The King’s Champion: Medieval Coronation Roles, With a Twist
Francis Dymoke, a 67-year-old farmer from eastern England, will play a ceremonial role in the upcoming coronation of King Charles III , and carry forward an ancient royal tradition while at it. He will carry the Royal Standard into Westminster Abbey as his family has done for nearly 1,000 years. Dymoke's ancestors have played the role of the King's Champion since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066, though he won’t be riding into Charles’ coronation on horseback and challenge any pretender to the throne to single combat like his ancestor!
“All I can do is request to take part. I wrote along the lines that … my family has done it since William the Conqueror, and though I appreciate it’s not a right any more … it would be a good thing to be involved,” said Dymoke.
His role is one of more than two dozen ceremonial roles announced by Buckingham Palace as organizers seek to ground the coronation in tradition, while attempting to reflect the changed realities of a modern Britain, reports Associated Press .
“Those undertaking these historic roles in the service have been chosen to recognize, thank and represent the nation due to their significant service, and include representatives from Orders of Chivalry, the military and wider public life,” the palace said.
The King’s Champion: Rooted in Medieval History
The King's Champion is a ceremonial role that dates back to medieval times, and its origins are shrouded in legend. The tradition dates back to the 14th century and is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon practice of appointing a "battle leader" to lead the army in the event of an invasion. The Champion's role was later transformed into a ceremonial position during coronations, where they would physically demonstrate the monarch's right to rule.
The Champion was traditionally selected from a noble family with a long-standing connection to the monarchy. The role was usually passed down from father to son, and in some cases, the Champion's family would also be granted special privileges and lands as a reward for their service.
According to tradition, the Champion was a knight who would ride into the coronation banquet on horseback, wearing full armor and carrying a gauntlet. He would then throw down the gauntlet and challenge anyone who doubted the king or queen's right to rule to single combat. The Champion would defend the monarch's honor and prove their right to the throne in a trial by combat.
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The first recorded instance of the Champion's role being performed was at the coronation of Richard II in 1377 . However, the role likely existed before that, as a similar ceremony was performed at the coronation of King Henry II in 1154.
Over time, the Champion's role changed, and he became a symbolic figure rather than a warrior. By the time of Queen Victoria's coronation in 1838, the Champion's role had been reduced to carrying a standard into the coronation procession. The Champion would ride on horseback, leading the procession, carrying the Royal Standard and wearing full armor, reports The Royal Central .
In the modern era, the Champion's role has changed even further. There hasn't been a coronation banquet since 1821, so Champions now perform other roles, usually bearing a flag or standard. The Champion is still an important ceremonial role, however, and it continues to be passed down through families who have held the position for generations.
Medieval coronation ceremony. The King’s Champion, rode in on horseback, armored, with gauntlet, ceremonial lance and shield drawn below. ( Public Domain )
The Dymoke Family: Traditional Claimants and Other Ceremonial Roles
The Dymoke family's traditional claim to the role of King's Champion is linked to the land in Lincolnshire they were awarded at the time of the Norman Conquest of England. The family's land was granted to them by William the Conqueror in recognition of their service to the crown. The Dymoke family has held the role of King's Champion ever since, and Francis Dymoke will be the 34th member of his family to take part in a coronation.
Wrote former King’s Champion Lieutenant-Colonel John Dymoke, who passed away in 2015, “Never again shall I see such regalia and a wondrous collection of fine jewellery. The banks must have been empty on the day. We walked slowly down the aisle, thickly blue carpeted, to the strains of Handel and handed the Standards over to the Baron of the Cinque Ports and proceeded towards the altar.”
Dymoke's role as the King's Champion is unique among the ceremonial roles announced for King Charles III's coronation. Other roles include those who will carry the king's regalia, including the crown, scepters, orb, swords, and spurs, to the altar on May 6. Some of the jobs went to those with historic claims, like Dymoke, but others will be carried out by senior military officers, bishops, and politicians.
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For instance, Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, will carry the Sword of State due to her role as Lord President of the Privy Council, which advises the monarch. Others were awarded to relatively unknown individuals. Petty Officer Amy Taylor will be the first woman to carry the Sword of Offering into the Abbey after she was chosen to represent service men and women across the country.
Top image: T he Third and Last Challenge by the King’s Champion during King George IV's Coronation Banquet in Westminster Hall, by Denis Dighton. Source: Public Domain
By Sahir Pandey
Kirka, D. 2023. King's Champion, orb-bearer: Palace unveils coronation roles . Available at: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/kings-champion-orb-bearer-palace-unveils-coronation-roles-98919946.
Starbuck, L. 2023. The King’s Champion asserts an ancient right and takes his place at the Coronation . Available at: https://royalcentral.co.uk/features/the-kings-champion-asserts-an-ancient-right-and-takes-his-place-at-the-coronation-188773/.