The Making of a King Part 2: The Coronation Ceremony

The Coronation of King Charles III and The Queen Consort on Saturday 6 May is likely to follow a set of steps dating back to the 14th century and as laid out in two beautiful illuminated texts: the Litlyngton Missal and Liber Regalis. Whilst modifications to the ceremony have occurred over the centuries, the deeply religious and symbolic rites of a coronation have changed little over the course of the past 1000 years. With only three days to go until the Coronation in Westminster Abbey, we take a quick look at some of the key stages of the crowning of a Monarch.

The Liber Regalis manuscript c1308/1382. Public domain

The Monarch enters the Abbey probably to the sound of Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad” and the King’s Scholars of Westminster School will shout “Vivat Rex”. The King will take his place by the Coronation chair which is positioned in the “theatre” of Westminster Abbey (between the altar and the choir). In a “democratic” gesture dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, the Archbishop of Westminster will then turn north, east, south and west and ask all those assembled to accept King Charles III as the “undoubted King of this realm”. The congregation will then shout “God Save the King!” which represents the consent of the people and a fanfare of trumpets will ensue.

Coronation Oath
This stage sees the King taking an oath to uphold the laws of the nation and the Church of England. It will be interesting to see whether King Charles incorporates a change here to reflect the multi-faith nature of the UK today. With the Sword of State carried in front of him, the King will move to the altar and say “The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep, so help me God.” The King will kiss the Bible and sign the Oath.

Queen Victoria Taking the Coronation Oath, 1838. Painting by Sir George Hayter. Public domain

Consecrated oil called chrism – a fragrant blend of rose, cinnamon, jasmine, amber, neroli, benzoin, sesame and orange blossom – will be used to anoint the King; a gesture which dates back to early Christianity and symbolises the sacred position of monarchs. The Dean of Westminster will pour the oil from the ampulla into the anointing spoon and pass it to the Archbishop of Canterbury who will anoint the King on the head, arms, hands and breast. During Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, this was done in the privacy of a canopy held over the Queen. It is believed that a new and transparent canopy may be used for the King’s coronation which means the anointing stage of the ceremony is likely to be visible this time. The anointing will be carried out to the sound of Handel’s “Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet” composed in 1727 for the Coronation of George II.

Investiture & Crowning
The Investiture is where the King is presented with the linen columbium sindonis, followed by the supertunica, a long sleeved tunic adorned with a golden floral brocade. This is followed by the Stole and the Imperial Mantle which are worn over the supertunica. These garments are based on those of Edward the Confessor (Anglo Saxon King who reigned between 1042-1066). The Archbishop will then take the St Edward Crown from the high altar, hold it above the King’s head, say a prayer and place it on the King’s head. This moment will be accompanied by gunfire, the pealing of bells and shouts of God Save the King!

Enthronement & Homage
The King will leave the Coronation Chair and sit on a raised throne. Traditionally, a number of people including the Archbishop, senior peers and members of the Royal family will kneel before the King and placing their hands in his.

Edward, Prince of Wales pays homage to his father King George V 1911. Painting by Laurits Tuxen. Public domain

A simpler ceremony for the Queen Consort will follow and she will take her place next to the King.

The ceremony will conclude with both the King and Queen Consort going behind the high altar where the King will wear the Imperial Robe of Royal Purple and the Imperial State Crown. They will then walk up the nave and out of the Abbey where the golden State Coach will take them back to Buckingham Palace.

King George V and Queen Mary in their crowns and coronation robes 1911. Public domain

As we watch the Coronation on 6 May, it will be interesting to spot any differences to the Ceremony and to see what modern day adaptations have been made. What is guaranteed, is plenty of flourish and pageantry!

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