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Treasure of the Month

Highlighting some of our most precious historic artefacts, from manuscripts to jewellery.

January 2019: George Nayler, The Coronation of his Most Sacred Majesty King George the Fourth, London, 1839

This magnificent volume, depicting the coronation of King George IV in January 1821 (198 years ago this month) is Durham Cathedral Library’s first Treasure of the Month for 2019. Featuring 42 aquatint plates (prints resembling watercolours, which are made by etching a copper plate with nitric acid and using resin and varnish to produce areas of tonal shading), it is undoubtedly one of the grandest and most ostentatious of the early printed books in our collections. One of 47 volumes produced by Sir George Nayler, Clarenceux (or Clarencieux) King of Arms at the College of Arms, it was unfinished at Nayler’s death and completed – and printed –posthumously. Nayler had begun his career as a miniature painter before moving into heraldry, and was knighted by George IV – while he was still Prince Regent – in 1813.

 

The elegance and ostentation of this book on the coronation, was perhaps only surpassed by that of the event itself. Deeply unpopular with his subjects by the time he ascended the throne in 1820, following his nine-year period as Regent during his father’s illness, George was keen to make a public statement – and wanted his crowning to outshine that of Napoleon’s as Emperor of France in 1804. Costing around ten times that of the coronation of his father sixty years earlier, George spared no expense. He ordered new robes for all participants inspired by the Tudor style (his own had a 27-foot train, an ermine trim, and was embroidered with gold); he even rejected the use of the traditional coronation crown, St. Edward’s Crown, commissioning a brand new one instead. The Coronation Crown of George IV was designed to make him look like a “gorgeous bird of the east” and featured over 12,000 diamonds. It was dismantled in 1823 and never worn by another monarch.

George’s profligate nature, his significant debts, and his openly poor relationships with both his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and his father, George III, did not make the new king a sympathetic figure with his subjects. However, the spectacle of the coronation proved popular, and the king initially enjoyed a small surge in popularity. The procession from Westminster Hall into Westminster Abbey along a raised awning proved particularly engaging for the waiting crowds – led by the king’s herbwoman and six young female attendants, dressed all in white, the train of the king’s robe was carefully spread out behind him so to be better seen by his audience.

 

George Nayler died in 1831 – a year after George IV himself, and only a couple of months after officiating at the coronation of George’s brother and successor William IV – leaving this work incomplete. His work – and its subsequent copyright – was purchased by Henry Bohn, who had the plates coloured and bound in a folio volume which was eventually published in this form in 1837.

 

As part of Durham Cathedral’s collection of early printed books, this volume is available to be consulted by readers and interested parties. Appointments to view the special collections typically take place Tuesday to Thursday and need to be made in advance by emailing Library@durhamcathedral.co.uk. Please see the Cathedral Library's page for further information.