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Coronations Past and Present

An ancient ceremony, largely unchanged for a thousand years

An ancient ceremony, largely unchanged for a thousand years

What is a coronation?

The coronation is the ancient ceremony of crowning a new monarch. Crowns are ancient symbols of majesty and dignity. The ceremony takes part on, or soon after, the king or queen’s accession and is steeped in tradition.

The main parts of English coronations have remained unchanged for a thousand years. These same traditions were used for the coronation of King Charles III in 2023 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

The Crown Jewels and the Coronation Ceremony

The Crown Jewels, usually kept on public display at the Tower of London, are an essential part of the coronation ceremony.

At the heart of the collection are the Coronation Regalia – sacred objects representing the monarch's powers and responsibilities. They are presented to the king or queen during the coronation ceremony, including at the moment of crowning.

Header image: Queen Elizabeth II after she was crowned at her coronation, 2 June 1953. © SuperStock/Alamy Stock Photo

      

King Charles III’s Coronation, 2023

The Coronation Ceremony of His Majesty King Charles III and Queen Camilla took place on 6 May 2023. Like previous coronations, it combined ancient traditions and adaptations reflecting our modern world.

Since 1066 English coronations have taken place in Westminster Abbey, and the service is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The coronation traditionally contains several key parts, including:

The Recognition

The people are asked if they recognise and accept their new monarch and they answer they do.

The Oath

The monarch promises to rule according to the law and with mercy.

The Anointing

The monarch is anointed with holy oil on the hands, breast, and head, using the 12th-century Coronation Spoon.

      

The Investiture

The monarch is presented with items from the Coronation Regalia, which are special clothes and objects symbolising their powers and responsibilities.

The final object is St Edward’s Crown, placed on the monarch's head at the moment of crowning as a sign of royal majesty and dignity. Later in the ceremony the monarch wears the Imperial State Crown to process from the Abbey.

King Charles sat upon the Coronation Chair during the ceremony, as his predecessors have done since 1300. The chair houses the Stone of Scone, sometimes called "the Stone of Destiny", which is an ancient symbol of Scottish monarchy. The Stone was taken from Scotland by Edward I in 1296 and sent to Westminster Abbey.

Explore the Crown Jewels in more detail >

      

Crowning a New Queen Consort

For the first time since 1937, the coronation of King Charles III included the crowning of a Queen Consort. Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI, was the last Queen Consort to be crowned in 1937.

Her Majesty Queen Camilla was crowned in a similar, but simpler, ceremony after the crowning of the King.

Queen Consorts are usually anointed with Holy Oil upon the head. They are traditionally then invested with regalia including a ring, crown, sceptre, and rod with dove.

Like the regalia of the monarch, the queen consort's regalia objects represent power and responsibilities. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Ghost and reminds us of the religious nature of the ceremony.

      

The Coronation Procession Route

After the coronation service there was a procession through the streets of London. This followed a traditional route from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace that allowed as many people as possible to view the newly crowned King and Queen.

The King and Queen travelled in the Gold State Coach, made for King George III in 1762, which has been used at every coronation since 1831.

Read more: "The Wonderfull Spectacle": Elizabeth I's Coronation Procession from the Tower of London

      

What Happened to the Crown Jewels after the Coronation?

After the Coronation, the Crown Jewels returned to the Tower of London under armed guard. Understandably, there are very few people who are allowed to touch or move the Crown Jewels, and the operation of moving them between Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London is conducted under strict protocols.

Once returned to the Tower, the Crown Jewels went back on public display in the Jewel House, under the protection of the King’s Guard.

      
Queen Elizabeth II in coronation robes, Cecil Beaton, England, 1953, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation, 1953

Queen Elizabeth II was the last monarch to be crowned in England. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952, following the death of her father King George VI.

The Queen's coronation took place on 2 June 1953, attended by more than 8,000 guests including members of the Royal Family, politicians, leading church officials and foreign dignitaries.

Although the coronation of George VI in 1937 had been recorded, the 1953 coronation was the first to be televised, at the request of The Queen.

More than 20 million people in the United Kingdom, plus many more around the world, watched the young Queen’s coronation, which was broadcast live from Westminster Abbey.

Image: Queen Elizabeth II in coronation robes by Cecil Beaton, 1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Listen to the podcast

Join us for a whistle-stop tour of the History of Coronations. Curators Charles Farris, Alden Gregory and Lee Prosser will lead you on a merry dance through time, from medieval pre-coronation baths, to a man rolling down the steps at Queen Victoria's coronation. There's never a dull moment!

More episodes
Photochrom Co Ltd, Tunbridge Wells,1937. Postcard depicting King George VI (1936-52) and Queen Elizabeth (1900-2002) on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following their coronation, 12 May 1937

Test your Coronations knowledge

How well do you know coronations, past and present? Test your knowledge in our Coronation Quiz on our Royal History Quiz app.

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