On May 6 this year, Charles III will officially be crowned King in Westminster Abbey.
An audience of millions will watch as the ceremony is broadcast live, entranced by the ancient rituals and traditions that lead up to the awe-inspiring moment where the sacred St Edward’s Crown is set on the monarch’s head, and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Orb are placed in his hands.
To find out more about the priceless pieces that make up the Coronation Regalia, the crowns the King will wear, and how our new monarch will seek to modernise the ceremony, OK! spoke to royal expert Hugo Vickers, author of Coronation.
He told us there are core elements of the coronation that are so rooted in symbolism and tradition that it’s unlikely King Charles will deviate from them, but that the new monarch will be looking at ways he can shorten the service from the mammoth three hours it took to crown Queen Elizabeth II.
Vickers says, “There are certain things in the coronation they have to observe and there are some things they can remove. The essential ritual has to happen – the recognition, the anointing and the crowning, but it doesn’t have to be as long as the late Queen’s or to have as many people present. What seems to be happening is that Charles will make the Coronation Service more relevant, shorter, and with fewer people in the Abbey.
“King Charles will be crowned with St Edward’s Crown and in due course he will go behind the High Altar to change into a purple robe, which is what he will probably wear going out of the Abbey.”
He adds, “There will be about 2,000 guests instead of the 8,000 there were at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. I don’t think hereditary peers will be there, but I’m sure there will be a representative group of peers and they will probably wear parliamentary robes.
“They probably won’t have that wonderful moment [which they have had in the past] when the King is crowned and all the peers put on their coronets and crown themselves, and when the queen consort is crowned all the peeresses put on their coronets with
their long white gloves that sweep up above their heads like swans.”
The key objects that will be used during the course of the ceremony are those made in 1661 for King Charles II’s Coronation – St Edward’s Crown, the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, and the Sovereign’s Orb – as well as the 12th century Coronation Spoon and
the Imperial State Crown, made for the coronation of George VI in 1937. It’s uncertain what the King will wear in the procession to the Abbey, but in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II wore the Diamond Diadem, which had been made for the coronation of George IV.
Traditionally, there has always been both a Coronation Crown and a State Crown in the ceremony. But even though St Edward’s Crown has survived intact since it was remade in 1661, only six monarchs have ever been crowned with it. For 200 years, from the time of Queen Anne in 1702 until George VI revived the tradition in 1937, the crown was present at the ceremony but not worn.
In her book The Crown Jewels, historian and Director of the Landmark Trust Dr Anna Keay describes St Edward’s Crown as, “essentially a very simple structure. Gold elements – the headband, the crosses and fleurs-de-lys and arches – were bolted together to form the frame of the crown. The settings for the jewels were then fixed through this frame from behind. Each gem was held in place by a gold collar, with the stones set in clusters surrounded by white enamel mounts in the form of acanthus leaves.”
It has 444 precious and semi-precious stones on it, of which 345 are rose-cut aquamarines, and is topped with an orb and cross. As was fashionable in the past, stones in the original crown were hired at a cost of £500, but more recently they have become a permanent fixture.
Underneath the metal structure is a purple velvet cap, that is trimmed with ermine. The crown weighs in at almost 2.2kg and therefore cannot be worn for long.
Vickers explains how the crown was used during Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. He says, “The St Edward’s Crown was made for Charles II. It’s a fantastically heavy crown, and it is only worn by the monarch for a few minutes during the coronation ceremony. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in it while sitting in the ancient Coronation Chair, and she wore it as she was moved to the throne, where the peers then came and gave homage.
“Once she went up to have communion, she took it off, then put it back on again briefly before going behind the High Altar of Westminster Abbey, where she removed it, never to wear it again during her reign.
“Ten years ago, in June 2013, they had a service in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the coronation, and on that occasion St Edward’s Crown was brought from the Tower of London and placed on the High Altar.”
Tradition dictates that after the monarch removes the Coronation Crown, they leave the Abbey wearing the State Crown. Charles II had a new State Crown made in 1661 – which featured 900 diamonds, 549 pearls, 20 emeralds, 18 sapphires and 10 rubies – but about 10 different versions have been made since. Queen Victoria’s once rolled off a cushion at the State Opening of Parliament, leaving it “crushed and squashed like a pudding that had sat down”.
The current State Crown was made for King George VI in 1937, and is studded with many historic diamonds and precious stones, including the Cullinan II diamond, the Black Prince’s Ruby, and the St Edward’s Sapphire, which is set into the Maltese cross at the top.
It was altered ahead of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation and Vickers says, “If you look at photographs of George VI wearing it, the arches above the crown are very high. It was re-shaped for Queen Elizabeth II and the arches over the crown are flatter.”
The last time it was seen in public was for Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, when it was placed on top of her coffin, and until recently she would usually wear it to the State Opening of Parliament to deliver the Queen’s Speech.
Vickers says, “In the past few years, it became too heavy for a 90-plus year old lady to wear and it was carried in front of her by the Marquess of Cholmondeley, the Lord Great Chamberlain, just as it had been at the very first State Opening of Parliament in 1952. Then, as she had not yet been crowned, Lord Salisbury carried the Imperial State Crown into the chamber and similarly last year, it was placed next to Charles when he did the State Opening on behalf of his mother.”
In the 2018 BBC documentary The Coronation, Queen Elizabeth II said there was a knack to wearing the crown while reading the Queen’s Speech, telling presenter Alastair Bruce, “You can’t look down to read the speech, you have to take the speech up, because if you did, your neck would break – it would fall off. So there are some disadvantages to crowns, but otherwise they’re quite important things.”
The Diamond Diadem, that Queen Elizabeth II wore during the procession to her coronation, was made in 1820 for the coronation of George IV, at a cost of £8,216. It has 1,333 diamonds, four crosses and flowers including roses, shamrocks and thistles that represent the United Kingdom. There is a four-carat yellow gem stone set in the front cross, and a narrow band around the base of the crown edged with pearls. It’s most recognisable as the iconic crown that Queen Elizabeth II wears in the image on our postage stamps.
As Vickers says, there are some key elements in the coronation ceremony that must be observed. First, and most sacred of these, is the anointing of the monarch by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a tradition that goes back to the Old Testament account of the anointing of Solomon by Zadok the Priest.
During the 1953 ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II was shielded by a canopy of the cloth of gold, which was held over her head by the four Knights of the Garter, as the choir sang Handel’s Zadok the Priest and the Archbishop anointed her. The Coronation Spoon used for the anointing is the oldest surviving item of the Coronation Regalia (see p27).
Following this, the Queen donned a gold tunic and was invested with a variety of objects that are related to knightly virtues, including the Spurs of Chivalry. Dr Keay explains in her book, “English kings had been invested with spurs at their coronations since at least the inauguration of Richard the Lionheart in 1189.”
The next item presented to the Queen was the Jewelled Sword of Offering, which was made in 1820 for the coronation of King George IV. The sword – a spectacular piece of workmanship – is encrusted with jewels and decorated with the royal coat of arms, and a figure of Britannia. It rests in a sheet gold scabbard lined with velvet.
As the Queen received the sword, the Archbishop said, “With this 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.”
For the first time in 300 years, the Queen was then presented with the newest item in the Coronation Regalia, the Armills. Then she was cloaked in a royal robe and stole for the crowning ceremony itself. First she received the Sovereign’s Orb, a round ball of gold topped with a cross, a symbol that the monarch derives their power from God. Dr Keay writes in The Crown Jewels that the Orb is “made of two hollow gold hemispheres” with “the join covered by a band of jewels in white enamel settings”. It weighs 1kg and currently has 365 diamonds, 18 rubies, nine emeralds and nine sapphires.
Next, the Archbishop placed the Coronation Ring – which represents “kingly dignity” – on the fourth finger of the Queen’s right hand. Presenter Richard Dimbleby described it thus, “The ring wherein is set a sapphire and a ruby cross and which is often called the Wedding Ring of England.”
Before the presentation of the Sceptre of the Cross and the Rod with the Dove, the Queen was given a glove to wear on her right hand. It was made of white kid and embroidered with thistles, shamrocks and English oak leaves and acorns.
The Rod with the Dove – the symbol of Edward the Confessor – is a slender staff with four jewelled bands, cost £440 to make, and represents “equity and mercy”. The Sceptre with the Cross cost £1,025, and in 1911, was remodelled to include the Cullinan I diamond – also known as the Great Star of Africa. It is the most iconic of the two sceptres and is a symbol of the monarch’s power – “the ensign of kingly power and justice”.
When the date of the coronation was announced, the Palace gave a little hint as to what form the ceremony would take, saying, “The coronation will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in long-standing traditions and pageantry.”
Hugo Vickers tells us he feels that the British public has been “fascinated” by the traditions and pageantry they witnessed during Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral – from the Gentlemen-at-Arms at the lying-in-state to the role of the Crown Jeweller at the Committal Service, who ceremoniously removed the Crown Jewels from the top of the coffin before it descended beneath St George’s Chapel. For that reason, he hopes the key rituals in the coronation are retained. Referring to the funeral, he says, “All of these things have symbolism, and I think people loved it, and were very moved by it.”
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