The Coronation of King Charles III

Tomorrow, the Coronation of King Charles III and the Queen Consort will take place at Westminster Abbey in London. This ceremony will mark the first time in almost 70 years that a British monarch is crowned, since Queen Elizabeth II‘s coronation in 1953. The coronation is an ancient ceremony that features music, prayers, and hymns and culminates with the crowning of the new monarch. In this article, I’ll take a closer look at the history of coronations in England, the regalia used during the ceremony, and the events of the upcoming coronation.

the golden coach the royal collection

Photo credit: The Royal Collection ©

What is a Coronation?

A coronation is a ceremony that marks the crowning of a new monarch. This ancient ceremony is a symbol of power, continuity, and tradition. The coronation of a new monarch happens several months after their accession to the throne. Accession occurs when a new monarch succeeds to the throne upon the death of the previous king or queen.

For the past nine centuries, the coronation ceremony has almost always taken place at Westminster Abbey in London. The first English king to be crowned at the Abbey was William the Conqueror in 1066. Thirty-eight coronations have taken place in the Abbey, including that of Queen Elizabeth II, and thirty-nine monarchs have been crowned.

The History of Coronations in England

The English coronation ceremony has remained essentially the same for a thousand years. The first recorded coronation in England took place in 973 when King Edgar was crowned at Bath. The ceremony was adapted from the ancient Roman ceremony of crowning an emperor, which involved anointing with oil and placing a crown on the head of the new ruler.

During the mediaeval period, the coronation ceremony became more elaborate and included elements of Christian ritual. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior bishop in England, played a key role in the ceremony. The monarch was anointed with holy oil, received the crown, and was presented with the symbols of royal power and authority.

The coronation ceremony was also an opportunity for the monarch to demonstrate their power and authority. The procession to Westminster Abbey was a grand affair, with the monarch riding in a magnificent carriage and accompanied by nobles and officials. The ceremony itself was conducted in front of a large audience of dignitaries, officials, and members of the public.

The Coronation Regalia

The Coronation Regalia is a collection of sacred objects that are used during the coronation ceremony. These objects represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch and are presented to the new king or queen during the service.

St Edward's Crown

Photo credit: St Edward’s Crown – The Royal Collection ©

The regalia includes the Crown Jewels, which are kept in the Tower of London. The Crown Jewels consist of crowns, sceptres, orbs, swords, and other items that are used during the coronation ceremony.

The most important item of regalia is the St Edward’s Crown. This crown is made of solid gold and is encrusted with precious stones. It was first made in 1661 for the coronation of King Charles II and has been used in every coronation since.

The Sovereign's Orb, 1661

Photo Credit The Sovereign’s Orb, 1661 (RCIN 31718). The Royal Colletion ©

Other important items of regalia include the Orb, which represents the monarch’s role as defender of the faith, and the Sceptre, which represents the monarch’s authority. The Sceptre is topped with the Cross and the Dove, which symbolise justice and mercy. The Coronation Spoon is used for the holy oil contained in the Ampulla utilised for the anointing of the monarch.

The Sovereign’s Sceptre was made for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661 and has been used at every coronation since. The Sceptre includes the magnificent Cullinan I diamond, the largest colourless cut diamond in the world. 

Sovereign's Sceptre with cross and diamond

Photo Credit: The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, 1661 (RCIN 31712). The Royal Collection ©

In 1911 the Crown Jeweller, Garrard, mounted the diamond in the Sovereign’s Sceptre. The diamond is so large that the Sceptre had to be reinforced to take its weight. The magnificent Cullinan Diamond is the largest diamond ever found, weighing 3,106 carats. The diamond was discovered in modern-day South Africa in 1905. It was named after the chair of the mining company, Thomas Cullinan. Over a period of eight months, three polishers worked for 14 hours a day to cut and polish nine large stones from the original diamond. In total 97 small brilliants were also created. The two largest stones are Cullinan I and Cullinan II. They are set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Imperial State Crown.

Imperial State Crown

Photo Credit: Imperial State Crown. The Royal Collection ©

 

Imperial State Crown-Cullinan Diamond-1010

Close up detail of the Cullinan II diamond in the Imperial State Crown. ©

 

Queen Mary's Crown-1010

Queen Mary’s stunning Crown is set with 2,200 diamonds. The crown was designed for the Coronation of Queen Mary in 1911. At the 1911 Coronation the crown contained three large diamonds – the Koh-i-nûr, Cullinan III and Cullinan IV. These were later replaced with crystal replicas. The crown will be reset with the Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds for the Coronation of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen Consort. Queen Mary’s Crown, 1911 (RCIN 31704). The three rock crystal replicas are shown here. ©

The Gold State Coach

The Gold State Coach was built for King George III but was not completed until after his death. It is a carriage that has been used at every coronation since the coronation of King George IV in 1821. It is the vehicle the new monarchs travel in after the coronation service.

Royal_Mews_Gold_State_Coach ©

Photo credit: Royal Mews – Gold State Coach. Royal Collection ©

Despite its name, the coach isn’t actually made of solid gold. It is made of gilt wood, which is a thin layer of gold leaf over wood. The interior is lined and upholstered with velvet and satin, and it features magnificent painted panels of Roman gods and goddesses. The coach also features gilded sculptures, including three cherubs on the roof that represent England, Scotland, and Ireland. Above each wheel, there is a massive triton figure, further adding to the coach’s grandeur and opulence.

The size of the coach is also impressive. It is seven metres long, 3.6 metres tall, and weighs four tonnes, requiring eight horses to draw it. Because of its age and weight, it is only ever used at a walking pace. This means that the coach must be carefully guided along its route, with attendants and footmen walking alongside it to ensure its safe passage.

The Gold State Coach is a testament to the grandeur and opulence of the British monarchy. It is a dazzling, living part of British history that has been a spectacular sight at royal coronations, jubilees, and events. Designed by William Chambers and made by the coach maker Samuel Butler, the coach has been a symbol of British royalty for over 260 years.
 
queen elizabeth coronation 1953

Photo credit: Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Day – 1953. Royal Collection © 

 
For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the coach was used to take the monarch from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, and return. The coach is an important part of the coronation ceremony, representing the long history and tradition of the British monarchy.

One of the most amusing stories about the Gold State Coach is that Queen Elizabeth II used a hot water bottle while in the coach during her coronation. The Royal Mews staff reportedly strapped a hot water bottle under the seat, as the day was unseasonably cold and wet. Despite its grandeur and opulence, the coach was unable to protect the queen from the elements, highlighting the fact that even the most grand and opulent symbols of royalty can’t protect against the vagaries of the British weather.

Despite its importance to the coronation ceremony, not every monarch has been fond of the coach. Queen Victoria, for example, was not a fan and only used it sparingly. After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, she only opened Parliament seven times and did not make use of the State Coach. Nevertheless, the Gold State Coach has remained an important symbol of British royalty, representing the long history and tradition of the monarchy.

The Gold State Coach is also significant because it is the third oldest surviving coach in the UK. The Speaker of the House of Common’s Coach is the oldest, dating from 1698, while the Lord Mayor of London’s Coach was built in 1758.

The ceremony

The ceremony traditionally features music, prayers, and hymns in several parts. The first part is the recognition and oath, where the people in the Abbey are asked if they recognise the new monarch and respond with ‘God Save The King’ (not ‘God Save The Queen’ any longer). The monarch then signs an oath where they promise to rule according to the law and with mercy, wearing the crimson Robe of State. Following the oath, the monarch sits in the Coronation Chair, which is made for King Edward I in 1300 and historically housed the Stone of Scone, also known as “the Stone of Destiny.” This Stone is an ancient object associated with the kings of Scotland and has been kept at Edinburgh Castle since 1996, unless required at a coronation.

The monarch is then anointed using the Coronation Spoon with holy oil contained in the Ampulla. The choir traditionally sings Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ during this most sacred moment of the coronation. The anointing is followed by dressing of the monarch in the spectacular robe of cloth of gold called the Supertunica and the longer Imperial Mantle. The monarch is then presented with other items from the Coronation Regalia, including the gold spurs, the jewelled Sword of Offering, and the Armills, which are gold bracelets representing sincerity and wisdom. The monarch also receives the Sovereign’s Orb, a gold globe topped by a cross, as well as a ring and two sceptres.

The ceremony culminates with the placing of the magnificent St Edward’s Crown on the monarch’s head which I’ve seen many times at the Tower of London. The monarch then changes into the robe of purple velvet and wears the lighter Imperial State Crown for the rest of the service. The Imperial State Crown is worn on formal occasions and features diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones set in silver and gold.

This is followed by the homage, where the new monarch moves to the throne chair, and senior officials of the United Kingdom pay homage to the newly crowned monarch. They place their hands on the monarch’s knees, swear an allegiance (this is the old-fashioned language used which is anachronistic), touch the crown, and kiss the monarch’s right hand.

The coronation of King Charles III will be a grand event, steeped in tradition and history.

The world will be watching it for its splendour and attention to detail but will also be wondering whether monarchy is still necessary in our modern society at times of struggle for the British people.

 

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