Preparing for the Coronation

Preparing for the Coronation

As we look forward to a Coronation after the lengthy reign of a well-loved monarch, most of us will have no immediate knowledge of the ceremony and what to expect.

In 1902, in preparation for the coronation of Edward VII, Debrett’s published Debrett’s Dictionary of the Coronation. It begins: 

Owing to the exceptional length of the last reign, many of the ceremonies, customs, and events connected with a Coronation are entirely novel and outside the knowledge of the present generation… 

The Coronation of Charles III will take place at Westminster Abbey, where it has taken place for every monarch since William The Conqueror, in 1066, the only exceptions being Edward V and Edward VIII who were never crowned. The Conqueror’s coronation took place on Christmas Day and was conducted by Aldred or Ealdred, Archbishop of York. The shouts of proclamation, in English and French, were so loud they alarmed the guards outside the Abbey and, fearing an insurrection, they began attacking and slaughtering the Saxons living nearby, burning down their houses and generally pillaging and causing mayhem until William appeared at the door to the Abbey and stopped them. 

Edward VIII was never crowned, having abdicated soon after accession. Edward V was a boy of 13 when he inherited the throne on 9 April 1483; he was deposed a few weeks later, on 25 June 1483, by his uncle Richard III, who was proclaimed king the next day and crowned ten days later. 

George IV, who had been known for his extravagant lifestyle as Prince of Wales and Prince Regent, saw no reason why his tastes should be reduced for his coronation. He spent a great deal of his time, in the run-up to the coronation, planning the event. It is considered the most expensive and lavish of all the coronations. It took place on 19 July 1821, postponed due to George’s machinations against his estranged wife; he was determined she should not be part of the ceremony, not be crowned queen and indeed not be allowed to attend at all. He was successful; on the day of the ceremony her entry was refused. 

George spent nearly a quarter of a million pounds on the event which is equivalent to over £20 million today. In contrast, his successor, William IV, was reluctant to have a coronation and had to be persuaded to have one at all. He spent so little money on the ceremony that it became known as ‘the penny coronation’. 

The service itself consists of many elements devised by St Dunstan for the coronation of Edgar ‘The Peaceful’ in 973, which took place in Bath Abbey (although it is believed that Edgar may have been consecrated King at Kingston, in the traditional manner, before this date). Dunstan devised a much grander ceremony, which he based on those used for the coronations of the Holy Roman Emperors. He drew up The Coronation Order which has formed the basis of every British coronation since, and has even influenced other European coronations.  

The Coronation Order has been revised several times since 973 but the essential elements of the order remain the same. The definitive version is contained in the Liber Regalis, an illuminated medieval manuscript from 1382 held by Westminster Abbey, which was used as the order of service for all coronations up to that of Elizabeth I. An English translation was first used for the coronation of James I/VI. 

Image, top: The Coronation of Edward VII, 1902, which also took place after an unprecedentedly long reign, by Edwin Austin Abbey

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