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Painting of the coronation of King George IV

The most expensive coronations in British history

The coronation of King George IV | Public Domain

While the first coronations might have been relatively simple affairs compared to today’s standards, as the British monarchy has grown, so has the pomp and ceremony surrounding the crowning of each new monarch. The cost of coronations has continued to rise over the decades and centuries, but who has spent the most? Here are four of the most expensive coronations in British history.

1. King George VI

Already surrounded by controversy thanks to the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, the coronation of King George VI needed to serve a larger purpose than just signifying the investiture of a new monarch.

The constitutional crisis that followed Edwards's abdication left public perceptions of the monarchy at an all-time low. Trying to minimise further confusion and upheaval, the Coronation Committee opted to continue with the plans that had been made for Edward’s coronation, with the only change being the monarch instead.

In total, £454,000 (around £26 million today) was spent on the coronation - more than three times the amount spent on the previous coronation of King George V in 1911.

2. Queen Elizabeth II

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953 was a record-breaking affair. Costing £1.57 million (£35.5 million today), Elizabeth’s coronation was three and a half times more expensive than her father’s ceremony 16 years previously.

While her father’s coronation was the first to be broadcast over the radio, Elizabeth’s ceremony brought the commonwealth into the 21st century as the first world event to be publicly broadcast on television. Thanks to new relay links, the coronation was also shown live in France, Belgium, West Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark - the first test broadcast that launched the Eurovision Network.

3. Queen Victoria

Just 19 years old when she was crowned on 28th June 1838, Queen Victoria’s coronation was a bit of a disaster. Plagued with hiccups that might have been avoided with more rehearsal time, the mishaps led to the event being referred to as ‘the last of the botched coronations’.

Costing £70,000 (£6.2 million in today’s money), Victoria’s coronation was so riddled with mistakes and faux pas that historians were tasked with looking back at past coronations, all the way back to medieval times, with the goal of creating the more structured tradition that we see today.

Despite all the issues, the public reception to Queen Victoria’s coronation was overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to the new rail infrastructures, the newly accessible London was swarmed with crowds that travelled from across the country for their chance to see the new monarch. Streets were so crowded that Victoria herself was said to have been concerned for the safety of her well-wishers that had lined the path of the procession.

4. King George IV

When King George IV was finally crowned on 19 July 1821, it must have come as a sigh of relief for all involved. Overshadowed by the legal proceedings between King George IV and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, the coronation was delayed by almost a year. The postponement didn’t seem to affect the coronation, however, as it proved to be the most lavish and expensive of any previous British monarch.

Coming in at a total of £238,000 (£21 million today), King George’s extravagant tastes and lifestyle greatly influenced the ceremony. Expenses included £17,000 worth of renovations and furnishings for Westminster Abbey, £45,000 on costumes and uniforms, £112,000 on jewels and plate armour, and £25,000 on a coronation feast for the King and all 4,656 of his guests.

In total, the coronation of King George IV came in at over twenty times more expensive than the previous coronation, with three times as many guests as any previous coronation.