Royal magnificence impresses strangers and intimidates enemies; it demonstrates the wealth and power of a nation and inspires pride in its people.

The Gold State Coach

The Gold State Coach was commissioned at the accession of George III in 1760 to replace the coach that had been in use since the reign of Queen Anne.  It was first used for the King’s journey to the State Opening of Parliament in 1762.  The coach has been used at every coronation since that time, and in the present reign has also appeared at the Silver and Golden Jubilees.  

The coach proclaims the King as Ruler of the Waves, his arrival announced by the conch-blowing tritons at the front and his presence guarded by the fasces-bearing winged figures at the rear.  The marine iconography stems from the great Year of Naval Victories in 1759, and the painted and carved elements celebrate the fruits of Peace – the flourishing of the arts and sciences.   The plate-glass windows and raised carriage are designed to maximise visibility of the sovereign himself, while the regalia are displayed in facsimile on the roof.  

Abraham Tapestries

Created in 1540-41 and delivered in the autumn of 1543, the series of ten tapestries with scenes from the life of Abraham is not only the most magnificent surviving tapestry series from the period of extraordinary tapestry patronage during the reign of Henry VIII, but also the most highly prized series of tapestries of that and subsequent eras. It is one of very few sets to have survived that were woven with a high percentage of silk and gilt-wrapped-thread. Other Abraham series were woven, but Henry's set was the only set with gilt thread.  The tapestries were probably designed and woven in Antwerp under the influence of Bernard van Orley (died in 1541), Michiel Coxcie or Pieter Cocke van Aelst. The series is composed of ten scenes depicting the principal events of the life of the prophet Abraham, drawn from Genesis, chapters 12-24. Each scene is framed by a border with architectural niches with compartments of allegorical and symbolic figures, which may have some contextual resonance with the principal scene depicted, although there appears to be no particular program. The importance of the set to Henry is perhaps due to his struggle with the Roman Catholic church, and his desire to establish a separate, reformed, Church of England: just as Abraham was the father of a race / religion, so Henry presented himself as the founder of a new religion in England. Henry's self-perception was enhanced by allying himself with the Old Testament figure of Abraham. The tapestries continued to exert a powerful hold over subsequent monarchs, as they were used at the coronations of all subsequent Tudor monarchs. Charles I regularly used the Abraham series on important state occasions, and while Charles II hung a replica series of the Abraham set in Westminster Abbey, James II hung the original set in the same space. At the Commonwealth sales, Cardinal Mazarin attempted to (and did) purchase many tapestry series, but the Abraham set eluded him. Such was its vast valuation (£8,260) at that time, it remained unsold in 1653 and was reserved for the use of Oliver Cromwell, elected as Lord Protector in 1653. The series has been displayed more or less continually at Hampton Court since Henry's day, and has maintained a powerful presence in the medium of royal magnificence.

Silver table

Silver furniture was perhaps the most costly form of furnishing in the second half of the 17th century, when the fashion for such lavish objects was at its height. At Versailles, Louis XIV had developed the fashion for silver furnishings and his 1st cousin, Charles II wished to emulate him, as did all the powerful courts of Europe. This table with its (possibly) matching tripod stands and mirror belong to a moment of extreme richness and grandeur at European Courts. A fashion in England led particularly by women: the King’s and Queen’s private apartments at Whitehall while spectacular, were surpassed in richness by those of the Duchess of Portsmouth, the King’s mistress, in their quantities of glittering silver furniture. John Evelyn wrote that the Duchess’s apartments at Whitehall displayed ‘ten times the richness and glory beyond the Queenes’. During the reign of James II, in1685/6 this table, described as ‘on 4 twisted pieces’ was at Whitehall, and was sent to be enlarged. James II & Mary of Modena (who had lived at Versailles) were devotees of this rich style of furnishing.

Hampton Court Palace

During the reign of William and Mary, Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723) was commissioned to rebuild the south and east sides of Hampton Court Palace. The Palace was originally built for Cardinal Wolsey (c.1473–1530), Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, in around 1514. After Wolsey’s fall from power, the palace passed to Henry VIII who greatly enlarged it. Hampton Court – on the river Thames between Windsor and London – was to be used as a royal residence throughout the Tudor and Stuart periods. Although William and Mary intended that the entire Tudor palace, apart from the Great Hall, should be demolished and rebuilt, funds were only available for the rebuilding of the King’s and Queen’s Apartments on the southern and eastern sides. Work commenced in May 1689 and was still in progress over ten years later, having been halted for a period after the death of Queen Mary in 1694. This print by Sutton Nicholls probably dates from around 1700, and was issued by the publisher John King. It shows the elaborate parterre of box hedges and fountains in front of the new east façade.

The Imperial State Crown

The Imperial State Crown was made for King George VI in 1937.  It is a replica of the crown designed and made for Queen Victoria in 1838 by Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, and contains virtually all the same stones.  The State Crown is the one which the sovereign wears during his or her reign, as distinct from St Edward’s Crown is used only for the coronation itself.  This is probably the tenth manifestation of the state crown since 1660.

The Imperial State Crown, which is worn annually by The Queen at the State Opening of Parliament, is set with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls.  It incorporates the following major stones:

The Lesser Star of Africa (Cullinan II), set in the front band, The Stuart Sapphire, St Edward’s Sapphire, The Black Prince’s Ruby and four pendant pearls, of which two may have been among the seven which Catherine de’Medici gave to Mary, Queen of Scots and which subsequently belonged to Elizabeth I.

Learning resources to accompany the series have been developed in partnership with BBC Schools. These can be accessed on the BBC's Famous people website.

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