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Silver gilt bells and a horse’s ass

The canopy that the Barons of the Cinque Ports held over the monarch was cloth of gold with little silver gilt bells, held aloft on spears or staves. At Henry VIII’s coronation, the canopy was reportedly held over him while he rode a horse, so it had to be pretty tall.

The Barons took the canopy home as a payment, sometimes taking it in turns and sometimes selling it and splitting the money. Bits of various canopies and Baron costumes survive in local museums.

The silver gilt cup above is in the V&A and was made of recycled canopy bells used during the coronation of James II in 1685. Two Barons (from the same family) pooled their share to make it.

At the coronation of Charles II in 1661, the Barons were attacked by the king’s footmen as soon as they were done escorting the king. The footmen dragged the Barons down the hall and almost into the street, hoping to pinch the canopy. The Barons prevailed, but while they were fighting, others snuck in and took their seats at the dinner table and ‘the poor barons’, per Samuel Pepys, ‘naturally unwilling to lose their dinner, were necessitated to eat it at the bottom of the second table below the Masters in Chancery and others of the long robe!’

At the coronation of George III, William Talbot the Lord Steward (responsible for organizing the business) didn’t set aside tables for the Barons. An argument ensued that only ended when Talbot (a pugnacious man) threatened them with a duel.

Incidentally, Talbot presided over the banquet on horseback. He went to a lot of trouble to teach his horse to walk backwards away from the thrones. Which went splendidly, but the horse kept walking back into the hall backwards, presenting his ass to the king. The crowd hooted.

George IV was the last monarch to walk to the banquet under the Cinque Ports canopy. He decided to walk in front of the canopy for some reason, the barons struggled to overtake him, and the whole procession hobbled down the road at an undignified jog-trot. I have read elsewhere that alcohol may have been involved.

May 4, 2023 — 3:00 pm
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