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The Gold State Coach

A brief history of the British State Coach 

Image: The Gold State Coach | Dave Goodman /

No one knows the precise timeline between the invention of the wheel (circa 3500 BC) and the ‘Eureka Moment’ later in the Bronze Age when some bright spark joined the wheel with a load-bearing axle to create a rudimentary cart. At some subsequent moment in time a horse was attached to the now rolling chassis and in an instant a new technology was established, one that has sustained humankind from that day to this.

Over time, this ingenious device has been embellished and tweaked to suit the transportation needs of everyone, from farmers and soldiers to nobility. While the physical principles of the device remain constant, there is one aspect of the horse-drawn cart that has always been an issue, even for royalty: comfort.

The Gold State Coach

Like the new-fangled Diamond Jubilee State Coach, the Gold State Coach was built for the state opening of parliament. Designed by Sir William Chambers and built by Samuel Butler in 1762, the Gold State Coach features ornate gilt sculptures of Triton (demigod of the sea and the son of Poseidon) to represent British naval power over each decorated wheel. Three cherubs signifying England, Scotland and Wales gallivant around St Edwards Crown on the roof.

The assortment of gods and goddesses around the door was painted by Florentine artist Giovanni Battista Cipriani and the ostentatious interior is bedecked in velvet and satin. Why the coach suspension favours antiquated leather braces and not the superior leaf suspension, which was first created in 17th century France and is still used in modern vehicles today, isn’t clear. Even the original iron tyres were ditched in favour of rubber, but the crude braces remained.

What’s even more intriguing is that the majority of the monarchs that used its services were vocally outspoken about the ride quality. King William IV, the first monarch to board the Coach in 1762, described the ride as akin to being on board a ship ‘tossing in a rough sea’, Queen Victoria regularly refused to ride in the coach on account of the ‘distressing oscillation’ of the cabin and, after his short trip to Westminster Abbey for his coronation, King George VI called it ‘one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life’.

King Charles III’s coronation

This may explain why, on 6th May 2023, King Charles and the Queen Consort will travel to their coronation in the brand-new Diamond Jubilee State Coach, created for Queen Elizabeth II to commemorate her 60th anniversary.

Designed and built in Australia, this modern, aluminium-based carriage is, like the Gold State Coach, drawn by six Windsor greys. However, because it doesn’t weigh four tonnes, it’s considerably easier to navigate and boasts innovative luxuries for its occupants, such as air-con, electric windows and six state-of-the-art stabilisers to keep the whole contraption smooth and steady.

Sure, the roof crown is carved from oak salvaged from HMS Victory, the interior features fragments from royal buildings, plus wood from Newton’s apple tree, fabric from the dress of Florence Nightingale and door handles finished with 24 diamonds and 130 sapphires, but what counts on the day is a comfortable ride to the coronation.

But the newly anointed King and his Queen don’t get off the hook that easily. They have to travel back to Buckingham Palace from Westminster Abbey in the old Gold State Coach, a contraption the King’s late mother described as ‘horrible’ when undertaking the same trip on her coronation nearly 70 years ago.