The coronation is traditionally presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, although there have been occasions when other high-ranking bishops have had to preside because of the unavailability of the Archbishop.
The Great Officers of State participate in the ceremony. The Lord Great Chamberlain enrobes the sovereign with ceremonial vestments, with the aid of the Groom of the Robes and the Master or Mistress of the Robes. The Lord High Constable is a Great Officer of State who is called out of abeyance for the Coronation only.
Hereditary peers and their spouses attend the coronation, along with political figures, the prime minister, members of the cabinet, governors-general and prime ministers of Commonwealth realms, governors of Crown Colonies, and heads of state of dependent nations. Dignitaries and representatives from other nations are also invited.
The Sovereign enters the Abbey accompanied by the clergy and other dignitaries and takes his or her seat on a Chair of Estate, at the centre of the ‘coronation theatre’, wearing a Robe of State of crimson velvet. The Garter Principal King of Arms, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Chancellor, Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord High Constable and Earl Marshal move to the east, south, west and north of the coronation theatre.
The Archbishop calls for recognition of the Sovereign by the people and after their acclamation he administers the oath to the Sovereign, which ends with his/her response: “All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God.”
A service of Holy Communion follows, which is interrupted for the rituals of Anointing, Investing, Crowning and Enthronement.
As a preparation for the act of anointing, the Archbishop recites a prayer, and the choir sings Handel’s coronation anthem Zadok the Priest.
The monarch’s crimson robe is removed and replaced with the anointing gown and he/she proceeds to the Coronation chair. The chair has a cavity in the base in which the Stone of Scone is fitted – also known as the ‘stone of destiny’ this was used for Scottish coronations until it was brought to England by Edward I (from 1996 it has resided in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, but is returned to Westminster Abbey for the coronation ritual).
Canopy-bearers, usually four Knights of the Garter, hold a canopy of golden cloth over the monarch’s head. In the most private act of the ceremony, which is not televised, the Archbishop anoints the sovereign with consecrated oil, making the form of a cross on the hands, head and heart. The monarch then stands and kneels on a footstool in front of the Coronation Chair while a prayer is recited before resuming his/her position on the Coronation Chair.
The monarch is then enrobed in Colubium Sindonus, a simple sleeveless white shift symbolising humility, which is then covered by the Supertunica, a full-length belted coat, made of gold and embroidered.
The Archbishop presents the Sword of State and the Armills (bracelets) of sincerity and wisdom to the sovereign and the Robe Royal and Stole Royal are then placed over the Supertunica. The Crown Jewels are then delivered to the sovereign: the orb, a gold sphere surmounted by a cross, represents the rule of Jesus over the world; the ring represents the sovereign’s marriage to the nation; the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Dove is surmounted by a dove representing the Holy Ghost; and finally, the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross (the ‘Ensign of power and justice’).
The Dean of Westminster and other officiating bishops pick up the St Edward’s Crown from the High Altar and proceed with it to the Coronation Chair where it is handed back to the Archbishop.
When he has placed the crown on the monarch’s head, the guests in the abbey cry out three times in unison “God save the King/Queen”. Peers of the realm, princes and princesses of the royal blood and officers of arms put on their own coronets. The trumpeters sound a fanfare and church bells are rung across the kingdom.
The Archbishop enunciates the crowning formula:
“God crown you with a crown of glory and righteousness, that having a right faith and manifold fruit of good works, you may obtain the crown of an everlasting kingdom by the gift of him whose kingdom endureth forever.”
The monarch now rises from the Coronation Chair and is seated on the throne. At this point the Archbishop and bishops swear their fealty, followed by the peers’ act of homage, and then the clergy and individual members of the royal family. (“I, xxxxxxx, 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.”)
At this point, if there is a queen consort, she is anointed, invested, crowned and enthroned in a simpler service.
The Communion service, interrupted earlier, is now resumed and concluded.
The monarch now proceeds to St Edward’s Chapel, where the crown and all the other regalia are laid on the high altar. The Robe Royal and Stole Royal are removed and the monarch is enrobed in the Imperial Robe of purple velvet. Wearing the Imperial State Crown, he or she carries the Sceptre with Cross and the Orb and leaves the chapel, while the congregation sing the national anthem.
Image, top: Print showing George VI with his train borne by eight sons of peers and the Master of the Robes at his coronation in 1821. The painting was started by Francis and James Stephanoff and completed by Edward Scriven.
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