Gloucester royalty

Taken originally from a post on our forums by Valerie, and ex Gloucester lady, now living in the USA , the source for this article is actually a little piece of history in itself.

“The source of this information is (are you ready for this?) the City of Gloucester’s Official Programme for the Coronation Festivities of 1953. For some reason I kept this (and am so glad that I did). It cost all of sixpence at the time and is now priceless as far as I am concerned.

Any research that was done was done at that time by Alderman T. Hannam-Clark, D.L., who at the time was Chairman of the Libraries and Museums Committee, and he gives credit to “various sources -books and persons too numerous for separate acknowledgement”.

In the North aisle of Gloucester Cathedral is a stained glass window showing the coronation of King Lucius, said to have been the first Christian king of Britain. An ancient effigy of him is in the chancel of St. Mary de Lode Church. It is said that he was buried beneath one of these places, though the Church is unlikely. He was crowned in A.D. 124.

In 577 Gloucester, then Caer Glow of the Dobuni, perhaps capital of a small state, had a king of its own. Commail probably was his name. To defend the city against the invading Saxons he went to Dyrham, in Gloucestershire, on a high ridge just above Bath, but was defeated and killed, with the kings of Cirencester and Bath. This battle was a famous one in history. The British city Caer Glow or Roman Colonia Glevum then became the Saxon provincial capital of the Huiccas Gloweceastra.

It was King Osric who in 681 founded the abbey of St. Peter, afterwards to become Gloucester Cathedral.

The great King Alfred was often in the city, where he held Witans or Councils. His daughter Ethelfleda, the valiant, “Lady of the Mercians,” did much to improve the place.

A crude head of a king appears on a coin minted here in his reign (it says “aet Gleawae” on the other side), and there are many other coins till Henry III. For nearly 400 years Gloucester had a royal mint.

Several other kings both before and after Alfred are shown by records to have lived and died here, including Athelstan and Edgar and Queen Elgira, who was murdered.

It was Edward the Confessor who began the custom of bringing the King’s court to Gloucester every Christmas, and wearing his crown in state, as well as holding the Witan or Parliament, and this continued till the reign of Henry I.

The city itself has good claim to royal title, for in 964 King Edgar, in a state document described it as: “the royal city, called by its inhabitants Gloucester.”

The course of history was affected by a single-handed fight between the Kings Canute and Edmund Ironside in 1016. Some writers place it on an island here, Alney or Olney, destroyed when Gloucester’s docks were made.

But the king who brought most fame to Gloucester was William I (the Conqueror.)Soon after the battle of Hastings he was here, and of the Christmas Witans the best known was the 1085 one; after it came the order for Domesday book to be compiled. The exact spot in Gloucester is doubtful though it is thought to have been in the Cathedral Chapter House.

Domesday Book showed that the King was Gloucester”s chief landowner and it became known as a “royal” or “King’s demesne” borough.

Of William II’s (Rufus) reign it has been said that almost everything that happened at all somehow contrived to happen at Gloucester. All the Norman Kings seemed fond of the city.

Malcolm III, King of Scotland, came to pay him homage but a dispute arose and Malcolm went away in a high temper.

Henry I came to the city, and learned about lampreys, but his reign saw the end of the Witan meeting here. Queen Maud fled here from Winchester Castle.

Stephen paid visits, and later came as a prisoner; and Queen Matilda then set out from Gloucester to claim the crown. But it was not to be hers, and her son Henry II became King when Stephen died.

On 28th October, 1216, the most dramatic coronation of English history, Henry III’s, took place in Gloucester Cathedral. It was then an abbey – a smaller building with a wooden roof – but the mighty stone pillars of the nave were there. The scene is shown in the Guise stained glass window on the South side of the South aisle.

The nine-year-old king Henry III, began his 56 years reign thus. His father, King John, had died only a few days before. Though said to have almost lived at Gloucester he did not die here. His widowed Queen Isabella, who in these troubled times had taken refuge in the “Strong city” of Gloucester, was another pathetic figure.


The Civil War was still waging. In view of the recent death of King John (on October 19th, 1216) the royalist organisation was rather disjointed. He had appointed executors who took charge of affairs for the time being. They were Guala Biechieri, Cardinal Priest of St. Martin; the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester; William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Striguil, near Chepstow; the Earls of Chester and Derby; Baron William Brewer of Devon; Walter Lacy, lord of Ludlowe; the master of the Temple in England; John of Monmouth, a lord of the South Welsh marches; a Norman and a Poitevin.

Several of these, with others, quickly journeyed to Gloucester to give authority for the new reign. Most of them came from the burial of King John at Worcester. They met at the royal castle at Gloucester which now was also the royalist country. The boy king was brought from the castle at Devizes. The strain on the hospitality of the abbey was doubtless relieved by the nearby priories of St. Oswald and Llanthony.

At the Coronation there was a small attendance. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, was in Rome, having been suspended by the Pope for his support of King John. In his absence the anointing and crowning were probably done by the Bishops of Winchester and Chichester, though another writer says the Archbishop of Dublin. The Papal Legate presided and the knighting was done by the Earl Marshal, and the Bishop of Bath administered the oaths to maintain the honour of the Church, administer justice and observe only good laws, homage to the papal representative for the kingdom of England and the lordship of Ireland.

The royal crown had been lost in the tide of the Wash, and a substitute was found in a simple band of gold taken from Isabella’s neck.

In front of the high altar the little boy took the royal oaths to rule according to law and was anointed, probably very much as Queen Elizabeth II will be on June 2nd, 1953, though on a simpler scale. Mass followed, the young king was dressed in royal robes and there was feasting and merrymaking. On the next day those assembled did homage and swore allegiance to the new monarch.

There was animated discussion in the hall of the Castle. All were honestly anxious to do what was right. The Marshal pleaded that they should not visit the sins of the father upon the child. But indeed the boy, well built and well spoken, a “pretty little knight”, with his pathetic confidence in their fairness in exercising their power, appealed to their chivalry and even emotions. And the only real alternative had been a foreigner Louis, son of King Philip of France.

The obvious Regent to take charge of the young king was the Earl Marshal. He pleaded that he was over 70, a great age in those days, but ultimately consented.

As might have been expected, the coronation brought protest from Westminster that the ceremony had taken place at Gloucester, and from Canterbury at their Archbishop’s absence; and three years later the ceremony was repeated by the Archbishop at Westminster.

Henry III came to Gloucester often afterwards – an interesting visit being in 1240 when he received the homage of David Prince of Wales. In 1233 he held a great council, and he granted two important charters to the City, but later was imprisoned here by Simon de Montfort.

Later in his reign King Henry III ordered the levelling of some buildings and the making of a dyke round the town, as a defence measure; and Westgate bridge was rebuilt. He was always sympathetic to local religious houses.

Edward I’s chief visit was for a Parliament in 1278 which passed Statutes of Gloucester.

Edward II is another notable figure to the city. After several visits he met his end by foul murder at Berkeley Castle on September 21st, 1327. His body was refused burial by abbeys nearby. But Gloucester offered him honour befitting a king, and Abbot Thokey sent his carriage for a worthy funeral. The splendid tomb became a place of pilgrimage and brought many gifts which helped largely to make the Cathedral what it is.

Under Richard II in 1378 Gloucester saw another Parliament, held in the Abbey Workhouse. It passed the Statute of Labourers, dealing with wages. He granted the city two charters. He stayed at Llanthony Priory.

Henry IV held yet another Parliament here, at which the financial control of the Commons was established, and in his reign a treaty between England and France was signed at Gloucester.

Henry V’s reign saw a Parliament here. What is known as “Parliament House” is in Millers Green, at the back of the Old Deanery.

Richard III’s reign was a notable one to the City, for he granted the Charter on which our local government is mainly based. It gave the right, among other things, to a Mayor, with a sword and cap of maintenance accompanying, and mace-bearers in procession: these are privileges rare even among ancient cities. Gloucester was increased to 45 square miles, without any question in those days of a money claim by the county. But most of this area was taken away later.

He is said to have planned and ordered the murder of the princes in the Tower while in Gloucester.

Queen Margaret paid a brief but most dramatic visit in 1471, during the Wars of the Roses. She was a Lancastrian, while Gloucester supported the Yorkists and young Edward IV. Having marched from Bath and being anxious to cross the Severn by the Gloucester bridge she found the City’s gates closed in her face and admission refused. The city was walled all round and she would not undertake an assault, for her men were tired and she was anxious to get on. So round the walls she went towards Upton-on-Severn, the nearest river bridge. But ere she passed Tewkesbury the enemy fell on her and the great battle there folllowed.

Henry VII stayed at an earlier building on the site of what was lately the Bishops Palace, now the Food Office.” (Remember this was probably written in 1952).

“Queen Mary came as Princess, in 1525 and later Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, on July 31st, 1535 for four days. They would visit the countryside daily and be met on their return by torchbearers. Then he came with Jane Seymour.

Queen Elizabeth, who gave the city a Recorder, and made it a port, of course paid a visit, on August 8th, 1574.

James I was here in 1605, staying at the Deanery, during the plague, when he “touched for the Evil”.

A James I charter made the city a county. A Charles I charter gave power to deal with city walls, gates, pavements, and bridges and quays. Next came the great siege.

In 1643 Gloucester played a prominent part in the struggle between King Charles and his Parliament. The Parliamentarians fortified the city and almost by a miracle kept the Royalists at bay. Robinswood Hill and Matson House, where the attackers camped and Charles I and his two sons stayed, were soon afterwards taken away from the city by Charles II in a great reduction of its area, but have lately been restored. For a century no royalty came here, but in 1687 James II broke the spell.

After another century George III came, more than once; first to stay at Matson House (now in the city) and explore Robinswood Hill, and later with his Queen and daughters, from Cheltenham, where he stayed in 1788. Thackeray tells an amusing story of an adventure in Westgate Street.

The then Prince of Wales (later King George IV) visited Gloucester from Berkeley on October 5th, 1807, when the Corporation presented him with the freedom of the city, entertaining him to dinner at the old Kings Head Hotel (since demolished) in Westgate Street. There Princess Victoria is said to have dined and slept when driving through the City.

As Queen Victoria with Prince Albert she came on September 29th, 1849, and again visited the City on August 30th, 1852; many remember Edward VII’s visit on June 23rd, 1909 to the Royal Agricultural Show where mud abounded. He granted the infirmary the privilege of being Royal.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (now Queen Mother) visited the Gloster Aircraft Company’s works (within the Parliamentary City) on February 10th, 1940, during the Second World War. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II (both as Princess and Queen) have more than once visited the County.

Queen Mary (widow of King George V) came to the City in 1928 and several times since during the Second World War and to the Gloster Aircraft Company’s Works in 1942 and 1944 when she lived at Badminton House, the home of a niece, Lady Victoria, Duchess of Beaufort, daughter of the 1st Marquis of Cambridge. Her husband, Henry Somerset, the 10th Duke, Master of the Royal Horse, is the City’s Lord High Steward, with its Honorary Freedom, as well as the County’s Lord Lieutenant. Both have visited the City many times.

Of recent years visits have been paid to the County by Princess Margaret and the Duke of Windsor, both when Prince of Wales (he stayed for a year at Badminton) and when King Edward VIII, and to the City by the Princess Royal (Countess Harewood) in 1931, 1946 and 1948 and the late Duke and Duchess of Kent. The Duke also visited the Gloster Aircraft Company’s Works in 1940 and 1942. Princess Helena Victoria came in 1920 and 1933 and Princess Alice and Earl of Athlone in 1934 and other Princes and Princesses of older generation