This unusual portrait of Edward Pellew, Admiral Lord Exmouth, (that’s him in the centre) is taken from a gold and vellum document called Ceremonial of the Coronation of His Most Sacred Majesty King George the Fourth which is held in the Royal Collection.
This sumptuous volume was produced in the context of an equally splendid public event, George IV’s coronation on 19 July 1821. Since his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, was held in considerable public sympathy after George IV’s attempts to divorce her, a lavish spectacle was needed to rekindle the public’s loyalty towards him. Parliament voted the astonishing sum of £240,000 towards the cost of the ceremony (George III’s coronation had only cost £70,000). The extravagant costumes for the procession were designed to an Elizabethan and Jacobean theme, to recall England’s past heritage.
Whittaker’s publication was printed in gold throughout, by a technique developed in secret and first used in 1816. The vibrant hand-coloured illustrations give a flavour of the procession, though not its strict order. The Banner of Scotland (the red lion on a yellow background) is borne by the Earl of Lauderdale, Lord High Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, wearing the collar of the Order of the Thistle. The Banner of Ireland (the gold harp on a blue background) is borne by Viscount Beresford, military hero from the Peninsular War, wearing the collar of the Order of the Bath. Both are attended by pages. Behind them walk Viscount Exmouth wearing the collar of the Bath, and Viscount Sidmouth.
Six copies of this book were printed for the crowned heads of Europe, but the expense bankrupted Whittaker, despite an initial grant of £5,000.
Although Pellew was rightly proud of his honours, he was not a man for pomp and circumstance. Following his death and modest funeral, 10 years after this image was painted, a local paper referred to the “disregard of parade and ostentation which distinguished his whole life.” Given that he continued to wear undress uniform and nankeen trousers, even once he had reached the exalted rank of Admiral, one can only imagine what he made of having to dress up in this outlandish costume. He looks like a rather anxious overstuffed plush cushion!