Updated: Jun 14
The 2023 AGM had the added interest of a Talk by Cllr Jim Martin who as our then Town Mayor had attended the recent Coronation and so became for life a Baron of the Cinque Ports. That begged the obvious question: who was the last Baron, created in 1953? The answer is Cllr Sir Frederick Bovenschen, father of Kit Beale, an Honorary Life Member of HCS, who told us his story. He was never Mayor of Hythe, and reached no higher in the Council hierarchy than Chair of the Works Committee (which accounts for the appearance of his name on the Town Bridge in Stade Street).
Before retiring to Hythe he had been a high-ranking Civil Servant, although the Germanic sound and spelling of his name at first generated suspicious questions in the House. Despite these he became Private Secretary to Lord Haldane in WW1 and PUS at the War Office in WW2, when he became well-known for signing those Army Council Instructions which ruled our lives in wartime. It was this appointment which resulted in the distinction, of which he was proud, of appearing on Hitler’s post-Invasion shortlist for immediate execution, and he kept on his desk as a fitting Endpunkt to those times, a significant paperweight – a chunk of concrete from the Berlin Bunker. Despite this background, one would have expected the Mayor of Hythe would attend a Coronation. So why Sir Frederick? We revealed the shocking reason in NL 122: for the first time, the Mayor of Hythe in 1953 was a lady, Cllr Mrs Farmer, and it was unheard of and simply quite impossible for a lady to be a Baron! That was 1953 – try telling that to a Lady Mayor today! Or indeed (as NL 228) remarked, to Penny Mordaunt MP!
As Jim explained to us, it was not certain that even some, let alone all, the Barons of the Cinque Ports would be invited to attend the 2023 Coronation, for the advanced warning was that the event was to be ‘slimmed down’. In fact, such is the power of tradition, all fourteen were included as the photograph in NL 228 attests. The history of their attendance goes back to the crowning of Richard the Lionheart at Westminster in 1189, which was the first coronation to be fully documented. And under King Edward’s Charter of 1278 their role was formalised: from this time to the crowning of George IV in 1821 the Barons of the Cinque Ports (Mayors elected from among the Freemen of their towns) were required to turn up ‘all in one clothing’ ready to bear the canopy over the new monarch as a symbol of the role the Ports had played in the protection of the kingdom from times even before the founding of the British Navy. That instruction ‘all in one clothing’ was a problem for the modern Barons: Jim told us many emails went to and fro between them before the ‘dress code’ for the day was settled – the solution you see in the Photograph. After the ceremony the Barons were entitled to dine at the table to the right of the King and Queen and – more to the point – to keep the cloth and stave mounts and bells which were of silver and gilt. Several of these accoutrements can be seen in displays at the V&A. These were favours not granted this time!
Why were changes made after 1820? It was Prinny’s fault. (He was still disparagingly so named even when he became monarch, for his marriage, his mistresses and his spending (and debts) were considered scandalous.) The day came, the Barons and the canopy were ready, but it was a trifle windy and he thought the thing over his head was insecure and he didn’t trust the old men carrying it not to drop it on him, so he speeded up to get ahead of it. True they had weak bodies but their hearts were stout so they regarded this as a slight, and naturally speeded up, so he speeded up, and finally the whole party arrived at Westminster Hall at an ‘unseemly jog-trot’. That particular Coronation of course faced a much more serious disruption: the appearance, uninvited, of his estranged wife, knocking at the doors to be let in!
It was agreed after the unseemly jog-trot episode that in future the Barons would not process, but would stand inside the Abbey to receive the Standards carried in front of the monarch. And so it was at Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. In 2023, they were seated in the Abbey behind the mighty organ in a fine position to hear the Service, but a very poor position to see it. Jim told us: ‘We saw the heads coming in and the crowns going out!’ It seems we had a better view, watching on our TVs in Hythe.
Paul Naylor, wearing the Society Badge of Office for the first time as Chairman, expressed the thanks of the Meeting to Jim for giving us this insider’s view of the 2023 Coronation.