Let us go backward a few hours, and place ourselves in Westminster Abbey,
at four o'clock in the morning of this memorable Coronation Day. We are
not without company; for although it is still night, we find the torch-
lighted galleries already filling up with people who are well content to
sit still and wait seven or eight hours till the time shall come for them
to see what they may not hope to see twice in their lives--the coronation
of a King. Yes, London and Westminster have been astir ever since the
warning guns boomed at three o'clock, and already crowds of untitled rich
folk who have bought the privilege of trying to find sitting-room in the
galleries are flocking in at the entrances reserved for their sort.
The hours drag along tediously enough. All stir has ceased for some
time, for every gallery has long ago been packed. We may sit, now, and
look and think at our leisure. We have glimpses, here and there and
yonder, through the dim cathedral twilight, of portions of many galleries
and balconies, wedged full with other people, the other portions of these
galleries and balconies being cut off from sight by intervening pillars
and architectural projections. We have in view the whole of the great
north transept--empty, and waiting for England's privileged ones. We see
also the ample area or platform, carpeted with rich stuffs, whereon the
throne stands. The throne occupies the centre of the platform, and is
raised above it upon an elevation of four steps. Within the seat of the
throne is enclosed a rough flat rock--the stone of Scone--which many
generations of Scottish kings sat on to be crowned, and so it in time
became holy enough to answer a like purpose for English monarchs. Both
the throne and its footstool are covered with cloth of gold.
Stillness reigns, the torches blink dully, the time drags heavily. But at
last the lagging daylight asserts itself, the torches are extinguished,
and a mellow radiance suffuses the great spaces. All features of the
noble building are distinct now, but soft and dreamy, for the sun is
lightly veiled with clouds.
At seven o'clock the first break in the drowsy monotony occurs; for on
the stroke of this hour the first peeress enters the transept, clothed
like Solomon for splendour, and is conducted to her appointed place by an
official clad in satins and velvets, whilst a duplicate of him gathers up
the lady's long train, follows after, and, when the lady is seated,
arranges the train across her lap for her. He then places her footstool
according to her desire, after which he puts her coronet where it will be
convenient to her hand when the time for the simultaneous coroneting of
the nobles shall arrive.
By this time the peeresses are flowing in in a glittering stream, and the
satin-clad officials are flitting and glinting everywhere, seating them
and making them comfortable. The scene is animated enough now. There is
stir and life, and shifting colour everywhere. After a time, quiet
reigns again; for the peeresses are all come and are all in their places,
a solid acre or such a matter, of human flowers, resplendent in
variegated colours, and frosted like a Milky Way with diamonds. There
are all ages here: brown, wrinkled, white-haired dowagers who are able to
go back, and still back, down the stream of time, and recall the crowning
of Richard III. and the troublous days of that old forgotten age; and
there are handsome middle-aged dames; and lovely and gracious young
matrons; and gentle and beautiful young girls, with beaming eyes and
fresh complexions, who may possibly put on their jewelled coronets
awkwardly when the great time comes; for the matter will be new to them,
and their excitement will be a sore hindrance. Still, this may not
happen, for the hair of all these ladies has been arranged with a special
view to the swift and successful lodging of the crown in its place when
the signal comes.
We have seen that this massed array of peeresses is sown thick with
diamonds, and we also see that it is a marvellous spectacle--but now we
are about to be astonished in earnest. About nine, the clouds suddenly
break away and a shaft of sunshine cleaves the mellow atmosphere, and
drifts slowly along the ranks of ladies; and every rank it touches flames
into a dazzling splendour of many-coloured fires, and we tingle to our
finger-tips with the electric thrill that is shot through us by the
surprise and the beauty of the spectacle! Presently a special envoy from
some distant corner of the Orient, marching with the general body of
foreign ambassadors, crosses this bar of sunshine, and we catch our
breath, the glory that streams and flashes and palpitates about him is so
overpowering; for he is crusted from head to heel with gems, and his
slightest movement showers a dancing radiance all around him.
Let us change the tense for convenience. The time drifted along--one
hour--two hours--two hours and a half; then the deep booming of artillery
told that the King and his grand procession had arrived at last; so the
waiting multitude rejoiced. All knew that a further delay must follow,
for the King must be prepared and robed for the solemn ceremony; but this
delay would be pleasantly occupied by the assembling of the peers of the
realm in their stately robes. These were conducted ceremoniously to
their seats, and their coronets placed conveniently at hand; and
meanwhile the multitude in the galleries were alive with interest, for
most of them were beholding for the first time, dukes, earls, and barons,
whose names had been historical for five hundred years. When all were
finally seated, the spectacle from the galleries and all coigns of
vantage was complete; a gorgeous one to look upon and to remember.
Now the robed and mitred great heads of the church, and their attendants,
filed in upon the platform and took their appointed places; these were
followed by the Lord Protector and other great officials, and these again
by a steel-clad detachment of the Guard.
There was a waiting pause; then, at a signal, a triumphant peal of music
burst forth, and Tom Canty, clothed in a long robe of cloth of gold,
appeared at a door, and stepped upon the platform. The entire multitude
rose, and the ceremony of the Recognition ensued.
Then a noble anthem swept the Abbey with its rich waves of sound; and
thus heralded and welcomed, Tom Canty was conducted to the throne. The
ancient ceremonies went on, with impressive solemnity, whilst the
audience gazed; and as they drew nearer and nearer to completion, Tom
Canty grew pale, and still paler, and a deep and steadily deepening woe
and despondency settled down upon his spirits and upon his remorseful
At last the final act was at hand. The Archbishop of Canterbury lifted
up the crown of England from its cushion and held it out over the
trembling mock-King's head. In the same instant a rainbow-radiance
flashed along the spacious transept; for with one impulse every
individual in the great concourse of nobles lifted a coronet and poised
it over his or her head--and paused in that attitude.
A deep hush pervaded the Abbey. At this impressive moment, a startling
apparition intruded upon the scene--an apparition observed by none in the
absorbed multitude, until it suddenly appeared, moving up the great
central aisle. It was a boy, bareheaded, ill shod, and clothed in coarse
plebeian garments that were falling to rags. He raised his hand with a
solemnity which ill comported with his soiled and sorry aspect, and
delivered this note of warning--
"I forbid you to set the crown of England upon that forfeited head. I am
In an instant several indignant hands were laid upon the boy; but in the
same instant Tom Canty, in his regal vestments, made a swift step
forward, and cried out in a ringing voice--
"Loose him and forbear! He IS the King!"
A sort of panic of astonishment swept the assemblage, and they partly
rose in their places and stared in a bewildered way at one another and at
the chief figures in this scene, like persons who wondered whether they
were awake and in their senses, or asleep and dreaming. The Lord
Protector was as amazed as the rest, but quickly recovered himself, and
exclaimed in a voice of authority--
"Mind not his Majesty, his malady is upon him again--seize the vagabond!"
He would have been obeyed, but the mock-King stamped his foot and cried
"On your peril! Touch him not, he is the King!"
The hands were withheld; a paralysis fell upon the house; no one moved,
no one spoke; indeed, no one knew how to act or what to say, in so
strange and surprising an emergency. While all minds were struggling to
right themselves, the boy still moved steadily forward, with high port
and confident mien; he had never halted from the beginning; and while the
tangled minds still floundered helplessly, he stepped upon the platform,
and the mock-King ran with a glad face to meet him; and fell on his knees
before him and said--
"Oh, my lord the King, let poor Tom Canty be first to swear fealty to
thee, and say, 'Put on thy crown and enter into thine own again!'"
The Lord Protector's eye fell sternly upon the new-comer's face; but
straightway the sternness vanished away, and gave place to an expression
of wondering surprise. This thing happened also to the other great
officers. They glanced at each other, and retreated a step by a common
and unconscious impulse. The thought in each mind was the same: "What a
The Lord Protector reflected a moment or two in perplexity, then he said,
with grave respectfulness--
"By your favour, sir, I desire to ask certain questions which--"
"I will answer them, my lord."
The Duke asked him many questions about the Court, the late King, the
prince, the princesses--the boy answered them correctly and without
hesitating. He described the rooms of state in the palace, the late
King's apartments, and those of the Prince of Wales.
It was strange; it was wonderful; yes, it was unaccountable--so all said
that heard it. The tide was beginning to turn, and Tom Canty's hopes to
run high, when the Lord Protector shook his head and said--
"It is true it is most wonderful--but it is no more than our lord the
King likewise can do." This remark, and this reference to himself as
still the King, saddened Tom Canty, and he felt his hopes crumbling from
under him. "These are not PROOFS," added the Protector.
The tide was turning very fast now, very fast indeed--but in the wrong
direction; it was leaving poor Tom Canty stranded on the throne, and
sweeping the other out to sea. The Lord Protector communed with himself
--shook his head--the thought forced itself upon him, "It is perilous to
the State and to us all, to entertain so fateful a riddle as this; it
could divide the nation and undermine the throne." He turned and said--
"Sir Thomas, arrest this--No, hold!" His face lighted, and he confronted
the ragged candidate with this question--
"Where lieth the Great Seal? Answer me this truly, and the riddle is
unriddled; for only he that was Prince of Wales CAN so answer! On so
trivial a thing hang a throne and a dynasty!"
It was a lucky thought, a happy thought. That it was so considered by
the great officials was manifested by the silent applause that shot from
eye to eye around their circle in the form of bright approving glances.
Yes, none but the true prince could dissolve the stubborn mystery of the
vanished Great Seal--this forlorn little impostor had been taught his
lesson well, but here his teachings must fail, for his teacher himself
could not answer THAT question--ah, very good, very good indeed; now we
shall be rid of this troublesome and perilous business in short order!
And so they nodded invisibly and smiled inwardly with satisfaction, and
looked to see this foolish lad stricken with a palsy of guilty confusion.
How surprised they were, then, to see nothing of the sort happen--how
they marvelled to hear him answer up promptly, in a confident and
untroubled voice, and say--
"There is nought in this riddle that is difficult." Then, without so
much as a by-your-leave to anybody, he turned and gave this command, with
the easy manner of one accustomed to doing such things: "My Lord St.
John, go you to my private cabinet in the palace--for none knoweth the
place better than you--and, close down to the floor, in the left corner
remotest from the door that opens from the ante-chamber, you shall find
in the wall a brazen nail-head; press upon it and a little jewel-closet
will fly open which not even you do know of--no, nor any sould else in
all the world but me and the trusty artisan that did contrive it for me.
The first thing that falleth under your eye will be the Great Seal--fetch
All the company wondered at this speech, and wondered still more to see
the little mendicant pick out this peer without hesitancy or apparent
fear of mistake, and call him by name with such a placidly convincing air
of having known him all his life. The peer was almost surprised into
obeying. He even made a movement as if to go, but quickly recovered his
tranquil attitude and confessed his blunder with a blush. Tom Canty
turned upon him and said, sharply--
"Why dost thou hesitate? Hast not heard the King's command? Go!"
The Lord St. John made a deep obeisance--and it was observed that it was
a significantly cautious and non-committal one, it not being delivered at
either of the kings, but at the neutral ground about half-way between the
two--and took his leave.
Now began a movement of the gorgeous particles of that official group
which was slow, scarcely perceptible, and yet steady and persistent--a
movement such as is observed in a kaleidoscope that is turned slowly,
whereby the components of one splendid cluster fall away and join
themselves to another--a movement which, little by little, in the present
case, dissolved the glittering crowd that stood about Tom Canty and
clustered it together again in the neighbourhood of the new-comer. Tom
Canty stood almost alone. Now ensued a brief season of deep suspense and
waiting--during which even the few faint hearts still remaining near Tom
Canty gradually scraped together courage enough to glide, one by one,
over to the majority. So at last Tom Canty, in his royal robes and
jewels, stood wholly alone and isolated from the world, a conspicuous
figure, occupying an eloquent vacancy.
Now the Lord St. John was seen returning. As he advanced up the mid-
aisle the interest was so intense that the low murmur of conversation in
the great assemblage died out and was succeeded by a profound hush, a
breathless stillness, through which his footfalls pulsed with a dull and
distant sound. Every eye was fastened upon him as he moved along. He
reached the platform, paused a moment, then moved toward Tom Canty with a
deep obeisance, and said--
"Sire, the Seal is not there!"
A mob does not melt away from the presence of a plague-patient with more
haste than the band of pallid and terrified courtiers melted away from
the presence of the shabby little claimant of the Crown. In a moment he
stood all alone, without friend or supporter, a target upon which was
concentrated a bitter fire of scornful and angry looks. The Lord
Protector called out fiercely--
"Cast the beggar into the street, and scourge him through the town--the
paltry knave is worth no more consideration!"
Officers of the guard sprang forward to obey, but Tom Canty waved them
off and said--
"Back! Whoso touches him perils his life!"
The Lord Protector was perplexed in the last degree. He said to the Lord
"Searched you well?--but it boots not to ask that. It doth seem passing
strange. Little things, trifles, slip out of one's ken, and one does not
think it matter for surprise; but how so bulky a thing as the Seal of
England can vanish away and no man be able to get track of it again--a
massy golden disk--"
Tom Canty, with beaming eyes, sprang forward and shouted--
"Hold, that is enough! Was it round?--and thick?--and had it letters and
devices graved upon it?--yes? Oh, NOW I know what this Great Seal is
that there's been such worry and pother about. An' ye had described it to
me, ye could have had it three weeks ago. Right well I know where it
lies; but it was not I that put it there--first."
"Who, then, my liege?" asked the Lord Protector.
"He that stands there--the rightful King of England. And he shall tell
you himself where it lies--then you will believe he knew it of his own
knowledge. Bethink thee, my King--spur thy memory--it was the last, the
very LAST thing thou didst that day before thou didst rush forth from the
palace, clothed in my rags, to punish the soldier that insulted me."
A silence ensued, undisturbed by a movement or a whisper, and all eyes
were fixed upon the new-comer, who stood, with bent head and corrugated
brow, groping in his memory among a thronging multitude of valueless
recollections for one single little elusive fact, which, found, would
seat him upon a throne--unfound, would leave him as he was, for good and
all--a pauper and an outcast. Moment after moment passed--the moments
built themselves into minutes--still the boy struggled silently on, and
gave no sign. But at last he heaved a sigh, shook his head slowly, and
said, with a trembling lip and in a despondent voice--
"I call the scene back--all of it--but the Seal hath no place in it." He
paused, then looked up, and said with gentle dignity, "My lords and
gentlemen, if ye will rob your rightful sovereign of his own for lack of
this evidence which he is not able to furnish, I may not stay ye, being
"Oh, folly, oh, madness, my King!" cried Tom Canty, in a panic, "wait!--
think! Do not give up!--the cause is not lost! Nor SHALL be, neither!
List to what I say--follow every word--I am going to bring that morning
back again, every hap just as it happened. We talked--I told you of my
sisters, Nan and Bet--ah, yes, you remember that; and about mine old
grandam--and the rough games of the lads of Offal Court--yes, you
remember these things also; very well, follow me still, you shall recall
everything. You gave me food and drink, and did with princely courtesy
send away the servants, so that my low breeding might not shame me before
them--ah, yes, this also you remember."
As Tom checked off his details, and the other boy nodded his head in
recognition of them, the great audience and the officials stared in
puzzled wonderment; the tale sounded like true history, yet how could
this impossible conjunction between a prince and a beggar-boy have come
about? Never was a company of people so perplexed, so interested, and so
"For a jest, my prince, we did exchange garments. Then we stood before a
mirror; and so alike were we that both said it seemed as if there had
been no change made--yes, you remember that. Then you noticed that the
soldier had hurt my hand--look! here it is, I cannot yet even write with
it, the fingers are so stiff. At this your Highness sprang up, vowing
vengeance upon that soldier, and ran towards the door--you passed a
table--that thing you call the Seal lay on that table--you snatched it up
and looked eagerly about, as if for a place to hide it--your eye caught
"There, 'tis sufficient!--and the good God be thanked!" exclaimed the
ragged claimant, in a mighty excitement. "Go, my good St. John--in an
arm-piece of the Milanese armour that hangs on the wall, thou'lt find the
"Right, my King! right!" cried Tom Canty; "NOW the sceptre of England is
thine own; and it were better for him that would dispute it that he had
been born dumb! Go, my Lord St. John, give thy feet wings!"
The whole assemblage was on its feet now, and well-nigh out of its mind
with uneasiness, apprehension, and consuming excitement. On the floor
and on the platform a deafening buzz of frantic conversation burst forth,
and for some time nobody knew anything or heard anything or was
interested in anything but what his neighbour was shouting into his ear,
or he was shouting into his neighbour's ear. Time--nobody knew how much
of it--swept by unheeded and unnoted. At last a sudden hush fell upon
the house, and in the same moment St. John appeared upon the platform,
and held the Great Seal aloft in his hand. Then such a shout went up--
"Long live the true King!"
For five minutes the air quaked with shouts and the crash of musical
instruments, and was white with a storm of waving handkerchiefs; and
through it all a ragged lad, the most conspicuous figure in England,
stood, flushed and happy and proud, in the centre of the spacious
platform, with the great vassals of the kingdom kneeling around him.
Then all rose, and Tom Canty cried out--
"Now, O my King, take these regal garments back, and give poor Tom, thy
servant, his shreds and remnants again."
The Lord Protector spoke up--
"Let the small varlet be stripped and flung into the Tower."
But the new King, the true King, said--
"I will not have it so. But for him I had not got my crown again--none
shall lay a hand upon him to harm him. And as for thee, my good uncle,
my Lord Protector, this conduct of thine is not grateful toward this poor
lad, for I hear he hath made thee a duke"--the Protector blushed--"yet he
was not a king; wherefore what is thy fine title worth now? To-morrow
you shall sue to me, THROUGH HIM, for its confirmation, else no duke, but
a simple earl, shalt thou remain."
Under this rebuke, his Grace the Duke of Somerset retired a little from
the front for the moment. The King turned to Tom, and said kindly--"My
poor boy, how was it that you could remember where I hid the Seal when I
could not remember it myself?"
"Ah, my King, that was easy, since I used it divers days."
"Used it--yet could not explain where it was?"
"I did not know it was THAT they wanted. They did not describe it, your
"Then how used you it?"
The red blood began to steal up into Tom's cheeks, and he dropped his
eyes and was silent.
"Speak up, good lad, and fear nothing," said the King. "How used you the
Great Seal of England?"
Tom stammered a moment, in a pathetic confusion, then got it out--
"To crack nuts with!"
Poor child, the avalanche of laughter that greeted this nearly swept him
off his feet. But if a doubt remained in any mind that Tom Canty was not
the King of England and familiar with the august appurtenances of
royalty, this reply disposed of it utterly.
Meantime the sumptuous robe of state had been removed from Tom's
shoulders to the King's, whose rags were effectually hidden from sight
under it. Then the coronation ceremonies were resumed; the true King was
anointed and the crown set upon his head, whilst cannon thundered the
news to the city, and all London seemed to rock with applause.