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Coronation of the British monarch
The Coronation of the British monarch is a ceremony (specifically, initiation rite) in which the monarch is formally crowned and invested with regalia. The coronation usually takes place several months after the death of the previous monarch, for the coronation is considered a joyous occasion that would be inappropriate when mourning still continues. (It also gives planners enough time to complete the elaborate arrangements required for great State ceremony.) For example, Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2, 1953, despite having acceded to the throne on February 6, 1952, the day of her father's death.
The timing of the coronation has varied throughout British history. The first Norman monarch, William I, was crowned on the day he became King—25 December 1066. Most of his successors were crowned within weeks, or even days, of their accession. Edward I was fighting in the Ninth Crusade when he ascended to the throne in 1272; he was crowned soon after his return in 1274. Edward II's coronation, similarly, was delayed by a campaign in Scotland in 1307. Henry VI was only a few months old when he succeeded in 1422; he was crowned in 1429, but did not officially asume the reins of government until he was deemed of sufficient age, in 1437. Under the Hanoverian monarchs in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was deemed appropriate to extend the mourning period to several months. In the case of every monarch since, and including, George IV, at least one year has passed between accession and coronation, with the exception of George VI, whose predecessor did not die but abdicated.
Since a period of time has often passed between accession and coronation, some monarchs were never crowned. Edward V and Jane were both deposed before they could be crowned, in 1483 and 1553, respectively. Edward VIII also went uncrowned, as he abdicated in 1936 before the customary year of mourning could conclude.
The Anglo-Saxon monarchs used various locations for their coronations, including Bath, Kingston-upon-Thames, London, Oxford and Winchester. The last Anglo-Saxon monarch, Harold II, was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1066; the location was preserved for all further coronations. When London was under the control of the French, Henry III was crowned at Gloucester in 1216; he later chose to have a second coronation at Westminster in 1220. Two hundred years later, Henry VI also had two coronations; as King of England in London during 1429, and as King of France in Paris during 1431.
Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953 was televised by the British Broadcasting Corporation. This was the first time that cameras were allowed to record the coronation. It was originally thought that cameras would breach the solemnity of the occasion; however, they were permitted after the personal intervention of the Queen. It is estimated that over twenty million individuals viewed the program in the United Kingdom, an audience unprecedented in television history. The coronation greatly increased public interest in televisions.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who has precedence over all other clergymen and over all laymen except members of the Royal Family, traditionally officiates at coronations; during his absence, another bishop may take his place. There have, however, been several exceptions. William I was crowned by the Archbishop of York, since the Archbishop of Canterbury had been excommunicated by the Pope. Edward II was crowned by the Bishop of Winchester because the Archbishop of Canterbury was not in England at the time. Mary I, a Catholic, refused to be crowned by the Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury; the coronation was instead performed by the Bishop of Winchester. When Elizabeth I was crowned, the archbishopric of Canterbury was vacant; the Bishop of Carlisle performed the ceremony. Finally, when James II was deposed and replaced with William III and Mary II jointly, the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to recognise the new Sovereigns; he had to be replaced by the Bishop of London. Hence, in almost all cases where the Archbishop of Canterbury has failed to participate, his place has been taken by a senior cleric: the Archbishop of York is second in precedence, the Bishop of London third and the Bishop of Winchester fifth. Elizabeth I was crowned by the Bishop of Carlisle, to whose see is attached no special precedence, because the senior Catholic prelates objected to the Protestant Queen's religious reforms.
The Great Officers of State traditionally participate during the ceremony. The offices of Lord High Steward and Lord High Constable have not been regularly filled since the 15th and 16th centuries, respectively; they are, however, revived for coronation ceremonies. The Lord Great Chamberlain enrobes the Sovereign with the ceremonial vestments, with the aid of the Groom of the Robes and the Master (in the case of a King) or Mistress (in the case of a Queen) of the Robes.
The Barons of the Cinque Ports also participated in the ceremony. Formerly, the Barons were the Members of the House of Commons representing the Cinque Ports. Reforms in the nineteenth century, however, integrated the Cinque Ports into a regular constituency system applied throughout the nation. At later coronations, Barons were specially designated from among the city councillors for the special purpose of attending coronations. Originally, the Barons were charged with bearing a ceremonial canopy over the Sovereign.1 The last time the Barons performed such a task was at the coronation of George IV in 1821. The Barons did not return for the coronations of William IV and Victoria. At coronations since Victoria's, the Barons have attended the ceremony, but they have not carried canopies.
Many individuals held privileges connected with the coronation ceremony. Disputes involving such privileges are resolved by a specially constituted Court of Claims, over which the Lord High Steward traditionally presided (though in 1952, the Lord President of the Council performed the task). In 1952, for example, the Court accepted the claim of the Dean of Westminster to advise the Queen on the proper procedure during the ceremony, the claim of the Lord Bishop of Durham and the Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells to march beside the Queen as she entered the Abbey, the claim of Earl of Shrewsbury to carry a white staff, and the claim of the Lord Churston and the Lord Hastings to carry the spurs. The first recorded Court of Claims was convened in 1377 for the coronation of Richard II. By the Tudor period, the hereditary post of Lord High Steward had merged with the Crown, and so Henry VIII began the modern tradition of naming a temporary Steward for the coronation only, with separate commissioners to carry out the actual work of the court.
Several participants in the ceremony wear special costumes, uniforms or robes. Peers' robes comprise a full-length crimson velvet coat, and an ermine cape. Rows of sealskin spots on the cape designate the peer's rank; dukes use four rows, marquesses three and a half, earls three, viscounts two and a half, and barons and lords of Parliament two. Royal dukes use six rows of ermine, ermine on the front of the cape and long trains borne by pages. Peeresses' ranks are designated not by sealskin spots, but by the length of their trains and the width of the ermine edging on the same. For duchesses, the trains are two yards long, for marchionesses one and three-quarters yards, for countesses one and a half yards, for viscountesses one and a quarter yards, and for baronesses and ladies one yard. The ermine edgings are five inches in width for duchesses, four inches for marchionesses, three inches for countesses, and two inches for viscountesses, baronesses and ladies. The robes of peers and peeresses are used only during coronations.
Peers wear coronets, as do members of the Royal Family; such coronets display heraldic emblems based on rank or association to the monarch. The heir-apparent's coronet displays four crosses-pattée alternating with four fleurs-de-lis, surmounted by an arch. The same style, without the arch, is used for the children and siblings of Sovereigns. The coronets of children of the heir-apparent display four fleurs-de-lis, two crosses-pattée and two strawberry leaves. A fourth style, including four crosses-pattée and four strawberry leaves, is used for the children of the sons and brothers of Sovereigns. The aforementioned coronets are borne instead of any coronets based on peerage dignities. The coronets of dukes show eight strawberry leaves, those of marquesses four strawberry leaves alternating with four raised silver balls, those of earls eight strawberry leaves alternating with eight raised silver balls, those of viscounts sixteen silver balls and those of barons six silver balls. Peeresses use the same design, except that they appear on smaller circlets than the peers' coronets.
Aside from the monarch, the only individuals authorised to wear crowns are the three Kings of Arms, the senior officials of the College of Arms, the heraldic authority of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a separate authority, the Lyon Court). The Garter Principal King of Arms, the most senior King of Arms, wears a gold crown; the Clarenceaux King of Arms (who has authority over southern England) and the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms (who has authority over northern England and Northern Ireland) both wear silver gilt crowns. These crowns are not set with any precious jewels; they are not engrailed with any particular designs.
Along with persons of nobility, the coronation ceremonies are also attended by a wide range of political figures, including all members of the Cabinet of the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, all Prime Ministers and Governors General of the Commonwealth Realms, all Governors of British Crown Colonies, as well as the Heads of State of other independent nations of the Commonwealth. Dignitaries and representatives from other nations are also customarily invited.
Recognition and oath
The Sovereign enters Westminster Abbey wearing the Crimson Robe. The Robe consists of an ermine cape and a long crimson velvet train. After the coronation, the Robe is also used at State Openings of Parliament.
Once the Sovereign takes his or her seat on the Chair of Estate, the Garter Principal King of Arms, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord High Constable and the Earl Marshal go to the east, south, west and north of the Abbey. At each side, the Archbishop calls for the Recognition of the Sovereign, with the words, "Sirs, I here present unto you ..., your undoubted King. Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same? " After the people acclaim the Sovereign at each side, the Archbishop administers an oath to the Sovereign. The oath has varied over the years; at Elizabeth II's coronation, the exchange between the Queen and the Archbishop was as follows:
- The Archbishop of Canterbury: "Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, Pakistan and Ceylon, and of your Possessions and other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs?"
- The Queen: "I solemnly promise so to do."
- The Archbishop of Canterbury: "Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements?"
- The Queen: "I will."
- The Archbishop of Canterbury: "Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?"
- The Queen: "All this I promise to do. The things which I have here promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God."
Once the taking of the oath concludes, an ecclesiastic presents a Bible to the Sovereign, saying "Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God." At Elizabeth II's coronation, the Bible was presented by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Once the Bible is presented, the Holy Communion is celebrated, but the service is interrupted after the Apostles Creed.
Anointment and coronation
After the Communion service is interrupted, the Sovereign removes the crimson robe and processes to King Edward's Chair, which has been set in a most prominent position. (In 1953 it stood atop a dais of several steps.) This ancient medieval chair has a slot in the base into which the Stone of Scone has been fitted for the ceremony. Also known as the "stone of destiny," it was used for ancient Scottish coronations until brought to England by Edward I. It has been used for every coronation at Westminster Abbey since. Until 1996 the stone was kept with the chair in Westminster Abbey between coronations; but it was returned that year to Scotland, where it will remain on display in Edinburgh Castle until it is needed for a coronation.
Once seated in this chair, a canopy is held over the monarch's head for the anointing. This element of the coronation service was considered so sacred in 1953 that it was not televised. 2 The Dean of Westminster pours consecrated oil into a spoon; the Archbishop of Canterbury then anoints the Sovereign on the hands, breast, and head. The eagle-shaped ampulla holding the oil and the filagreed spoon with which it is poured are the only parts of the mediæval crown jewels which survived the commonwealth. The Archbishop concludes by stating a blessing.
The Sovereign is then enrobed in the colobium sindonis and the supertunica. The colobium sindonis is a white, loose, sleeveless gown worn beneath the supertunica. The latter is long coat reaching the ankles and made of gold silk. The supertunica derives from the uniform of imperial officials of the Byzantine Empire.
The Lord Great Chamberlain presents the spurs, which represent chivalry. The Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by other bishops, then presents the Sword of State to the Sovereign. The Sovereign then changes robes once again, this time putting on the Robe Royal and Stole Royal, both of which are made of gold silk and are heavily decorated with floral and heraldic emblems. The Archbishop then delivers several Crown Jewels to the Sovereign. First, he delivers the Orb, a hollow golden sphere set with numerous precious and semi-precious stones. The Orb is surmounted by a cross, representing the purported rule of Jesus over the world; it is returned to the Altar immediately after being received. Next, the Sovereign receives a ring representing the "marriage" between him or her and the nation. The Sceptre with the Dove (so called because it is surmounted by a dove representing the Holy Spirit) and the Sceptre with the Cross (which incorporates Cullinan I, the largest cut diamond in the world) are delivered to the Sovereign. As the Sovereign holds the two sceptres, the Archbishop of Canterbury places St Edward's Crown (brought to him by the Lord High Steward) on his or her head. All cry "God Save the King [Queen]," placing their coronets and caps on their heads. Cannons are fired from the Tower of London.
End of the ceremony
The Sovereign then takes his or her place on the throne. The Archbishops and Bishops swear their fealty, saying "I, N., Archbishop [Bishop] of N., will be faithful and true, and faith and truth will bear unto you, our Sovereign Lord [Lady], King [Queen] of this Realm and Defender of the Faith, and unto your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God." The peers then proceed to pay their homage, saying "I, N., Duke [Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron or Lord] of N., do become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth will I bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks. So help me God." Formerly, each peer paid homage individually, but Edward VII abbreviated the ceremony. Now, the clergy pay homage together, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Next, members of the Royal Family pay homage individually. The peers are led by the premier peers of their rank: the Dukes by the Premier Duke, the Marquesses by the Premier Marquess, and so forth.
If there is a Queen Consort, she is crowned in a very simple ceremony immediately after homage is paid.3 A Queen Regnant's husband, however, is not separately crowned. The Communion ceremony interrupted earlier is resumed and completed.
The Sovereign then exits the Coronation Theatre, entering St Edward's Chapel (also within the Abbey), preceded by the bearers of the Sword of State, the Sword of Spiritual Justice, the Sword of Temporal Justice and the Sword of Mercy (the last has a blunt tip). The Crown and Sceptres worn by the Sovereign, as well as all other regalia, are laid at the Altar; the Sovereign removes the Robe Royal and wears the Purple Robe, which recalls the imperial purple robes of Roman Emperors, and which comprises an ermine cape and purple velvet train. The Sovereign then wears the Imperial State Crown and takes into his or her hands the Sceptre with the Cross and the Orb and leaves the chapel while all present sing the Royal Anthem.
Traditionally, the coronation was immediately followed by a banquet, held in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster (which also serves as the home to the Houses of Parliament). The King's Champion (the office being held hereditarily in the Dymoke family) would ride into the hall on horseback, wearing a knight's armour, with the Lord High Constable riding to his right and the Earl Marshal riding to his left. A herald would then proclaim, "If any person, of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny or gainsay our Sovereign Lord ..., King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, son and next heir unto our Sovereign Lord the last King deceased, to be the right heir to the Imperial Crown of this Realm of Great Britain and Ireland, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his Champion, who saith that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him; and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever he shall be appointed." The King's Champion would then throw down the gauntlet; the ceremony would be repeated at the centre of the hall and at the High Table (where the Sovereign would be seated). The Sovereign would then drink to the Champion from a gold cup, which he would then present to the latter. The bishops and peers would then cheer the Sovereign, and would proceed to eat numerous dishes. Their families, however, did not participate, instead just looking on from the side galleries. Banquets have not been held since the coronation of George IV in 1821.
Enthronement as Emperor
Victoria assumed the title Empress of India in 1877. Neither she nor her successor, Edward VII, were specifically crowned with this title. George V, however, visited India to be enthroned along with his wife in 1911. The Durbar, or Imperial Court, was for political reasons held not at the capital, Calcutta, but in Delhi. Since it was deemed inappropriate for the Christian anointment and coronation to take place in a Hindu nation, George V was not crowned in India; instead, he wore a crown as he entered the Durbar. British law prohibited the removal of the British Crown Jewels from the nation; therefore, a separate crown, known as the Imperial Crown of India, was created for George V. The Emperor was enthroned, and the Indian princes paid homage to him. Thereafter, certain political decisions, such as the decision to move the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, were announced at the Durbar. The Durbar was in reality held in order to announce these political changes, and to display the power of the Emperor, rather than to celebrate George V's accession. The ceremony was not repeated, and the imperial title was abandoned by George VI in 1948 (though India had become independent a year earlier).
- 1. At George IV's coronation, however, the Barons bore the canopy behind the King rather than over him; various accounts explain the irregularity. Henry Rivington Hill writes, "His Majesty's reason for walking before the canopy appears to have been that the people at the top of the houses might be able to see him, as he frequently looked up almost perpendicularly." One anonymous account suggests, "At first all seems to have gone well, but on returning to Westminster Hall, the elderly bearers began to tire at their task, causing the canopy to sway from side to side. The King feeling nervous that it would descend on his head, thought it safer to walk slightly in front of it. This however, did not suit the stout hearts, though weak bodies, of the Barons, whose privilege and duty it was to bear the canopy exactly over the King, so they hastened their steps, the canopy swaying more and more with the increased pace. The King now became genuinely alarmed, and though of portly habits quickened his pace, and, as the canopy surged after him, at last broke into a somewhat unseemly jog trot, and in this manner they all arrived at Westminster Hall."
- 2. According to one popular legend associated with the anointment, the Virgin Mary miraculously appeared before St. Thomas à Becket and gave him a vessel of holy oil to be used for anointment. The myth was most likely invented to rival a similar French legend that the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven, bringing a vessel containing anointing oil for a coronation.
- 3. George IV was estranged from his wife, Queen Caroline, at the time of his coronation. He not only refused to allow her to be crowned at the ceremony, but also excluded her from the entire coronation itself.
- British monarchy
- Commonwealth realms
- Civil religion
- Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom
- Dates of coronations of British monarchs
- UK topics
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- Anglo-Saxon Consecrations: 871-1066
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