American Elephants

King George III riding to address Parliament on the distressing issue of war in America. by The Elephant's Child
January 3, 2009, 7:14 pm
Filed under: Art, History, Literature | Tags: , , ,

Here is an odd bit of trivia for you.  I received David McCullough’s 1776 for Christmas. He begins the book with a description of the procession “on the afternoon of Thursday October 26, 1775,  in which His Royal Majesty George III, King of England rode in royal splendor from St. James’s Palace to the Palace of Westminster, there to address the opening of Parliament on the increasingly distressing issue of war in America.”

An estimated 60,000 people turned out to line the route through St. James Park.

By tradition, two Horse Grenadiers with swords drawn rode in the lead to clear the way, followed by gleaming coaches filled with nobility, then a clattering of Horse Guards, the Yeomen of the Guard in red and gold livery, and a rank of footmen, also in red and gold.  Finally came the King in his colossal golden chariot pulled by eight magnificent cream-colored horses (Hanoverian Creams), a single postilion riding the left lead horse, and six footmen at the side.

No mortal on earth rode in such style as their King, the English knew.  Twenty-four feet in length and thirteen feet high, the royal coach weighed nearly four tons, enough to make the ground tremble when under way.  George III had had it built years before, insisting that it be “superb.” Three gilded cherubs on top — symbols of England, Scotland, and Ireland — held high a gilded crown, while over the heavy spoked wheels, front and back, loomed four gilded sea gods, formidable reminders that Britannia ruled the waves.  Allegorical scenes on the door panels celebrated the nation’s heritage, and windows were of sufficient size to provide a full view of the crowned sovereign within.

It was as though the very grandeur, wealth, and weight of the British Empire were rolling past — an empire that by now included Canada,  that reached from the seaboard of Massachusetts and Virginia to the Mississippi and beyond, from the Caribbean to the shores of Bengal.  London, its population at nearly a million souls, was the largest city in Europe and widely considered the capital of the world.

The coach is housed at the Royal Mews, and is used for Coronations and formal occasions.  It was last used for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.  I’ve probably seen it in pictures, but until this description, I never focused solely on the coach itself, and it is well worth focusing on. ( It is bigger than my living room! ).  The Royal Mews houses a whole raft of state coaches, but King George III’s coach is indeed something special. You can download a cut-out-and-paste-model of the coach here, if you are so inclined.  For size relationship, remember that a standing footman barely comes to the bottom of the coach windows.  It is indeed superb.

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