What Actually Goes Into The Coronation Of A British Monarch
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the British throne in February 1952, her coronation wasn't held for a further 16 months - in June 1953. Similarly, when King Charles III ascended the throne on September 8, 2022, his coronation wasn't scheduled until May of the next year.
Why is there such a long gap between the start of the reign and a monarch's official crowning? The transfer of power is a busy time. Changes take place throughout the kingdom - everything from postal boxes to currency gets a refresh - and planning a coronation is just one of the many tasks on a monarch's to-do list during this period. In short, there's a lot that goes into the planning and execution of the extravaganza, despite the fact the ceremony has been largely unchanged for 1,000 years.
We've broken down what actually goes into the coronation of a British monarch. Vote up the most fascinating facts.
- 192 VOTES
The Stone Of Scone Within The Coronation Chair Has A Complicated History
The Coronation Chair upon which monarchs sit during the ceremony is the same one originally crafted for the purpose in 1301. In 1296, King Edward I stole the Stone of Scone - the ancient stone slab upon which Scottish kings were crowned - and brought it to Westminster Abbey. He then commissioned the chair to house it, and the chair and stone have since been used in every coronation.
Also called the Stone of Destiny, its arrival in England from Scotland is unquestioned; however, its history goes back even further. One legend claims it's the same stone the biblical Jacob used as a pillow at Bethel. From there, one of Jacob’s sons is said to have taken the stone to Egypt before it landed in the hands of the Spanish, who took it to Ireland before it finally ended up with the Scots - and was later stolen by Edward I.
Despite the chair and stone’s illustrious history and conservation efforts, they've been vandalized and stolen; one piece of graffiti on the seat reads, “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800.” In 1950, Scottish nationalists stole the stone, breaking it in the process. Although it was eventually returned, Scottish calls for independence remained strong. In 1996, British Prime Minister John Major tried to appease the Scots by returning the stone to Scotland, with the promise it would be returned to Westminster Abbey for future coronations.
- Photo: United Kingdom Government / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain265 VOTES
Coronation Regalia Includes More Than Just A Crown And Scepter
King Charles III reportedly wishes for a smaller-scale coronation than the grand ceremonies recorded throughout history. In contrast, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was the most expensive in history. However, as coronations have largely been unchanged since the 14th century, they are steeped in tradition, meaning the king will be adorned in regalia with no shortage of gold and precious gemstones - one of which is from the largest single diamond ever discovered.
He will actually wear two diadems: St. Edward’s Crown, made of solid gold and nearly 500 gemstones; and the Imperial State Crown, which houses the 104-carat Stuart Sapphire and the 170-carat Black Prince's Ruby. In addition to those large stones, the crown also features four pearls reportedly sourced from Queen Elizabeth I’s earrings.
During the ceremony, the Coronation Ring, which symbolizes the monarch’s commitment to the Church of England, will go on King Charles’s right hand. In 1831, King William IV commissioned the ring for his own coronation, and it’s been part of the ceremony ever since - with one exception. Queen Victoria’s fingers were too small for the ring, so she instead wore a custom, scaled-down version.
In addition to the crowns and ring, the monarch is also given and holds several other pieces of regalia: the Sovereign’s Scepter, which was first used in Charles II’s 1661 coronation; the royal orb, a reminder that the monarch’s authority comes from God; and two gold armills (a type of medieval bracelet) that symbolize the monarch’s connection with the people.
- Photo: George Hayter / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain363 VOTES
The Coronation Oath Is The Only Part of The Ceremony Required By Law
Among all of the pomp and circumstance of a monarch’s coronation, the only part legally required part is the Coronation Oath (via the 1689 Coronation Oath Act), which is over in just a few moments, as it consists of only a few questions. During the vow, the monarch swears to govern the kingdom and commonwealth according to the laws and customs of the respective regions.
Given the ever-changing nature of the British government, the wording of the oath has changed too. However, an Old English version from before the 10th century reveals that the simple three-promise structure is more than 1,000 years old. In this version, the monarch promised the following:
- The Church of God and all the people would hold true peace under his rule.
- He would forbid acts of robbery and iniquity.
- He would uphold justice and mercy in all judgements.
- Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain466 VOTES
The Coronation Has Been Performed By The Same Figurehead For 1,000 Years
Since 1066, two parts of the coronation have remained wholly unchanged: it takes place at Westminster Abbey and is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury - unless that seat is vacant.
As the highest-ranking member of the Church of England - outside of the monarch - the responsibility to preside over the coronation is theirs. During the ceremony, the Archbishop anoints the monarch with consecrated oil, leads them through the oath, and finally crowns them as king or queen of the UK.
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The Coronation Isn't The Start Of The Reign, And Takes Place After An Appropriate Mourning Period
New kings and queens ascend the British throne immediately upon the passing of a reigning monarch. The first step in announcing this transfer of power, however, isn’t a coronation. Instead, a formal proclamation takes place at St. James’s Palace as soon as possible, and a coronation follows much later.
The ceremony wherein the monarch is officially crowned requires extensive planning. That, in addition to allowing for a suitable mourning period, is why it doesn’t take place at the start of a monarch’s reign.
King Charles III’s coronation was set for roughly nine months after he ascended the throne. His mother Queen Elizabeth’s was around 15 months after her ascension, and Edward VIII abdicated before his coronation was even scheduled, just 11 months after ascending.
- Photo: Jonathunder / Wikimedia Commons / GNUF664 VOTES
The Monarch Is Anointed With Oil Made From Olives Harvested In Jerusalem
As part of the coronation ceremony, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who has performed coronation ceremonies since 1066) anoints the monarch with consecrated holy oil. While this rite dates back centuries, King Charles III’s coronation oil was newly formulated based on that used at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. The olives were harvested from the Mount of Olives in Israel, where the King’s grandmother, Alice of Greece, is buried.
The oil, which is scented with sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli, benzoin, amber, and orange blossoms, represents “the deep historic link between the coronation, the Bible and the Holy Land,” according to Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury.
In one small break from tradition, King Charles III’s oil is cruelty-free. Past formulations have included oil from small mammals and whales.