EDGAR, KING OF ENGLAND
ANGLO SAXON ABBEY WHERE LUSTY KING EDGAR WAS CROWNED, FOUND!
King Edgar (the Peaceful) was the first king of ‘all England’ – including the kingdoms of Scotland, Mercia, and Wessex, and his coronation at an Anglo-Saxon abbey as a divine ruler recognized by God set the precedence for all future Kings and Queens of England. Now archaeologists believe they may have found the location of the lost abbey in Bath.
Edgar was the brother of Eadwig and son of Edmund I and Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury. He was the father of Ethelred the Unready and Edward the Martyr, both future kings of England, and he himself ascended to the throne of England following the death of his brother in 959 AD. Edgar was later crowned in 973 AD, in a long-lost Anglo-Saxon abbey in Bath; which might now have been discovered by archaeologists excavating in the ancient English city.
Unearthing an Anglo-Saxon Abbey
Bath Abbey was always thought of as having been located upon a much earlier Anglo-Saxon monastery, but no evidence was ever found to support this idea. However, two structures were discovered during primary renovation works as part of Bath Abbey’s £19.3 million (25.2 million USD) Footprint project and a team of archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology discovered to the south of the modern-day Abbey what a Daily Mail article describes as “Semi-circular relics dating to between the 8th and 10th century AD.”
Plaster samples taken from the remains tested positive for charcoal and they were sent to Queen’s University, Belfast for radiocarbon dating, which determined they were from “AD 780-970 and AD 670-770”. These results are why the researchers believe they might have found the site of King Edgar’s coronation – Bath’s lost Anglo-Saxon monastery . And speaking of the discovery to the Daily Mail the Reverend Canon Guy Bridgewater at Bath Abbey said this is a “really exciting find.”
King Edgar’s Unification of a Broken Nation
Following the death of his older brother in 959 AD, Edgar had been crowned King of Wessex at Kingston-upon-Thames, but by 973 AD he wished for his expanding Anglo-Saxon kingship to be marked with a grand coronation ceremony on the Mercian-Wessex border at Bath.
Edgar planned his own coronation ceremony with his advisor St Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury , and emphasized that he was being crowned king under the will of God and as the first King of England because he united the warring kingdoms of Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria into one political entity.
An entry in Early British Kingdoms says that after his coronation at Bath, Edgar flexed his military power by marching his army northwards, gathering Viking warriors , and that his navy joined him in Chester where the northern kings assembled to submit to his overlordship. And while history remembers Edgar as “a good king” under the will of God, in reality, his conquests were not only of agricultural terrain, important sea channels, and trade routes, but also of women, as Edgar had a blistering sexual appetite which gave rise to a number of shocking stories.
When the Little Head Rules the Big One…
An example of Edgar’s out of control desire for sexual conquest is found in Early British Kingdoms , which says that soon after ascending the throne Edgar became smitten by the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman of Hampshire and he traveled there demanding that she slept with him. In their daughter’s place the girl’s parents sent a maidservant to join the King and after a night of “unbridled passion” the girl ran away explaining that she had to start work before the rest of the household arose. In what chroniclers say was a “mad fury,” the King confiscated all his hosts’ lands and made his bed-fellow their mistress.
The peaceful and horny King Edgar died two years after the coronation at Bath on July 8, 975 AD and he was buried in St. Dunstan’s abbey at Glastonbury (Somerset) where he was revered as a saint.
One can only imagine his canonization occurred as a result of the stability his monastic reforms brought to England rather than his ungodly sexual conquests! It seems that King Edgar, like many men who become kings, thought that cash and power means they can just go around meeting women and whenever they like: “Grab them by the …” Thank goodness that attitude died out a long time ago.
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THE CORONATION CEREMONY OF THE BRITISH MONARCHY
30 MARCH 2020
The coronation ceremony of the British monarchy as we know it today involves many elements that have been a part of the pageantry ever since the 11th century. Such features of the ceremony carried out in Westminster Abbey since 1066 have been maintained by successive monarchs right down to Queen Elizabeth II (r. 1952-2022) and her coronation on 2 June 1953, as all rulers were keen to show they were part of a long-standing tradition.
The essential purpose of the British coronation ceremony is to see the monarch swear an oath to uphold the Church and rule with honour, wisdom and mercy. The monarch is anointed with holy oil and given a sword, orb, ring, sceptre and, finally, a crown. Then all the nobles and clergy present swear loyalty to their sovereign. The new monarch next embarks on a procession to be presented to the people and finally – although nowadays it has gone out of fashion – there was a great feast of celebration, a function now replaced by live television.
The earliest English coronation that is recorded in detail, although it was certainly not the first, is the crowning of the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar (r. 959-975 CE) in Bath in 953 CE. Early English kings may even have settled for an ornate helmet rather than a crown but with the arrival of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087 CE), a tradition began of holding a lavish coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. William was himself crowned there on Christmas Day 1066 CE. Subsequent kings and queens, all keen to maintain a link with history and emphasise their legitimacy for the role, repeated many of the ceremonial elements which are still a part of the coronation ceremony today. Each monarch would add a little something to the ceremony, but in its essentials, a combination of religious and secular rituals, it has remained unchanged for a thousand years.
In the Middle Ages, monarchs prepared for their big day by bathing, a ritual act of purification conducted on the eve of the coronation in the Tower of London. This was followed by a vigil in the Tower’s chapel. Both of these acts were typical of the process by which a squire became a medieval knight. A tradition also began in 1399 CE where the monarch invested a number of new knights on the coronation eve, who became known as the Knights of Bath (and from 1725 CE, members of the order of that name).
The first public act of the coronation spectacle was the procession which took the monarch to Westminster Abbey and allowed as many people as possible to view the proceedings. The star of the show wore red parliamentary robes at this point while musicians and flag-bearers accompanied the main carriage from the Tower of London (or Buckingham Palace in more modern times) to its final destination. From 1685 CE, the procession started closer to Westminster Abbey. On arrival, a group of dignitaries follow the monarch bearing the various precious objects from the British Crown Jewels which will be used later during the ceremony. A bodyguard of sergeants-at-arms, each member of which carries a ceremonial mace (a reminder that protection was their primary aim), then escorts the monarch up the aisle of the Abbey.
Trumpets blare and drums beat as a line of dignitaries follows their monarch to a podium, three of them bearing a sword each. These swords are the Sword of Temporal Justice, Sword of Spiritual Justice, and the blunt Sword of Mercy (aka ‘Curtana’); all are survivors of the destruction of the Crown Jewels in 1649 CE (see below). Music has always played an important role in coronations with some pieces being a permanent fixture such as George Frederick Handel’s Zadok the Priest, played at all ceremonies since 1727 CE. The congregation then shouts their acceptance and loyalty to the monarch who now wears magnificent robes of silk and gold. The robe worn by Elizabeth II is the golden Imperial Mantle, and she also wore a stole embroidered with symbols of the British nations and plants from the Commonwealth. The monarch is now seated on the chair known as King Edward’s Chair, made c. 1300 CE, and the audience settles down for the ceremony to begin proper.
Anointing the Monarch
Another item which survives from the pre-1649 CE regalia is the coronation spoon. This is used to anoint the monarch with holy oil at the start of the ceremony. As the monarch is regarded as chosen by God to rule, their coronation ceremony had several features similar to the consecration of a bishop. In this case, the anointing is done by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who pours a small quantity of oil onto the monarch’s head, chest, and palms.
The oil used at the coronation of Henry IV of England (r. 1399-1413 CE) in 1399 CE was believed to have been miraculously given to the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket (in office 1162-1170 CE) by the Virgin Mary. This wondrous oil had only recently been discovered hidden away in one of the darker corners of the Tower of London’s cellars. The oil, whatever its real origin, was a useful add-on in Henry’s search to legitimise his usurpation of the throne from Richard II of England (r. 1377-1399 CE). Despite Henry IV’s best-laid plans, his coronation did suffer a mishap when he dropped the gold coin which he was supposed to ceremoniously offer to God. The coin rolled away and was never seen again, an ill omen of the rebellions that would ruin his reign. Nevertheless, Becket’s sacred oil was used at several coronations thereafter.
Symbols of Power
As traditionally a monarch was also a knight, the coronation ceremony involves symbols associated with that rank such as golden spurs, armills (bracelets), and a sword. The two swords which are presented to the monarch at coronations are the Sword of State, which dates to 1678 CE, and the Jewelled Sword of Offering, which was first used by George IV of England (r. 1820-1830 CE) for his coronation in 1821 CE. The archbishop presents these swords and proclaims the following:
With the sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order.
The monarch is then given the Sovereign’s Orb which is topped by a cross and so symbolic of the Christian monarch’s domination of the secular world. It is placed in the sovereign’s left hand. The hollow gold orb, set with pearls, precious stones and a large amethyst beneath the cross, was made in 1661 CE and has been used in every coronation since then.
The monarch is next given the ‘Ring of Kingly Dignity’, placed on their third finger of the left hand (where a wedding ring is traditionally worn). The one used today, the Sovereign’s Ring, was originally made in 1831 CE for William IV of England (r. 1830-1837 CE) and has a cross of Saint George (patron saint of England) in rubies (thought to represent dignity) against a blue background of a single sapphire. A mix-up during the coronation of Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901 CE) resulted in the ring being too tight and the queen later wrote that the archbishop had great trouble putting it on and she removing it later.
The monarch is now given a sceptre and staff or rod, traditional symbols of royal power and justice. The Sovereign’s Sceptre (aka King’s Sceptre) was first made in 1685 CE, with modifications being added subsequently. Today, it has the 530-carat Cullinan I diamond, also known as the First Star of Africa, sparkling at the top of it.
The climax of the entire ceremony is, of course, the actual crowning of the seated monarch. The crown used is usually Saint Edward’s Crown (and if an alternative is used, it still carries this name). The crown is named after Edward the Confessor (r. 1042-1066 CE) and was made when Henry III of England (r. 1216-1272 CE), a fan of the saint, fancied new regalia for his coronation. It is likely that parts of a more ancient Anglo-Saxon gold crown were incorporated into this new version. Unfortunately, most of the British Crown Jewels, including the crown, were destroyed, broken up or sold off in 1649 CE following the execution of Charles I of England (r. 1600-1649 CE) and the (what turned out to be) temporary abolishment of the monarchy.
The 1660 CE Restoration of the monarchy necessitated the production of new regalia which would be put into immediate use at the coronation of Charles II of England in 1661 CE (r. 1660-1685 CE). Although it is not clear exactly by what means they were found or reacquired, many of the precious stones that survived the old regalia were incorporated into the new Crown Jewels of the 17th century CE and the new St. Edward’s Crown. It is this crown which has been used in coronations ever since. It is gold and weighs 2.3 kilos (5 lbs). As the crown is so heavy, after the actual crowning it is usually replaced by another lighter crown such as the Imperial State Crown. Curiously, the St. Edward’s Crown was only ever filled with hired gems when it was needed for a coronation and not until 1911 CE did it receive permanent settings.
The Imperial State Crown was created for the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1838 CE as a lighter alternative to St. Edward’s Crown. It is a spectacular crown and contains over 2,800 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, four rubies, and 269 pearls. Amongst these are the central Black Prince’s Ruby (actually a balas or spinel), below it the 317-carat Cullinan II diamond (aka Second Star of Africa), as well as the 104-carat oval-cut Stuart Sapphire and Saint Edward’s Sapphire (set in the top cross). The latter sapphire, an octagonal rose cut stone, is said to have been taken from the ring of Edward the Confessor making it the oldest item in all of the Crown Jewels.
Finally, the monarch’s consort also receives a crown during the ceremony. The most famous of these today is the Crown of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Made of platinum in 1937 CE, it contains the 105.60-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond from India, given to Queen Victoria as part of the peace treaty which ended the Anglo-Sikh Wars (1845-49 CE). The great diamond is said to bring luck to a female wearer and bad luck to a male one, hence it has only appeared in various Queen consort crowns.
The final dramatic act in this royal drama involves the monarch’s nobles paying homage and swearing allegiance to their sovereign. Everyone dons their own crowns and coronets if they have the right to wear them and the whole congregation acclaims their new monarch by shouting ‘God Save the King/Queen’. The bells of Westminster Abbey ring out and there is simultaneously a 62-gun salute from the Tower of London. The monarch moves to sit on a throne on a raised platform and then receives homage from certain high-ranking clergy and nobles who kiss their hand. Finally, the monarch may issue a general pardon of those found guilty of wrong-doing under their predecessor and sometimes throws coins or medals into the assembly.
The monarch then leaves Westminster Abbey, now wearing purple imperial robes, and is transported in a golden carriage through the streets so that they may be presented to their people. Finally, the monarch arrives at Westminster Hall where a great feast used to be held. A fixture of medieval coronations, these were an opportunity for a monarch to shower some grace and favour on their most important subjects. Medieval coronation feasts could be huge affairs with up to 5,000 dishes served. We know that the guests at the coronation feast of Edward II of England (r. 1307-1327 CE) in 1308 CE managed to down 1,000 casks of wine. Exotic dishes were prepared and often sculpted into weird and wonderful forms, all served on solid gold dishes, chalices, wine fountains, punch bowls and salt cellars for the added entertainment of the guests. When it was all over, the commoners were allowed in to eat the leftovers. The last coronation feast was held in 1821 CE.
Instead of feasts we now have live television. In the mid-20th century CE, the coronation of Elizabeth II ignited the imagination of a nation. The ceremony was watched by some 20 million people and for the vast majority of them, it was the first event they ever watched on television. One can imagine the next coronation will be live-streamed around the world giving a view better than the people in Westminster Abbey itself with its notoriously bad sightlines. As the famed diarist Samuel Pepys (1633-1703 CE) noted on Charles II’s coronation in 1661 CE: “I sat from past 4 until 11 before the King came in…the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronation, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see” (Dixon-Smith, 46). Fortunately, with ever superior camera technology we can look forward to a superb throne-side view of the next coronation, whenever that may be.
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