A Coronation Anomaly: The Crowning of King Henry III


On 6 May 2023, Britain will witness the coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey. For most people this will be something never experienced before. The last coronation at the Abbey was that of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953.


Since the coronation of King William I (the Conqueror) on Christmas Day 1066, Westminster Abbey has been where England’s monarchs have been crowned. However, just over 800 years ago on 28 October 1216 a coronation anomaly occurred: the crowning of a King took place in St Peter’s Abbey in Gloucester, today it is the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral. Unlike the coronation ceremony of Charles III which is meticulously planned, the coronation of his ancestor Henry III was a rushed and hasty event. His father, King John had died only 9 days earlier at Newark Castle in Nottinghamshire. Henry inherited the throne at just 9 years old.

Gloucester Cathedral today. Photo by Philip Halling

The reason for the haste was to secure the throne for the rightful heir. King John had become unpopular with many of his barons, so much so that some barons had invited Prince Louis of France to take the throne. The swift coronation proved successful, with many barons switching their allegiance to Henry III, a new and young English king.

According to tradition King John had lost the royal crown in The Wash, a large bay off the east coast of England. Without a crown, improvisation was required, the young king was crowned with a gold corolla or headband belonging to his mother, Queen Isabella.

A depiction of the coronation can be seen in one of the stained glass windows in the south aisle of the cathedral. The glass is the work of Clayton & Bell.

Stained glass window depicting the crowning of Henry III. Photo by Julian P Guffogg.

With the return of order to the country, four years later on 17 May 1220, Henry III was crowned for a second time, this time the coronation was in the traditional setting of Westminster Abbey. Henry went on to reign for 56 years, and was England’s longest reigning medieval king.

Memorial tomb of Edward II at Gloucester Cathedral. Photo by Philip Halling.

Gloucester has other royal connections; the memorial tomb of King Edward II can be seen in the cathedral; he was murdered in nearby Berkeley Castle in 1327. Many pilgrims visited the royal tomb in St Peter’s Abbey (as it was at the time), including visits by King Richard II and Henry VIII. Gloucester being the site of the tomb of his ancestor may have been a factor in Henry VIII’s decision to make the Benedictine St Peter’s Abbey, a Cathedral in 1541. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries many were demolished, we are lucky Gloucester was spared. The increase in pilgrims visiting the abbey, boosted its finances allowing much of the Norman abbey to be rebuilt in the Perpendicular style we see today.

The wooden effigy of Robert, Duke of Normandy. Photo by Philip Halling

The other royal burial in the cathedral is Robert, Duke of Normandy. There is a painted wooden effigy of him in the south ambulatory. He was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, and on his father’s death he inherited the Duchy of Normandy. He was later imprisoned for many years in Cardiff Castle after he was defeated by his younger brother King Henry I when he attempted to claim the throne of England.

Ironically, the closest Robert, Duke of Normandy got to the throne was when his effigy was placed for safe keeping, along with the Coronation Chair from Westminster Abbey, in the Crypt of Gloucester Cathedral during the Second World War, 900 years after his death.


About the Author

Phil Halling is Heart of England Blue Badge Guide. Born in Gloucestershire, Phil grew up on a working farm in the north of the county. He has worked in the photographic industry and as a tutor in further education. After early retirement, Phil retrained as a Blue Badge Tourist Guide and now enjoys sharing his knowledge gained though his years of exploring the region. Although widely travelled around the world, he has lived in the counties of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire all his life. You can contact and book one of Phil’s tours HERE