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Coronations in the SBT Collections - Charles III, Queen Victoria and Stratford-upon-Avon

Suzanne Lithgo

For hundreds of years Stratford-upon-Avon has marked the coronation of new monarchs in a variety of ways, many of which are documented in the collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

As we prepare for the coronation of Charles III, this blog will explore the connections between coronations, Shakespeare and the Trust and spotlight one of the best documented coronations in our collection: Queen Victoria’s in 1838.

Queen Victoria’s coronation took place at Westminster Abbey on 28th June 1838. A crowd of over 400,000 lined the streets of London to watch the procession and pageantry and to salute their teenage monarch and first queen in over 100 years. Celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon were equally as jubilant.

A contemporary account written by High Street resident Thomas Richmon describes a parade of dignitaries and bemedalled schoolchildren with banners and flags. A bill of amusements lists events from donkey, sack and blindfolded wheelbarrow races to the ascent of a ‘large fire balloon’ and dancing involving locals of all ages.

A bill of amusements for Queen Victoria's coronation celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon, printed on yellowing paper in bold black type.

In the afternoon, an invitation-only celebration dinner took place. The Dinner, attended by over 3,000 residents seated at tables of 100, consisted of a pound of meat, half a pound of pudding and bread and table beer for every guest.

A document showing the seating plan and expenditure for Queen Victoria's coronation celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The tickets requested attendees to bring their own dining ware!

An invitation to a celebration of Queen Victoria's coronation in Stratford-upon-Avon. It is printed on yellowing parchment in a bold black font. The table number, seat number, and name and address of the invitee are handwritten in black ink.

Queen Victoria was a great admirer of Shakespeare, making notes about his works in her journal, enjoying live performances and painting scenes inspired by his plays. The connection between British monarchs with Shakespeare continues to this day with Charles III. He performed Shakespeare as a student at Gordonstoun, playing Macbeth in 1965. In 1991 he became president of the RSC and in 2016 performed in their televised 400th anniversary gala, Shakespeare Live! From the RSC. In 1995, he edited a volume of Shakespeare speeches, The Prince’s Choice. He visited the Trust in 1995 and 2002, signing the Royal Visitor book on both occasions.

King Charles III, then Prince Charles, signing the visitor book in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's Marble Hall. He is sat at a table in front of a statue of William Shakespeare.
King Charles III (then Prince Charles) signing the Visitor Book in the Marble Hall
King Charles II (then Prince Charles) signature in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust visitor book.
A black and white photo of King Charles III in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections, viewing what appears to be a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio
King Charles visiting the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections

Most recently, Charles III quoted Hamlet in his first speech as King, just one of many examples where he has used Shakespeare in his royal addresses. Considering the abundant references to succession and sovereignty in Shakespeare, I wonder if the Bard will be quoted by the newly crowned king during the coronation weekend.

Contemplating the festivities planned in Stratford-upon-Avon and across the land for the imminent coronation, including concerts, street parties and community events in honour of our first king in 70 years, it’s hard not to make a comparison to the exuberance of the celebrations for Queen Victoria. I wonder how HM The King’s inauguration will be represented in our archive and juxtapose Queen Victoria’s enthronement 185 years ago - without doubt, the sense of anticipation and national occasion are equal!

Discover more collections relating to the coronation of British monarchs on the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust online catalogue.

Find out more about HM the King’s connections to Shakespeare on our Charles III landing page where you can view an online gallery of items related to past coronations in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Collections.