ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST
CORONATIONS: AN ANCIENT CEREMONY
The ultimate guide to coronations past and present.
What is a coronation?
The coronation ceremony sees the crowning of a new king or queen. This ancient ceremony is an occasion for spectacle and celebration. The English ceremony has remained essentially the same for a thousand years.
The coronation of the new monarch happens several months after their accession. The accession is when a new monarch succeeds to the throne upon the death of the previous king or queen. This time allows for the enormous amount of preparation required to organise and rehearse the ceremony.
For the last nine centuries, the coronation ceremony has nearly always taken place at Westminster Abbey in London. It is normally conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The first English king to be crowned at the Abbey was William the Conqueror in 1066. Thirty-nine coronations have taken place in the Abbey, including that of King Charles III, and forty monarchs have been crowned.
The Coronation Regalia form a key part of the ceremony. These sacred objects which represent the powers and responsibilities of the monarch, are presented to the new king or queen during the service.
What happens during the coronation?
The ceremony traditionally features music, prayers, and hymns in several parts:
Recognition and Oath
The people in the Abbey are asked if they recognise the new monarch and respond with ‘God Save The King’ or ‘God Save The Queen’. The monarch then signs an oath where they promise to rule according to the law and with mercy. The monarch is traditionally wearing the crimson Robe of State.
Following the oath, the monarch sits in the Coronation Chair, made for King Edward I in 1300. The chair historically housed the Stone of Scone, also known as “the Stone of Destiny”. This Stone is an ancient object associated with the kings of Scotland. Since 1996 it has been kept at Edinburgh Castle unless required at a coronation.
The monarch is then anointed using the Coronation Spoon with holy oil contained in the Ampulla. The Coronation Spoon is the most ancient item of Coronation regalia.
The choir traditionally sings Handel’s ‘Zadok the Priest’ during this most sacred moment of the coronation. Zadok the Priest was first used for the coronation of George II in 1727.
Investiture and Crowning
The anointing is followed by dressing of the monarch in the spectacular robe of cloth of gold called the Supertunica and the longer Imperial Mantle. The monarch is then presented with other items from the Coronation Regalia.
These includes the gold spurs, the jewelled Sword of Offering and the Armills. The Armills are gold bracelets representing sincerity and wisdom. The monarch also receives the Sovereign’s Orb, a gold globe topped by a cross, as well as a ring and two sceptres.
The ceremony culminates with the placing of the magnificent St Edward’s Crown on the monarch’s head. The monarch then changes into the robe of purple velvet and wears the lighter Imperial State Crown for the rest of the service.
This is the final part of the coronation. The new monarch moves to the throne chair and senior officials of the United Kingdom pay homage to the newly crowned monarch. They place their hands on the monarch’s knees, swear an allegiance, touch the crown and kiss the monarch’s right hand.
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip was the first to pay homage to his wife, pledging his service to her.
The coronation day has traditionally started with a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach. This coach has been used at every coronation since William IV’s in 1831.
After the service there is traditionally a procession through the streets of London. This allows as many people as possible to see the newly crowned monarch.
Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey in 1953 following her succession. The queen succeeded to the throne on 6 February 1952 on the death of her father, King George VI.
The coronation took place on 2 June 1953 and it was the first to be broadcast live on television. Twenty-seven million people in the United Kingdom tuned in to watch the ceremony.
“I am sure that this, my Coronation, is not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future, and for the years I may, by God’s Grace and Mercy, be given to reign and serve you as your Queen.”
QUEEN ELIZABETH II ON HER CORONATION DAY, JUNE 2 1953.
King Charles III’s Coronation
The Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III took place on 6 May 2023 at Westminster Abbey. The Coronation reflected the monarch’s role today and looked towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry.
The Queen Consort was crowned with The King in a similar but simpler ceremony. She was crowned and received a smaller version of the Sceptre with the Cross. Queen Mary’s Crown was used for the Coronation of Queen Camilla.
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ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST
THE CROWN JEWELS: CORONATION AND REGALIA
Everything you need to know about the famous collection.
What are the Crown Jewels?
The Crown Jewels are the most famous of the nation’s treasures. They include over 100 extraordinary items including orbs, sceptres, and crowns. All are closely connected with the status and role of the monarch. The oldest of these is the 12th-century spoon used to anoint the king or queen at the coronation.
Housed at the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels are the most complete collection of royal regalia in the world. They are used at occasions such as the coronation service and the State Opening of Parliament. Part of the Royal Collection, the Crown Jewels are held in trust by the monarch for the nation.
The Coronation Regalia
At the heart of the Crown Jewels are the Coronation Regalia. These are the sacred objects used in the coronation ceremony. The collection includes St Edward’s Crown, the Imperial State Crown, the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Orb.
St Edward’s Crown
This spectacular solid gold crown is used at the moment of crowning during the coronation ceremony.
- It weighs 2.07 kg (nearly 5lb) and is decorated with rubies, amethysts and sapphires.
- It was made for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661 as a replacement for the medieval crown melted down in 1649, after the execution of Charles I.
- The lost medieval crown dated back to the 11th century and belonged to the royal saint, Edward the Confessor.
- St Edward’s Crown was last used for the crowning of King Charles III in 2023.
mperial State Crown
The Imperial State Crown was made for the Coronation of King George VI in 1937 replacing a crown made for Queen Victoria.
- The crown is set with 2,868 diamonds, as well as several famous jewels.
- It includes St Edward’s Sapphire, said to have been worn in a ring by Edward the Confessor.
- The crown also includes the Cullinan II diamond, the second largest stone cut from the great Cullinan Diamond. The Cullinan Diamond is the largest diamond ever discovered.
- The Imperial State Crown is worn by the monarch to leave Westminster Abbey after the coronation ceremony.
Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross
The Sovereign’s Sceptre was made for the Coronation of Charles II in 1661 and has been used at every coronation since.
- The Sceptre includes the magnificent Cullinan I diamond, the largest colourless cut diamond in the world.
- In 1911 the Crown Jeweller, Garrard, mounted the diamond in the Sovereign’s Sceptre. The diamond is so large that the Sceptre had to be reinforced to take its weight.
The Sovereign’s Orb is a representation of the monarch’s power. It symbolises the Christian world with its cross set on a globe.
- The gold Orb weighs 1.32kg and is mounted with emeralds, rubies and sapphires surrounded by diamonds and pearls.
- During the coronation service, the Orb is placed in the right hand of the monarch. It is then placed on the high altar before the moment of crowning.
Coronation Spoon & Ampulla
The oldest item in the Coronation Regalia is the 12th-century Coronation Spoon.
- It is the only piece of royal goldsmiths’ work to survive from that century.
- During the coronation ceremony the spoon is used to anoint the monarch with holy oil.
- The gold Ampulla or flask holds the holy oil. The head of the eagle is removable with an opening in the beak for pouring the oil into the spoon.
Queen Mary’s Crown
Queen Mary’s stunning Crown is set with 2,200 diamonds.
- The crown was designed for the Coronation of Queen Mary in 1911.
- At the 1911 Coronation the crown contained three large diamonds – the Koh-i-nûr, Cullinan III and Cullinan IV. These were later replaced with crystal replicas.
- The crown was reset with the Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds for the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
The Cullinan Diamond
The magnificent Cullinan Diamond is the largest diamond ever found, weighing 3,106 carats. The diamond was discovered in modern-day South Africa in 1905. It was named after the chairman of the mining company, Thomas Cullinan.
Over a period of eight months, three polishers worked for 14 hours a day to cut and polish nine large stones from the original diamond. In total 97 small brilliants were also created.
The two largest stones are Cullinan I and Cullinan II. They are set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Imperial State Crown.
What happened to the earlier Crown Jewels?
The medieval Crown Jewels were sold or destroyed in the mid-17th century.
In 1649, at the close of the English Civil War, Charles I was executed, and items from the Royal Collection were sold by Parliament to fund the new government. Jewels were sold and items of silver and gold were melted down and turned into coins.
By 1660 the monarchy was restored, and Charles II ordered the creation of new regalia for his Coronation in 1661. These make up a large proportion of the Crown Jewels which can be seen today.
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