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News > Foundation Archive News > Royal Coronations And Connections

Royal Coronations And Connections

Archivist Catherine Lewis explores Princethorpe's royal connections.

In recent weeks, we have been witness to an historic event, the Coronation of King Charles III. You may have joined in the celebrations by having a street party, coming together with friends, watching the events unfold on the television or simply thoroughly enjoying your additional bank holiday! However, you chose to celebrate, you would have been in good company as Princethorpe (and the people connected with Princethorpe) have a long association with royalty, dating back hundreds of years.

One of the many fascinating elements of the Benedictine community at Princethorpe was that every day the nuns said a prayer to the British Royal family. What caused an enclosed Catholic order of nuns to do this?

Royal connection: King George IV and Mrs Fitzherbert

In 1792, due to the impossible dangers of the French Revolution, our Benedictine community of nuns, were forced to leave their home in Montargis. They set sail and arrived in England, with the intention of then completing their journey to Brussels. Thankfully for us, on their arrival at Shoreham, the community received a royal welcome from Mrs. Fitzherbert, the morganatic wife of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV.

Old Princethorpians have been heard to say that ‘the community owe their existence in this country to Mrs Fitzherbert’s benevolence’.[1] The story goes that when the community arrived in Shoreham, forty in number, destitute and homeless, Mrs Fitzherbert heard of their plight. She appealed to her husband to help them and ‘so fully was her request granted that the Prince sent his own carriages to convey the nuns to Brighton’.[2] We are given a further insight into the hospitality provided by the Prince when we learn that he presided over their first reunion and ‘not finding chairs sufficient for all, he requested the nuns to sit, whilst he stood for a full hour’.[3]

It is clear that the Benedictine community were forever grateful to Mrs. Fitzherbert, who had been a true friend when they arrived in Brighton in 1792, with only 4 pennies in their pockets.  This gratitude was shown through their daily prayer:

 ‘In thanksgiving for the Prince’s generosity, the community sing every day at the end of Mass the Domine Salvum Fac for the welfare of the Royal Family and the intentions of their benefactress’.[4]

Royal connection:  Queen Victoria

When Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Princethorpe offered her ‘two beautiful addresses, very handsomely painted’.[5] According to the school magazine Peeps, these were presented to the Queen by Lord Denbigh and she was particularly taken with one as it ‘depicted a country scene in her beloved Kent’.[6]

Queen Victoria has another intriguing connection with Princethorpe that you may find rather surprising. Princethorpe once boasted its own museum and one of the many artefacts on display there was Queen Victoria’s night-dress![7]  In the 1932 edition of Peeps an Old Princethorpian recalls being shown the night-dress on her first afternoon at the school.  It appears that she did not show enough enthusiasm for the garment but went on to say ‘far be it for me to say anything unorthodox about this royal garment so carefully preserved in St. Luke’s’![8] 

How the community came about this item and where it is now remains a mystery. For now…

Royal connection:  King George VI

In 1937, the school magazine heralds the work of one of our Old Princethorpians, Lady Tyrwhitt. Her husband was Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt, who was the President of an association that helped ex-servicemen cope with the damage caused to their mental health by war. This association ‘operated throughout the Empire, reaching many who are friendless and homeless, whose war-suffering may have left less spectacular injuries…23,500 ex-service officers and men have been helped in care, treatment, financially, and in other ways since the society’s inception’.[9] Amazingly, this society was founded in 1919 and still exists today.[10] This image shows the future King George VI supporting the Thywitt’s and their society, a Mansion House[11] in London.

This edition of Peeps then goes on to tell us how our Princethorpians participated in the Coronation of King George VI. One Old Princethorpian, Eulalie Jordan, was working in a London Hotel on the day and she gives us a fascinating insight into how people celebrated. 

Throughout the day of the Coronation, her hotel served 6,000 meals, which included 9,000 eggs, 85 gallons of cream, 712 gallons of milk and 1,130lb of butter. In addition to other wines, 1,470 bottles of champagne were consumed.[12] 

How do your coronation celebrations compare with this?!

Whilst poor Eulalie was run off her feet, serving the masses, we learn that many other Princethorpians witnessed the Coronation, with some in attendance at Westminster Abbey.[13]

Another exciting connection with this Coronation was that Captain Firth, the husband of Old Princethorpian Norah Bell, set the Coronation procession in motion as he had to signal the ‘Go’ that started it off.[14] 

Royal connection:  Queen Elizabeth II

When it came to Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953, it is clear that those at Princethorpe were very excited. The Union Jack was hoisted on the towers of both churches and the Princethorpians were said to be ‘getting really coronation-minded’.[15] In order to prepare for the big day, a visitor gave a talk on the coronation rituals and ‘brought with her many illustrations of former coronations’[16] to help the pupils understand the events.

Although the girls were on holiday during the actual coronation day, they made sure to celebrate in style before they left.  They had a ‘splendid banquet in the refectory…which consisted of salmon pate, egg sandwiches, fruit salad, jelly and strawberry ice cream.[17] There was also a ‘fine choice of drinks’ including some very exotic lime juice.[18] After ‘speeches, toasts and much flag waving’[19] everyone went to the tennis courts which had been decorated with flags and bunting and they danced until 9 o’clock![20] After all the celebrations, each pupil was presented with a coronation mug.[21]

Royal connection?

It was interesting to read an ‘afterthought’ by a young Princethorpian, regarding the 1953 Coronation:

‘…what seems most remarkable is that this occasion should break the barrier between friend and enemy.  We all forget our former enmities and grievances for the moment, so that everyone might join in the celebrations. Regardless of race, religion or political opinion, all were united – in brief, the very Coronation superseded all. Britain has attracted the world’s attention through this magnificent Coronation, and by a perfectly natural bearing our Gracious Queen has caused more of a sensation than any Hollywood film star who is trying to produce one.'

[1] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 10 (1925)
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 11
[5] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 10 (1937)
[6] Ibid.
[7] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 28 (1932)
[8] Ibid.
[9] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 15 (1937)
[10] Combat Stress for Veterans’ Mental Health, Our History, Our Future <https://combatstress.org.uk/about-us/our-history> [accessed 23 May 2023]
[11] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 15 (1937)
[12] Ibid., p. 33
[13] Ibid., p. 62
[14] Ibid.
[15] Peeps of Princethorpe, p. 16 (1953)
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.

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