Friday, November 4, 2011
And Then There's the King's Herbwoman
Isn’t that a wonderful title for a position? I ran across it this week when I was looking for inspiration for this blog post. (Ah, research! Lovely, lovely research!) Brings to mind a mystical lady hunched over her cauldron, pinch of this, bit of that, Poof! But that’s not what an herbwoman did, particularly not the King’s Herbwoman.
When George IV was coronated on July 19, 1821, hundreds took part in the procession: Knights of the Garter, Knights of the Bath, the privy councillor, 52 barons, untold other title holders, and even the Honorable Band of Gentleman Pensioners. And who led this procession of dignitaries? Who was so important to actually go first? The heralds with their trumpets? The Home Guards?
No. The King’s Herbwoman and her teenage herbstrewers.
The post of King’s Herbwoman had been hereditary since it began during the the coronation of Charles I in 1625. At that time, people believed that scenting the air with herbs would prevent them from contracting the Plague and any number of other contagious diseases. In 1821, the post apparently belonged to a Mary Raymer, but there was a lot of campaigning by ladies of fashion to oust her for one of their own. The winner was 50-year-old Miss Fellowes, a statuesque brunette, the sister of the secretary to the Lord Chamberlain. Apparently Prinny had promised her the part some time ago. We shall not speculate on how that came about.
In any event, Miss Fellowes led the procession, sprinkling flowers from a small basket at her side, all along the way from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey. According to accounts she was dressed in white satin with a scarlet mantle trimmed in gold lace. She wore a laurel and oak wreath on her head and a medallion and chain around her neck, the symbol of her office. She hand-picked her attendants: six young ladies, all around seventeen years of age, who were her herbstrewers. The misses Garth, Collier, Ramsbottom, Hill, Daniel, and Walker walked in pairs, each pair carrying a larger basket of flowers. This is one of their gowns, on display at the Royal Pavilion Art Gallery and Museum in Brighton. According to accounts, it’s ivory cotton gauze over silk. Missing is the high ruffed collar they all wore.
Can you imagine the excitement? You’re seventeen years old, and you get to lead the procession to the King’s coronation through the streets. Of all the young ladies making their debuts this Season, the King’s Herbwoman picks you. I think I shall swoon!
These young ladies, however, was among the last herbstrewers, and poor Mary Raymer never did get a chance to hold the post she’d inherited. William the IV limited the expenses at his coronation and did away with the office. It has never been revived.
Okay. That’s my goal. When it comes time for Charles or William to take the throne, I want to be his herbwoman. Anyone up for being an herbstrewer?