Coronation of George V

Ahead of Charles III’s coronation this weekend, we look back at the first time cameras were allowed inside the Westminster Abbey


George V’s coronation in 1911 had several ‘firsts’: the first to use the newly developed processional route through the Mall and Whitehall; the first to be followed by a thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral; the first with the iconic balcony appearance by the king — and most importantly, the first to be photographed from inside the abbey.

The honor fell to Sir John Benjamin Stone, a former MP and amateur photographer, who was earlier also entrusted by George V to photograph intimate portraits, such as his late father Edward VII’s coffin in the royal vault.

Despite the king’s wishes, Stone wasn’t welcomed by everybody. The illustrated news magazines of London dismissed his blurry photos of ceremony as inferior to sketches produced by their eyewitness artists, and the formidable Randall Davison, then in the seventh year of a tenure that would make him the longest serving Archbishop of Canterbury since the Reformation, insisted that the photographer and his camera be “in a position absolutely concealed”. As such, Stone’s photo of the king on the coronation chair (above) was almost blocked.

The royal couple both complained about the coronation. “The service in the Abbey was most beautiful, but it was a terrible ordeal,” wrote George V in his journal, while Queen Mary wrote to her aunt, “it was an awful ordeal for us both.”


In the front row of the Royal Box behind the king, from left to right, were four of his six children (1. Princess Mary; 2. Prince Albert, the future George VI; 3. Prince Henry, the future Duke of Gloucester; 4. Prince George, the future Duke of Kent), his sister (5. the then Princess Royal, Duchess of Fife), and three of his aunts, all daughters of Queen Victoria (6. Princess Christian of Scheswig-Holstein; 7. Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll; 8. Princess Henry of Battenberg). The young princes would fight on the way back to the palace: the 11-year-old Henry wrestling the 8-year-old George, nearly knocking Princess Mary’s coronet out of their carriage.

Sitting behind the king’s children were the Connaughts and the Albanys — the wives and daughters of the king’s uncles. From left to right, 1. The Duchess of Connaught; 2. The Duchess of Albany; 3. Princess Patricia (a daughter of Duke of Connaught); and 4. Princess Alexander of Teck (a daughter of Duke of Albany and married to the Queen’s brother).

On the king’s right, four men carrying swords of state were visible. They were, left to right, 1. Field Marshal Lord Kitchner of Khartoum, carrying the sword of temporal justice; 2. Duke of Beaufort, bearing curtana (also known as the Sword of Mercy); 3. Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar, former Commander-in-Chief of the Army, carrying the sword of spiritual justice; and bearing the unwieldy Sword of State, William Lygon, Lord Beauchamp (often thought to be the model for the character Lord Marchmain in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited).

Visible behind Beauchamp in his military dress was Captain Charles Cust, equerry to the king, who would be a confidante of three kings.

Between the king and the queen were the other officials who held ceremonial roles. From left to right, 1. the Viscount Churchill, one of the bearers of the king’s train; 2. the Bishop of Bath and Wells; 3. the Earl of Carrington; and 4. the Bishop of Durham. On the other side of the queen was the Bishop of Petersborough. Behind the queen were the bearers of her six-yard long train, led by Evelyn Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire and Mistress of the Robes — the senior lady in the Royal Household.

Lord Carrington, the future Marquess of Lincolnshire, bore St Edward’s Staff and held the role of Lord Great Chamberlain. The role rotates with every change of reign between three families: the others being the Cholmondeleys and the Willoughby de Eresbys (the Earls of Ancaster). For Charles III’s coronation, it will be turn of another Carrington.

Bishops of Durham and Bath and Wells acted as Bishops Assistant to the King — a role that existed since the coronation of Edgar in 973, and had been carried out by the holders of those two bishoprics since the coronation of Richard I in 1189.

(You can compare Stone’s photos to the almost identical coronation painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon. Bacon was placed hidden from view behind the tombs of Aymer de Valence and Aveline of Lancaster, directly facing the Royal Box, and he used artistic licence to produce a clear view of the king in profile and the queen facing the viewer).

Antony Armstrong-Jones

Anthony Armstrong-Jones, society photographer and royal paramour, is dead, aged 86. 


As royal portraits went, it didn’t get more intimate than this. In 1962, Anthony Armstrong-Jones sat on a toilet and took a photo of his wife Princess Margaret soaking in the bathtub in full makeup and tiara. His feet and hand were reflected in the mirror in the photo.

The couple was then just two years into their marriage. Theirs was the first royal wedding ceremony to be broadcast on television, and Armstrong-Jones became the first commoner in four centuries to marry a British princess. But he could never shake the perceptions that he had been Margaret’s second choice — her earlier romance with a divorcee was stopped by the establishment — and the couple separated in 1976.

This sensational divorce was also record-breaking: it was the first royal divorce in England since Henry VIII. It would set the tone for later royal break-ups of Princes Charles and Andrew. Yet Armstrong-Jones maintained close personal relationships with the British royal family post-divorce, and remained a favorite photographer of the Queen long after his marriage to her sister had ended.


Already a society photographer before his marriage, the royal connections opened doors. He took photos of Ian McKellen, Serge Gainsbourg, Salvador Dali, Vita Sackville-West, Laurence Olivier, David Bowie, Barbara Cartland, and Marlene Dietrich among others; his portraits of J.R.R.Tolkien, previously featured at Iconic Photos here, and Agatha Christie were iconic. For Vanity Fair in November 1995, Snowdon put together a photoessay on British Theatre, photographing Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Julie Christie, and others, in a 56-page spread—the biggest photoessay Vanity Fair had ever ran. (In a spread from that essay above, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole share tea and private moment at the Dorchester).

An excellent obituary from The Globe and Mail here. A scanned version of the theatre portfolio is here.

Pomp, Pageantry — and Monarchy

The Royal Wedding in London two months ago makes me chuckle a little bit, not least because Britain used to be quite horrible at royal pageantry. In 1817, at the funeral of Princess Charlotte, the undertakers were drunk. At Queen Victoria’s unrehearsed coronation in 1838,  two train-bearers talked all through the ceremony, the clergy lost their place in the Order of Service and the ring was too small for Victoria’s finger. After the funeral of Prince Albert at Windsor in 1861, the special train back to London was so crowded that Disraeli had to sit on his wife’s lap.

The same year, watching the Queen open Parliament, Lord Robert Cecil bemoaned, that while many nations had a gift for this sort of thing, England did not: “We can afford to be more splendid than most nations; but some malignant spell broods over all our most solemn ceremonials and inserts into them some feature which makes them all ridiculous … Something always breaks down, somebody contrives to escape doing his part, or some bye-motive is suffered to interfere and ruin it all.” However, other monarchies that ‘had a gift’ — France, Germany, Russia and Austria (whose capital cities were better adapted to processions than London) — simply dropped out of monarchic race, leaving the Britons alone in the field.

On the other end of this pomp and circumstance are bicycling monarchies — more informal and modest personal styles of the royal families in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. One of the most famous exemplars of a bicycling monarchy was that of Olav V of Normay, known as “People’s King.” An accomplished skier who won an Olympic gold medal, Olav skied with no entourage but his dog. He also drove himself, and would drive in the regular highway lanes though he was allowed to drive in the public transportation lane. During the energy crisis in the 1970s, when Norway banned driving on certain weekends, the king would take a tram to go skiing — a practice he continued even after the crisis ended. In above photo, Olav tried to pay for his tickets, as the conductor told him that his adjutant further back had already paid for him.

— via Gisle from Norway

Annenberg Curtsy


In March 2009 died Leonore Annenberg, the society doyenne who was President Ronald Reagan’s first chief of protocol and who, with her late husband, the ambassador and publisher Walter H. Annenberg, gave away billions to philanthropic causes. She was 91.

Not long after his inauguration in 1981, Reagan nominated Leonore “Lee” Annenberg as his chief of protocol; it was a position on the rank with ambassador, requiring confirmation by the Senate, which sailed through on a 96-to-0 vote and rolled up her Bill Blass sleeves. ”It’s the first paying job I’ve ever had,” she joked, but invited diplomats to dinners at her own expense.

Unorthodox, superbly rich and headstrong, she was never a popular figure inside the White House, and a picture of her curtsying to the visiting Prince Charles at Andrews Air Force Base was later splashed across the front pages of hundreds of newspapers, with some commentators said it was unseemly in the republic which gained its independence by overthrowing the same dynasty Lee was curtsying to.

What made matters worse was a repeated curtsy, this time by Diana Vreeland, the former editor of Vogue and a longtime friend of the Reagans, at the private dinner for Prince Charles at the White House. Nancy Reagan was photographed next to Vreeland unfazed and smiling. The press went wild.

The British Consulate’s insistence that this was the correct form while meeting royalty didn’t help either. A few weeks later, on July 17th, when she met Prince Charles again at the Royal Ballet’s 50th Anniversary gala in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, Lee Anneberg decided not to curtsy again.

For the Annebergs, the last straw was a presidential trip to Egypt for the funeral of the assassinated president, Anwar El-Sadat. Normally, the protocol chief would have handled the arrangements, but they were taken over by the White House. Mrs. Annenberg resigned after 11 months in office, saying she wanted to spend more time with her husband.