• 4 May 2023
  • Cherie Jacobson

For many in the Commonwealth, the Coronation of King Charles III this Saturday, 6 May 2023, will be the first coronation of a British monarch during their lifetime. There were two coronations during Katherine Mansfield’s lifetime – King Charles’ great-great grandfather Edward VII in August 1902, and his great-grandfather George V in June 1911.

Katherine would have been 13 years old when the Coronation of Edward VII took place. By then her father, Harold Beauchamp, was an important figure in Wellington and a friend of the Premier (Prime Minister) Richard Seddon, so Katherine and her family would certainly have taken part in Coronation celebrations. Edward VII’s Coronation was originally scheduled for 26 June, but he developed appendicitis – a condition that still had a high mortality rate at that time. He underwent surgery and his Coronation was postponed until it was certain he would recover. The new Coronation date of 9 August was celebrated throughout New Zealand, which was still a colony of the United Kingdom. Events in Wellington included church services, a procession from the Government Buildings to the Basin Reserve, a ‘demonstration’ at the Basin Reserve including a “monster choir, composed of several thousands of scholars of the upper standards of our public and private schools, plus some hundreds of adults from the church choirs and musical societies” [1], and ‘illuminations’ in the evening with buildings and ships lit up.

Image: Crowds at the Basin Reserve 'demonstration' celebrating the Coronation of King Edward VII, Wellington, 1902. Photographer unknown. From the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library, ref: 1/2-059719-F.

Image: The Wellington Post Office lit up as part of the evening 'illuminations' celebrating the Coronation of King Edward VII, 1902. From Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, ref: 1769-07. The windows spell out 'GOD SAVE THE KING' and 'E TE ATUA KIA TE KINGI'.

When the Coronation of George V took place in 1911, Katherine was living in London. Her family specially traveled to London to be there for the event, although her father's departure was delayed by business so he missed it – which must have been disappointing for him as he had met George V and his wife Queen Mary (then the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York) when they visited New Zealand in 1901. In his memoir, Harold Beauchamp notes that in his role as Chairman of the Harbour Board he was “one of the small group who met [the Duke and Duchess] on the wharf. My youngest daughter, Jeanne, had the honour of presenting a bouquet to the Duchess when she landed.” [2]

Katherine was 22 by the time of George V’s Coronation, living alone in a flat in central London and contributing to The New Age, a weekly review of literature, politics, art, and religion. She wrote a satirical dialogue about the Coronation, which indicates that as an independent, artistic, modern young woman, her feelings about the Coronation were quite different from those of her family who had travelled halfway around the world to experience it.

Image: 'The Festival of the Coronation (with apologies to Theocritus)' as it appeared in The New Age. You can read it more clearly here.

‘The Festival of the Coronation (with apologies to Theocritus)’ was published in the 29 June edition of The New Age. As indicated by the title, Katherine’s dialogue is based on ‘Idyll XV’ by the ancient Greek poet Theocritus, which follows two young women who go to the Festival of Adonis. Like Theocritus’ dialogue, Katherine’s begins with the arrival of one of the young women at the home of the other and they chatter as they head out into the streets. The one-page dialogue is full of amusing quips:

GWENNIE: [reflecting on how quiet the streets were on her journey to TILLY's house] It's quite uncanny - a sort of Sunday without church bells.

TILLY: I know. The arrival of the postman seemed almost indecent. [...] I'd never be able to live in London if it wasn't for the noise.


TILLY: Does the King wear his crown on the return journey?

GWENNIE: No, an ermine thing, I believe, rather like a black and white spotted bathing cap.

Unlike ‘Idyll XV’, with its crowded streets and impressive singing, the women’s experience of the Coronation procession is all a bit of an anti-climax and they decide to go home.

GWENNIE: Come home to lunch with me. Are you keen on beef? I’ve got a delicious piece, cold, and some pickles. We could have a lie down afterwards.

TILLY: I’d love it. It seems to me that on occasions like this the best thing to do is remain quietly in the house and wait for the evening papers.

Image: King George V and Queen Mary returning to Buckingham Palace after the King's Coronation. From Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, ref: NZG-19110802-0030-01.

Given Katherine's education didn't have a particular focus on Classical Greek and Roman literature, in Antony Alpers’ 1980 biography The Life of Katherine Mansfield, he imagines that it was the editor of The New Age, Alfred Richard Orage, who “must have handed [Katherine] a volume of Theocritus and suggested that she might make an amusing pastiche of the XVth Idyll.” He goes on to say that the immediacy of this “mere skit dashed off at speed” and other similar dialogues subsequently written by Katherine (such as 'Stay-Laces', 'Two Tuppeny Ones, Please', and 'The Common Round' - later adapted as the short story 'Pictures') actually had an important influence on Katherine's writing and her innovations in the short story form. [3]  

Very few of Katherine’s letters and journal entries from around the time of the Coronation in 1911 survive and none of them mention her experience of it. Given everything else that was going on in her life at the time – living on her own, regularly contributing to a literary journal, various romantic relationships (she’d already married singing and elocution teacher George Bowden in 1909 and left him the same night) – it’s likely that she didn’t give the Coronation of King George V very much attention. So while this weekend some will gather to watch the broadcast of the Coronation, perhaps even string up some bunting and make the official quiche or New Zealand's coronation pie, for others there will be more important things happening in their lives, as there likely was for Katherine Mansfield!



[1] ‘Wellington's Celebrations’, Evening Post, 8 August 1902, p.5.

[2] Beauchamp, Harold. Reminiscences and Recollections. Thomas Avery & Sons Ltd, 1937, p.46.

[3] Alpers, Antony. The Life of Katherine Mansfield. Viking, 1980, pp.125-126 and 238-240.


Other Sources:

Modernist Journals Project, digitised copies of The New Age

Project Gutenberg, Theocritus Translated into English Verse by C.S. Calverley, ‘Idyll XV’.

Beachcroft, T.O. Katherine Mansfield's Encounter with Theocritus,” in English, Vol. XXIII, No. 115, Spring, 1974, pp. 13-19. Digitised here.

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