This weekend we have the second bank holiday in a row – this time, for the coronation of the King. I know that people in our Academy community will have a range of views on the monarchy, and on the coronation itself, from fervent monarchists to staunch republicans, and everything in between.
For me, the monarchy represents a tangible connection with the history of our country. It’s a ceremony which has been carried out forty times in Westminster Abbey, and the first time I will have the chance to see it – my parents were only five or six when Queen Elizabeth was crowned! I will be watching out for the connections to the past, as well as the signs of the future, when I watch the ceremony on Saturday.
The English coronation service was drawn up by St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, for the coronation of Edgar, first King of All England, in 973 at Bath Abbey, but Westminster Abbey has been Britain’s coronation church since 1066. King Charles III will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at the Abbey this weekend. The first documented coronation at Westminster was that of William the Conqueror on 25th December 1066. It is likely that Harold Godwinson was also crowned in the Abbey following the death of Edward the Confessor’s, but there is no evidence to confirm that this happened. William probably chose the Abbey for his coronation to reinforce his claim to be a legitimate successor of Edward the Confessor, having defeated Harold at the Battle of Hastings.
The two monarchs who did not have any coronation were Edward V (the boy king), who was presumed murdered in the Tower of London before he could be crowned, and Edward VIII who abdicated 11 months after succeeding his father and before the date set for his coronation. William III and Mary II were the only joint monarchs to be crowned.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, public spectacle sometimes overshadowed religious significance. At George III’s coronation some of the congregation began to eat a meal during the sermon. George IV’s coronation was a great theatrical occasion but he flatly refused to allow his estranged wife Caroline to enter the Abbey. William IV had to be persuaded to have a coronation at all and spent so little money on it that it became known as ‘the penny coronation’. With Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 came a renewed appreciation of the true religious meaning of the ceremony.
By the time Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 millions around the world were able to witness her coronation on television.
King Charles will travel to the Coronation in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach – a fully modernised coach with heaters, air conditioning and electric windows! But his journey back will be in the Gold State Coach, which has no mod cons, and which Queen Elizabeth famously described as “horrible.” I suppose it’s all relative!
The crown that will be used is the St Edward’s crown, which was made in 1661 for King Charles II. It is a copy of an earlier crown, thought to have been used since the 11th century – but it is believed that Oliver Cromwell had that one melted down when the monarchy was abolished between 1653 and 1658.
As part of the ceremony, we will see the Crown Jewels in action. This includes the orb, a golden, jewelled ball with a cross on top to symbolise that the monarch’s power comes from God. The orb is accompanied by sceptres – jewelled golden sticks – which symbolise the monarch’s power and rule.
The ritual, ceremony and regalia of the coronation will not be to everyone’s taste – but, for me, they are a connection to our nation’s history, and I will be watching with interest.