1 October 2022
By Tim Koch
Shakespeare famously observed that, “uneasy is the head that wears a crown”. However, surely it must also be the case that hands that hold a crown will similarly be somewhat uneasy. Someone who would be able to confirm this is a man who had a central role in one of the most striking moments in Queen Elizabeth’s committal service, the King’s Bargemaster, Chris Livett. Preceding this, two other King’s Watermen also had an honoured part in the proceedings of the State Funeral.
The official website of the Royal Family explains the role of the Royal Bargemaster and the Queen’s/King’s Watermen:
Until the middle of the nineteenth century the Sovereign regularly travelled on the River Thames, either on State occasions or between the Royal Palaces of Windsor, Westminster, Hampton Court, Greenwich and the Tower of London.
The men who rowed the Royal Barges up and down the River Thames were known as Royal Watermen. The Sovereign today still retains 24 Royal Watermen under the command of The Queen’s Bargemaster, thereby continuing one of the most ancient appointments in the Royal Household…
There are no State Barges still afloat today. However, the Royal Nore, which is owned and maintained by the Port of London Authority, is the official motor launch used whenever a member of the Royal Family travels on the River Thames for an official engagement.
Royal Watermen are chosen from the ranks of the Thames Watermen whose business today is manning tugs, lighters and launches, therefore earning their employment on the River…
The duties of the Royal Watermen are now purely ceremonial. On the water, the Watermen escort members of the Royal Family on board the Royal Nore on the River Thames, and visiting Heads of State who arrive in London on the river…
On-shore duties consist of acting as boxmen on Royal carriages during State Visits, Royal weddings and Jubilees, and walking behind The King or Queen’s Bargemaster at Coronations. At the State Opening of Parliament, The Queen’s Bargemaster and Watermen travel on the carriages guarding the regalia when it is conveyed from Buckingham Palace to Westminster and back as a reminder of the days when it was brought by boat from the Tower of London.
The Royal Watermen, Simon McCarthy (Doggett’s Coat and Badge winner in 1984) and Robert Coleman (Doggett’s winner in 1996), had the honour of processing in front of the Queen’s hearse in both London and Windsor.
Although Charles became King immediately on the death of his Mother, for historical reasons the great symbols of Royal Authority, the Crown, Orb and Sceptre, remained with the Queen’s coffin until it was lowered into the Royal Vault to a lone piper’s lament in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. These three “Instruments of State” symbolise the monarch’s power and governance and so their removal separated the Queen from them for the last time following her 70-year reign.
Video of the removal of the Crown is on YouTube.
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I was watching this and thinking about how short the list of humans ever to have touched that crown must be! Thanks for this interesting write-up.
I assumed that the Queen’s Bargemaster and all the Queen’s Watermen had automatically become “King’s” but I have now been reliably informed that this is not so. Their last duty as “Queen’s” was at the State Funeral and they are now awaiting an invitation to serve the new King. Thus, at present there are no Royal Watermen but, if all goes as history indicates, Chris will become HM King’s Bargemaster and carry the State Crown at the Coronation while the former Queen’s Watermen will become King’s Watermen. It is all currently in the hands of the Lord Chamberlain, the most senior officer of the Royal Household.