The Meaning of the Coronation in Great Britain
The coronation of a British monarch is an event steeped in tradition and ceremony, dating back centuries. It is a momentous occasion that marks the beginning of a new reign and the official recognition of the monarch’s authority. The coronation is a solemn and majestic event, one that has evolved over time to become a symbol of the continuity and stability of the British monarchy.
Origins of Coronation Traditions
The origins of the coronation ceremony can be traced back to ancient Rome, where the emperor was crowned and acclaimed by the people. This tradition was later adopted by the Christian Church, which saw the coronation as a way to symbolize the divine right of kings to rule. In the Middle Ages, the coronation ceremony became more elaborate, with the king being anointed with holy oil and receiving a sword, a sceptre, and a crown.
King Edgar 973 AD
The first recorded coronation in England was that of King Edgar in 973 AD, but it was not until the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 that the ceremony became more formalized. The coronation of William included the anointing of the monarch with holy oil, the presentation of the sword, and the placing of the crown on the monarch’s head. From this time onwards, the coronation became an essential part of the British monarchy and a symbol of the monarch’s authority.
The Modern Coronation Ceremony
The modern coronation ceremony in Great Britain has its roots in the coronation of King Charles II in 1661. The ceremony has evolved over time to become a grand event that is watched by millions of people around the world. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was the first coronation to be televised, and it remains one of the most significant events in British history.
Charles II, Coronation portrait, Westminster Abbey 23 April 1661
The coronation ceremony begins with a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. The monarch travels in a golden carriage, accompanied by the Royal Household and members of the clergy. Once the monarch arrives at the abbey, the ceremony begins with the anointing of the monarch with holy oil, followed by the presentation of the sword and the sceptre. The crown is then placed on the monarch’s head, and the coronation oath is taken.
The coronation oath is a solemn promise made by the monarch to uphold the laws of the land and to protect the rights and liberties of the people. The monarch swears to govern the country with justice and compassion and to defend the Church of England. The oath is taken in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who represents the Church, and in the presence of the people.
Once the coronation oath is taken, the monarch is presented to the people outside Westminster Abbey. This is a moment of great excitement, as the people are able to see their new monarch for the first time. The monarch then returns to Buckingham Palace, where a banquet is held to celebrate the occasion.
The Symbols of Coronation
The coronation ceremony is rich in symbolism, with each element representing a different aspect of the monarch’s authority and duty. The crown is perhaps the most significant symbol, representing the monarch’s power and authority. The crown is made of gold and is encrusted with precious stones, including diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. The crown is designed to be worn only during the coronation ceremony and is then placed on a cushion in the Tower of London.
St Edward's Crown is the centrepiece of the British coronation regalia.
The sceptre and the orb are also important symbols of the monarch’s authority. The sceptre is a long rod with a gold sphere at the top, representing the monarch’s temporal authority. The orb is a golden sphere with a cross on top, representing the monarch’s spiritual authority. Together, the sceptre and the orb symbolize the monarch’s power to govern both the temporal and spiritual realms.
The Swords of Offering, the Sword of State, and the Sword of Mercy
The silver-gilt Coronation Spoon
The Exeter Salt
The Sovereign's Orb
The Sovereign's Sceptre with the Star of Africa diamond
The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone
used to crown the monarchs of Great Britain since 1296 a.d.
Another important symbol of the coronation ceremony is the royal robe, which is worn by the monarch during the ceremony. The robe is made of purple velvet and is embroidered with gold thread. It is trimmed with ermine, which is a symbol of the monarch’s rank and status.
The coronation ring is also an important symbol of the monarch’s authority. The ring is set with a large sapphire and is traditionally worn on the fourth finger of the monarch’s right hand. The ring is a symbol of the monarch’s marriage to the country and their duty to serve the people.
The Coronation Banquet
Following the ceremony, a grand banquet is held at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the occasion. The banquet is a lavish affair, with guests including foreign dignitaries, members of the royal family, and other important figures. The menu is carefully chosen, with dishes representing different parts of the United Kingdom.
The banquet is also an opportunity for the monarch to meet with their guests and to thank them for their support. It is a moment of celebration, but also one of reflection, as the monarch contemplates their new role and the responsibilities that come with it.
George IV's coronation banquet was held in Westminster Hall
in the Palace of Westminster in 1821
Coronation Traditions and Changes Over Time
Over time, the coronation ceremony has evolved to reflect the changing nature of British society. For example, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was the first to be televised, allowing millions of people around the world to watch the event live. The use of television transformed the coronation into a global event, with people from around the world tuning in to watch the ceremony.
Elizabeth II proceeding past the Coronation Chair to her left
The role of the Church of England has also changed over time. In the past, the Church played a central role in the coronation ceremony, with the Archbishop of Canterbury anointing the monarch with holy oil. However, in recent years, the role of the Church has been reduced, with the anointing taking place during a separate service before the coronation.
Similarly, the role of the monarchy has evolved over time. The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II marked the beginning of a new era in British history, as the country emerged from the devastation of World War II. The Queen’s reign has seen significant changes in British society, including the decline of the British Empire and the rise of the Commonwealth.
Despite these changes, many of the traditions of the coronation ceremony have remained the same. The use of symbols such as the crown, the sceptre, and the orb, as well as the taking of the coronation oath, continues to be an essential part of the ceremony. These symbols and traditions serve as a reminder of the continuity and stability of the British monarchy, as well as its deep roots in British history and culture.
The coronation of a British monarch is a grand and majestic event, steeped in tradition and ceremony. It is a momentous occasion that marks the beginning of a new reign and the official recognition of the monarch’s authority. The ceremony is rich in symbolism, with each element representing a different aspect of the monarch’s authority and duty.
Over time, the coronation ceremony has evolved to reflect the changing nature of British society. The use of television, changes in the role of the Church of England, and the evolving role of the monarchy have all contributed to these changes. However, many of the traditions of the coronation ceremony have remained the same, serving as a reminder of the continuity and stability of the British monarchy.
The coronation ceremony is a unique and important part of British culture, representing the country’s deep roots in history and tradition. It is a moment of celebration and reflection, marking the beginning of a new era in the life of the nation. As such, it remains a vital part of the fabric of British society, and a symbol of the enduring strength and resilience of the monarchy.
While the coronation of a British monarch is a grand and formal event, it is also a deeply personal one for the individual being crowned. It is a moment that marks the culmination of years of preparation and dedication, as well as the beginning of a new chapter in their life. It is a moment of immense pride and responsibility, as the monarch is officially recognized as the head of state and the symbol of the nation.
The coronation ceremony is a reminder of the importance of tradition and continuity in British society. It is a moment that celebrates the country’s history and culture, and the enduring legacy of the monarchy. It is also a moment that recognizes the importance of change and evolution, as the ceremony has adapted over time to reflect the changing nature of British society.
As the world continues to change, the coronation ceremony will undoubtedly continue to evolve. However, one thing is certain: the traditions and symbols of the ceremony will remain at the heart of the event, reminding us of the deep roots of British culture and the enduring strength of the monarchy.
In conclusion, the coronation of a British monarch is a unique and unforgettable event, steeped in tradition and symbolism. It represents the beginning of a new reign and the official recognition of the monarch’s authority. The ceremony is a celebration of British culture and history, and a symbol of the continuity and stability of the monarchy. As such, it remains an essential part of British society, and a reminder of the importance of tradition and continuity in a rapidly changing world.