23. The coronation of Nicholas I (1826)
Original Letters from Russia 1825-1828, edited by Charlotte Disbrowe.
(Lady Disbrowe was the wife of Edward Cromwell Disbrowe, a successful British diplomat. In 1825 he was appointed British Minister Plenipotentiary to the Russian Court, in the absence of the Ambassador. He arrived in St Petersburg in April, and was followed in June by Mrs Disbrowe and her father and brother John. They remained in Russia until 1828. Charlotte, their eldest daughter, published her parents' letters from Russia in a private edition in 1878, and incorporated them in a new volume in 1903.)
At half-past seven this morning the Corps Diplomatique assembled in the ancient Palace of the Tsars, in a low hall whose walls were covered with gilding and saints at full length.
Monday. The above showed my good intentions, not a line farther could I proceed, *hat with the chattering around me and the fatigue I could not overcome . . . But no more egotism, let us talk only of yesterday's glorious spectacle, it was at once a magnificent and interesting sight, splendour and feeling combined, a rare occurrence. The procession began to enter the Cathedral of the Assumption about half-past eight o'clock, the Empress mother opened it and took her seat upon a small throne entirely covered with turquoise, and under a canopy to the right of the Emperor's. It must have been a trying moment for her, this is the third time she has performed in a coronation. The procession was composed of the several Imperial establishments, deputations from the provinces and of the merchants, the general officers, etc., etc., and clergy. The Emperor was attended by his two brothers, the Grand Dukes Constantine and Michel, and the Emperor and Empress were seated on great chairs yclept thrones, under a canopy, the Great Officers of State arranged on either side of them, the Grand Dukes close to the thrones, the Corps Diplomatique stood on the left on raised benches by the wall of the building, the ladies of the Court were on the opposite side; the thrones of course faced the High Altar, where stood the Priests magnificently habited. The ceremony began by music, which was quite divine, the Archimandrite or Archbishop then approached the Emperor and read him a long exhortation in very good Slavonic or Russ; I know not which, H. I. M. then took another book and also read aloud, this I conclude were his promises to be good, his brothers and other dignitaries then invested him with the Imperial Mantle. Here began Constantine's fine part, placing his younger brother in his own stead, voluntarily resigning to him that Imperial sway to which he himself had so just a right, performing the duties of a subject in a manner that showed he was one of his own free will, and apparently happy in so doing. It was very fine indeed, and is I believe an unparalleled trait in history. In appearance he is greatly inferior to the Emperor, being short, thick, and sans b-anther le mot, remarkably ugly, with a most disagreeble expression of countenance, quite a caricature of the Emperor Alexander; but his want of beauty does not militate against his noble conduct, for which we must give him full credit. When the mantle was arranged the priest presented the crown to the Emperor, who took it and placed it on his own head, he then bent over the Bible and the Archbishop prayed over him. The Empress mother now approached and embraced her son; this was quite affecting, for Imperial dignity and grandeur seemed forgotten, and it looked like the happy union of a domestic circle, the Grand Dukes and the Little Hereditary Prince followed, and the Emperor seemed quite overcome with emotion.
The young Empress now approached and knelt before the Emperor, who removed the crown from his own head and placed it upon hers for a few seconds, he then resumed it and put a smaller one on her head, which four Ladies of Honour advanced to fasten on, she was next invested with an Imperial Mantle, the Emperor then raised and embraced her, and she received the felicitations of the Empress mother and the Grand Dukes, they both descended to the altar and received the Sacrament, after which the Archbishop delivered an extemporary discourse, prayers and psalms were sung. The whole lasted about three hours and a half; ft had been curtailed on the Empress's account, otherwise it would have been much longer. It was delightful to see the Emperor's solicitude about the Empress, he looked round to see how she was every five minutes, and insisted upon her sitting down almost the whole time. She looked fatigued, but seemed to bear it very well altogether, she wore nothing on her head but her pretty little crown, and her hair was arranged in a profusion of curls and long ringlets hanging to her shoulders .
It is impossible to describe the spectacle that presented itself on the exterior of the Cathedral, the immense crowds of people that were assembled and arranged on raised benches to a great height. It was quite beautiful, even the sky seemed to be crowded with spectators, for some of the scaffolding was raised to the steeples. Only the two first classes were admitted into the Cathedral, and therefore this crowd on the exterior was remarkably elegant, being chiefly composed of the nobility of the other classes. The Cathedral I believe I have already described, it looked very handsome when lighted up, but its chief ornament is the gilding; neither the paintings nor the architecture are fine, and it is extremely small. Everything was so well arranged yesterday that it was neither too crowded nor too warm .
In the evening the Kremlin and public buildings were most beautifully illuminated, the steeples and towers of the churches, the gateways and walls seemed as if they were made of light, the outlines of the architecture and forms were so well traced out. I never saw anything to equal it either in extent or execution; it was all done in the style of the illumination of the capital, everything in yellow lamps but the great Ivan Veliky Tower, which was lighted to the cross in dark colours.