Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Herbwomen at coronations

Posted on by royvickery |

The Royal Pavilion, in Brighton, East Sussex, has a temporary (11 March – 10 September 2023) exhibition entitled A Right Royal Spectacle: The Coronation of George IV.  Part of this is a display relating to the herbwomen who led the procession from Westminster Hall to the Abbey ‘and were the only women among the participants’.  It is suggested that the custom of having herb-strewers at coronations ‘probably originated in medieval times when the scattering of herbs and fragrant flowers was common practice at public events to ward off foul smells and illnesses’.  However, in 2001, when the dress exhibited formed part of the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s costume displays, it was stated that ‘The tradition began at Charles I coronation in 1625.  The herbwoman threw herbs along the route to Westminster Abbey to protect against disease.’

A herbwoman and six maids participated in George IV’s coronation on 19 July 1821, and the  Pavilion’s exhibit has as its centre-piece the dress worn by one of these maids,  Sarah Ann Walker, daughter of an apothecary in the royal household, who was 16 or 17 years-old at the time.

Images: upper left, Sarah Ann Walker’s dress; upper right, detail showing Walker, from George Nayler’s The Coronation of his Most Sacred Majesty King George the Fourth, 1837;  lowerest, ‘The King’s Herbwoman and her six Maids strewing Flowers’ from George Nayler’s The Coronation of King George IV, 1837; all © Carlos Bruzon, March 2023.

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