The Crowning Ceremony
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CROWNING OF THE BELTANE QUEEN

The Ceremony Explained

It is hard to say at what precise moment the greatest thrill is experienced in the ceremonial of the Crowning of the Beltane Queen.  Prior to the arrival of the Beltane Queen, her loyal subjects and the Characters of the Beltane Festival have gathered on the steps of the Old Parish Church of Peebles. What a colourful spectacle to behold, - and such an air of excitement. Would you believe – this is the first time that many of the children have been on these steps for this colourful pageant?  There is no dress rehearsal on the Church steps.  Any children who have played the part of Beltane Characters before have been in different positions and different roles, and of course, it is all new to those who are playing principal roles in the Beltane Court. Prior to the arrival of our Beltane Queen, the lady chosen to crown the Queen, - a signal honour to be chosen as the Crowning Lady - has arrived by car and has been escorted up to the top of the steps.  The Queen’s Maids arrive in a horse-drawn open carriage, and are escorted in stately fashion to their places at the dais. The big moment arrives, when a beautiful horse-drawn open carriage draws forward to the foot of the Church steps, and there steps from it, with regal dignity, a charming figure in pure white silk, enriched by a deep crimson robe, her head encircled by a floral wreath.  With one hand resting lightly in the hand of her First Courtier, she makes the ascent of the carpeted steps to the coronation chair just as the first note from the church belfry sounds the hour of ten.  The hour and the scene are in delicate accordance.

The throng around her is hushed as by a magic spell, for a deep silence has fallen upon the thousands of her subjects who have, by a common impulse, come to pay her homage. To the hundreds of her school companions she is the chosen; her brilliance in school has brought her the honour of being chosen as Beltane Queen, - (formerly the Dux Girl), - which year by year serves as an inspiration to the younger scholars witnessing this ceremony, or participating in it, to emulate her example by diligently applying themselves to their everyday tasks in the classroom. To the thousands of elders who watch the proceedings, she is a symbol representing a great tradition in the history of the pageantry of Peebles.

A magnificent gathering, a never-to-be-forgotten scene, intensely real and human, and with a romantic background – an artistic presentation that would have delighted our nomadic fathers, who loved pageantry above all things.  It is a fleeting moment, but lasting in our memories. Before the last stroke of the hour has died away the Queen-elect has become seated, and awaits the moment when the crown is to replace the floral wreath. In the past, in the days of the Town Council, the Provost, civic rulers and dignitaries would have taken their places at the rear of the Coronation Chair, but now the Officials and Principals are seated in front of the Church steps with the guests.

On the right of the of the Coronation Chair stands the lady to whom the honour of crowning the Queen has been entrusted, and on each side are Maids of Honour, Pages, and Courtiers, while below on the steps are many hundreds of school children in their richly-coloured costumes and fancy dresses. Immediately on the right of the chair is the Chief Maid of Honour, and below her the First Courtier, (a position formerly attained by being the Dux Boy in the local school), supported in the ceremonial proceedings by the Second Courtier, Crown Bearer, Sceptre Bearer, Sword Bearer, and Royal Herald.  Yeomen, Highlanders, Royal Archers, and Outriders intermingle with representatives of the Navy, Monks, Victorians, Georgians, Gypsies, and many others from past and modern times.  This is pageantry in its most sacred moments.

From out of the stillness there comes the first refrain of “The Beltane Festal Song”, played by the uniformed band, and then it is taken up – the high treble voices of the children blend with the deeper tones of the crowded assembly, until the song can be heard as far as sound can reach. It is an inspiring melody, and the words picture the scene as it was enacted in the days of long ago: -

“AThis is the prelude to the crowning ceremony.  The Crown Bearer presents the Crown, then makes a deep obeisance and steps back into his place. The Crown Bearer steps forward and places a cushion at the feet of his Royal Mistress, and she kneels down after the Chief Maid has removed the garland.  The Crowning Lady then places the Crown on the head of our chosen girl, who has now assumed the dignity of the Queen of the Beltane Festival – a proud and happy moment for the mistress and maid.

The Sceptre Bearer presents the Sceptre, and it is handed to the newly-crowned Queen, who rises and again resumes her seat.
t Beltane in the aulden time, it was the custom gay, to gather on the village green and hail the festal day . . . .”

This is the prelude to the crowning ceremony.  The Crown Bearer presents the Crown, then makes a deep obeisance and steps back into his place. The Crown Bearer steps forward and places a cushion at the feet of his Royal Mistress, and she kneels down after the Chief Maid has removed the garland.  The Crowning Lady then places the Crown on the head of our chosen girl, who has now assumed the dignity of the Queen of the Beltane Festival – a proud and happy moment for the mistress and maid.

The Sceptre Bearer presents the Sceptre, and it is handed to the newly-crowned Queen, who rises and again resumes her seat.

The Crown Bearer removes the cushion, and there then follows the presentation of the Casket. After this there are further presentations to the Queen, Chief Maid, First and Second Courtiers, who are given gifts as lasting tokens of their special parts in the Beltane Festival.

Music once more intersperses the proceedings, and to the accompaniment of the band the assembled throng sing “The Coronation Ode”:- “All hail, thou bright and beauteous maid . . . .”

Her Majesty’s Proclamation is then read by the Royal Herald. A welcome is extended to the strangers within our gates, and they are bidden to join in the rejoicings.

Scarcely has the Royal Herald sounded the concluding “God Save the Queen” when there arises tumultuous cheering for Her Majesty from her young subjects and a spontaneous outburst from her elder subjects.

It is now the moment to received congratulatory messages from our kindred folks overseas.  These are handed to the First Courtier by a Post Office uniformed messenger, and then handed to the Queen for her perusal.  This takes some moments, but her subjects wait patiently. The Queen returns the messages to the First Courtier, and he in turn hands them to the Herald, who reads them aloud.  Cheer upon cheer is evoked by these kindly messages of goodwill from our ain folk across the great wide oceans, and instinctively we turn our eyes to the visitors from distant lands who have come to the homeland to join in our festivities.

We are now nearing the conclusion of this memorable pageant. The Cornet and Supporters ride past and salute their newly crowned Beltane Queen.  Her Majesty rises and, taking the hand of her First Courtier, she slowly descends to her carriage, accompanied by her Maids of Honour, and then follows a triumphal march led by the Cornet and his mounted supporters. To the rear are all the school children - Characters of the Festival, who are then accommodated on gaily decorated motorised floats, followed in turn by others who have taken part in the Grand Fancy Dress Parade and turned out again to take part in the Beltane Queen’s Grand Carnival Procession. So the day is given over to the children for their full and unrestricted enjoyment.  We elders stand by, watching them at their play, proud of them and of those in whose care and training they are placed, hoping and praying they will make good and loyal citizens, and will keep the flag of this Ancient and Royal Burgh of Peebles unsullied.

 

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