King Charles III’s Coronation: A 900-Year-Old Ceremony in the Modern Day
Cominh this weekend, King Charles III’s coronation will be the 39th coronation ceremony of a British monarch at Westminster Abbey. It is an ancient ritual that dates back over 900 years and is the only remaining religious coronation ceremony in Europe.
Epic: King Charles III’s Coronation at Westminster Abbey!
King Charles III’s coronation, a symbolic formality, will take place on May 6th 2023, following a nine month mourning period for the late Queen Elizabeth II, reported The Guardian. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, for example, took place in June 1953, 16 months after the death of her father, George II, though it was announced almost a year in advance.
This period is also used to give the planners enough time to complete elaborate arrangements for the new royals, particularly inside Westminster Abbey. For Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, a lavish affair involving 8,251 guests from 129 nations, a full five months were necessary and during that time the Abbey was closed. The coronation of King Charles III is to be a more understated occasion, following his wishes.
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King Charles III’s coronation in 2023 will take place at Westminster Abbey just like the coronation of Queen Victoria, depicted here surrounded by Peers of the Realm in Westminster Abbey on 28 June 1838, as pained by Edmund Thomas Parris. (Edmund Thomas Parris / Public domain)
The organization of the ceremony and preparations inside Westminster Abbey have been in the hands of the Earl Marshal, considered to be a “great officer of the state.” He has had complete authority over all ceremonial matters and has exclusive access to the Abbey while the church is made ready.
"The coronation ceremony, an occasion for pageantry and celebration, but it is also a solemn religious ceremony, has remained essentially the same over a thousand years. For the last 900 years, the ceremony has taken place at Westminster Abbey, London. The service is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose task this has almost always been since the Norman Conquest in 1066,” says the website of the Royal family.
The coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with her husband Philip, in 1953 at Westminster Abbey, London, taken by Cecil Beaton. (Cecil Beaton / Public domain)
Code Names For Deaths and Coronations: Operation Golden Orb
Buckingham Palace officials insisted that the details of King Charles III’s coronation were not publicly disclosed for a time, out of respect for the previous monarch. Plans were prepared under the codename “Operation Golden Orb.”
That said, many details and aspects of King Charles III’s coronation are set in stone, as the royal family and the UK government keep a plan “locked and loaded” for every major royal family-related event.
A report in The Telegraph stated that the new king’s coronation will be “a streamlined event” compared to the service his mother had seventy years ago. A total of 2,000 guests have been invited, all paid for by the government of the United Kingdom. It reflects the new king’s vision for a smaller and more modern monarchy. The ceremony will also be shorter, much less expensive, and incorporate different community groups and faiths.
King Edward’s Chair, constructed in 1300 AD, located in the heart of London’s Westminster Abbey, has been used by every English or British monarch since 1626. (Nathan Hughes Hamilton / CC BY 2.0)
The Coronation Ceremony Events and What Follows
As per tradition, King Charles III will start by taking the coronation oath, whose form and wording have changed over the centuries. In modern, democratic Britain, the Sovereign undertakes to rule by law, exercise merciful justice, and maintain the Church of England.
These oaths remain unchanged, although there are provisions for hymns to be sung in several different languages (Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic), and active roles in the ceremony from religious leaders other than those of Christianity.
Thepromises the King will make are symbolized by the four swords in the coronation regalia, i.e., “The Crown Jewels.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury then anoints, blesses, and consecrates the monarch, who is seated in the King Edwards’s Chair (made in 1300, and used by every monarch since 1626). The Archbishop will then hand over the orb and scepters, the Sovereign’s Orb, part of the Crown Jewels, to the new king.
The Sovereign's Orb is a key piece of the English-British coronation regalia. It was created for the coronation of Charles II in 1661 by the royal goldsmith Robert Viner. The Sovereign’s Orb is made of enamel, gold, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, amethyst, diamonds, and pearls. It has been used at all coronations and events since King Charles II’s coronation of 1661.
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The ‘Sovereign’s Scepter’ is one of two scepters used in the coronation ceremony and represents good governance. It symbolizes the temporal power of the King or Queen and contains the world’s largest diamond “The First Star of Africa.” King Charles III will literally be weighed down in jewels, to convey the glittering range of power held by the monarch of the British Commonwealth.
After receiving both the orb and scepters, the Archbishop will place the Crown of St. Edward (containing 444 gemstones) on Charles’ head. And here comes a major twist in the procedure.
Historically, at this point, homage is paid to the sovereign by the other senior peers from the clergy. But in a major change to the proceedings, the British public will be invited to play an active part in the ceremony and swear allegiance to the King. The BBC reports:
This "homage of the people" replaces the traditional "homage of peers" where hereditary peers swear allegiance to the new monarch. Instead everyone in the Abbey and watching at home will be invited to pay homage in what Lambeth Palace described as a "chorus of millions".
Following this, the order of service is carried out by the Archbishop, which includes the celebration of Holy Communion, and will include these words:
“All who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, say together: I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”
This will be followed by a fanfare, and the archbishop wil then state:
"God save the King", with all asked to respond: "God save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May the King live forever."
The ceremony continues with the Coronation of the Queen Consort, Queen Camilla.
After the ceremony, King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla will journey across town in the Gold Coach, a massive, gilded coach built in 1760, and last used by Queen Elizabeth II for her Golden Jubilee in 2002. After reaching Buckingham Palace, they will conclude by greeting the country on the palace balcony.
Top image: The coronation of Charles VII of France (1429), detail of the painting Jeanne d'Arc (1886–1890) by Jules Eugène Lenepveu. Many ancient coronation traditions will be recreated in the coronation of King Charles III. Source: Public Domain
By Sahir Pandey
Cartwright, M. 2020. The Coronation Ceremony of the British Ceremony. Available at: https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1533/the-coronation-ceremony-of-the-british-monarchy/
Davies, C. 2022. Charles is now king, but coronation may be months away. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/sep/08/prince-charles-king-coronation-may-be-months-away
Knappenberger, B. 2022. Inside the coronation of King Charles III. Available at: https://www.marieclaire.com/celebrity/royals/prince-charles-coronation/
Lee, J. 2022. Charles III to be proclaimed King at historic ceremony. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-62857578