Heavy Lies the Crown by Jane Ridley

Jane Ridley

Heavy Lies the Crown


Writing a royal biography is a daunting task. Harold Nicolson likened starting his life of George V to setting out in a taxi for Vladivostok. I know the feeling, having written a life of George V myself. For me, it begins with research in the Royal Archives. Sitting high up in the Round Tower at Windsor, I work slowly through bound diaries, letters and memos. It’s often not until the first draft is written that the answers to some of the questions emerge. Much biographical writing involves getting to grips with someone both as a human being and as a public figure. What distinguishes royal biography is that the private life – right from the moment of birth – is public. In the case of George V, the first question I set out to answer was: was he really as dull as people made out? Thankfully not.

Even so, George’s coronation was a humdrum affair. It was the first occasion when the royals appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the service. At three minutes to three, the king and queen stepped out and waved at the cheering crowds for exactly three minutes. George spent the rest of the afternoon answering letters and telegrams. He was the only monarch to be crowned in India as well as Britain. After this second coronation he wrote, ‘Rather tired after wearing the Crown for 3½ hours, it hurt my head as it is pretty heavy’ – a vintage George V remark.

King Charles will be hoping that his coronation runs as smoothly as George’s. It’s remarkable how many coronations have gone wrong. The worst coronation of the last two centuries was that of George IV. His outrageously lavish ceremonial was disrupted by his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, who turned

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