward Richard, pronounced certain additional prayers, and then gave him his benediction.

The ceremony of anointing came next. The archbishop advanced to Richard and began to take off the robes in which he was attired. At the same time, four earls held over and around him, as a sort of screen, a coverture, as it was called, of cloth of gold. Richard remained under this coverture while he was anointed. The archbishop took off nearly all his clothes, and then anointed him with the holy oil. He applied the oil to his head, his breast, his shoulders, and the joints of his arms, repeating, as he did so, certain prayers. The choir, in the mean time, chanted a portion of the Scriptures relating to the anointing of King Solomon. When the oil had been applied, the archbishop put upon the king a long robe, and directed him to kneel. Richard accordingly kneeled again upon the tapestry which covered the floor, the archbishop and the bishops kneeling around him. While in this position the archbishop offered more prayers, and more hymns were sung, and then he assisted Richard to rise from his kneeling posture, and proceeded to dress and equip him with the various garments, and arms, and emblems appropriate to the kingly power. In putting on each separate article the archbishop made a speech in Latin, according to a form provided for such occasions, beginning with, Receive this cloak, receive this stole, receive this sword, and the like.

In this manner and with these ceremonies Richard was invested with a splendidly-embroidered coat and cloak, a stole, a sword, a pair of spurs, a pair of bracelets, and, finally, with a garment over all called the pallium. All these things, of course, had been made expressly for the occasion, and were adapted to the size and shape of a boy like Richard. The archbishop was assisted in putting these things on by certain nobles of the court, who had been designated for this purpose, and who considered themselves highly honored by the part that was assigned them in the ceremony.

When the dressing had been completed, the archbishop took the crown, and after having invoked a blessing upon it by his prayers and benedictions, all in the Latin tongue, he placed it upon Richard's head, repeating, at the same time, a Latin form, the meaning of which was that he received the crown from God Almighty, and that to God alone he was responsible for the exercise of his royal power.

Then came a certain grand officer of the court with a red globe, an emblem of royalty which has long been used in England. This globe the archbishop blessed, and then the officer put it into Richard's hands. In the same manner the sceptre was brought, and, after being blessed by means of the same ceremonies and prayers, was also put into Richard's hands.

Richard was now completely invested with the badges and insignia of his office. The archbishop then, raising his hands, pronounced upon him his apostolic benediction, and the ceremony, so far, was ended. The bishops and nobles then came up to congratulate and salute Richard on having thus received his crown, after which they conducted him to his seat again.

Richard now began to be very tired and to wish to go home, but there was a great deal more yet to come before he could be set at liberty. There was an anthem to be sung by the choir, and more prayers to be said, after which there came what was called the offertory. This was a ceremony in which a person was led to the altar, to lay down upon it whatever offering he chose to make for the service of the Church. The king rose from his seat and was led forward to the altar, having, of course, been previously told what he was to do. He had in his hand a sum of money which had been provided for the occasion. He laid down this money first upon the altar, and then his sword. It was the custom in these coronations for the king thus to offer his sword, in token of the subordination of his royal power to the law and will of God, and then the sword was afterward to be redeemed with money by the sword-bearer, the officer whose duty it was, on leaving the church, to bear the sword in procession before the king.

Accordingly, after Richard had returned from the altar, the earl whose office it was to bear the sword went to the altar and redeemed it with a sum of money, and carried it back to the place where Richard was sitting.

Then came the service of the mass, which occupied a long time, so that Richard became very tired indeed before it was ended. After the mass came the communion, which it was necessary for Richard to partake. The communion was, of course, accompanied with more prayers and more chantings, until the poor boy thought that the ceremonies would never be ended. When at last, however, all was over, and the procession was ready to form again to leave the church, Richard was so worn out and exhausted with the fatigue that he had endured that he could not ride home; so they brought a sort of litter and placed him upon it, and four of the knights bore him home on their shoulders. His uncle the Duke of Lancaster and the Earl Percy went before him, and a long train of bishops, nobles, and grand officers of state followed behind. In this way he was brought back to the palace. As soon as the party reached the palace, they carried Richard directly up to a chamber, took off all his grand paraphernalia, and put him to bed.

He rested a little while, and then they brought him something to eat. His troubles were, however, not yet over, for there was to be a great banquet that afternoon and evening in the hall of the palace, and it was necessary that he should be there. Accordingly, after a short time, he was arrayed again in his royal robes and insignia, and conducted down to the hall. Here he had a ceremony to perform of creating certain persons earls. Of course it was his counselors that decided who the persons were that were to be thus raised to the peerage, and they told him also exactly what he was to do and say in the programme of the ceremony. He sat upon his throne, surrounded by his nobles and officers of state, and did what they told him to do. When this ceremony had been performed, the whole company sat down to the tables which had been prepared for a banquet.

They continued their feasting and carousing to a late hour, and then amused themselves with various boisterous games common in those days. In the court-yard of the palace a pillar was set up, with pipes at the sides of it, from which there were flowing continually streams of wine of different kinds, and every body who pleased was permitted to come and drink. A part of the amusement consisted in the pushings and strugglings of the people to get to the faucets, and the spilling of the wine all over their faces and clothes. The top of the pillar was adorned with a large gilt image of an eagle.

The next day there were more processions and more celebrations, but Richard himself was, fortunately for him, excused from taking any part in them. In the mean time, the people who managed the government in Richard's name heard the news that the French had learned, in some way, the tidings of King Edward's death, and had landed in the southern part of England, and were burning and destroying all before them. So they made all haste to raise an army to go and repel the invaders.

It was finally concluded, also, to appoint Richard's two uncles, namely, John, Duke of Lancaster, and Edmund, Earl of Cambridge, as his guardians until he should become of age. Some persons thought it was not safe to trust Richard to the Duke of Lancaster at all, but others thought it would be better to conciliate him by treating him with respect, than to make him an open enemy by passing over him entirely.

Richard was considered, at this time, a very amiable and good boy, and it was generally believed by the people of England that, with a right and proper training, he would grow up to be a virtuous and honest man, and they anticipated for him a long and happy reign. And yet, in a little more than ten years after he became of age, he was disgraced and dethroned on account of his vices and crimes.

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