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Lord Great Chamberlain interview: 'I’ve been preparing for a long time mentally'

1911 Coronation of King George V | image courtesy of Daniel Brittain

4 min read

It has been less than a year since Lord Carrington became the new Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the oldest offices under the crown. As the coronation comes to town, he speaks to Sophie Church about his upcoming regal responsibilities

In his house in Buckinghamshire late last year, Lord Carrington was hard at work. Surrounded by coronets, coronation robes, diaries and photographs – he was collating the ephemera of his family’s past into an exhibition he intended to show to the public. 

But Lord Carrington was also conducting vital research that day; learning about his new role as Lord Great Chamberlain of England. 

“The archives contain all the diaries and scrapbooks of the third Lord Carrington. He kept diaries for 50 years, and wrote quite copiously,” the seventh Lord Carrington explains over tea and scones. “I have his descriptions of the coronation of Edward VII and George V. He also kept scrapbooks… of all the pictures, service sheets and invitations.” 

On the death of the late-Queen Elizabeth II, Lord Carrington inherited the title of Lord Great Chamberlain, one of the oldest hereditary offices under the Crown. The Lord Great Chamberlain, whose role dates back to the Norman era, plays a major role in coronations – having the right to dress the monarch and serve them water before or after the coronation banquet. They are also involved in investing the monarch with the insignia of rule.

As tradition dictates, only one of three families are eligible to hold the title at any one time: the Cholmondeleys, the Willoughby de Eresbys and the Caringtons. Now, Lord Carrington’s moment has come. “I’ve been preparing for a long time, mentally,” he says, “because there is not much else you can do. And it is an absolutely huge honour.” 

Lord Carrington has also been making practical arrangements: removing the outfit he will wear at the coronation, which dates back to George V, from storage. Luckily, he says, the garments had not been eaten by moths, unlike perhaps some of the peers’ robes. “[But] the trousers did not fit perfectly,” he says. “The tailor explained very politely that men’s calves have got much fatter, so a new pair of trousers. The collar and cuffs have [also] been replaced because they were getting a little worn. But otherwise, it is the old uniform.”

I think to have the Abbey full of 800 peers in their robes… in this day and age will probably not look too good

Hanging from the red and gold coat is a symbolic gold key, representing the Lord Great Chamberlain’s other role: his custodianship of Parliament. “The key is the embarrassing thing,” he says, “because when I appeared for the Lying-in-State wearing my uniform, I suddenly realised that the key had firmly the insignia of George V on it, rather than Charles III. So I have had to buy a new key – they are not cheap is all I can tell you!”

With the coronation drawing near, Lord Carrington has just finished his part of the rehearsals. “The central bit in Westminster Abbey has been recreated in Buckingham Palace,” he says. “It is like any good play; they rehearse scenes and then put the whole thing together.” While he has been bound to secrecy on the exact details of his role on the day, he hints that he will be investing the King with his regalia, including the crown jewels.

Lord Carrington is well aware of the optics of holding a coronation during a cost of living crisis. “I think to have the Abbey full of 800 peers in their robes… in this day and age will probably not look too good.” 

While he mentions there are a “few upset dukes about” who have not been invited, Lord Carrington is optimistic about the reign to come. “I think we’re already seeing how [the King is] going to rule,” he says.

 “He is, to use that awful word, going to be more inclusive than perhaps the Queen was, but quite rightly – and [is] trying to pull the size of the whole monarchy down a bit.” 

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