Coronation – customs and history

The Queen marks the 60th anniversary of her Coronation this month. Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager has taken a look at coronations using our varied collections.

Cecil Beaton's official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation
Cecil Beaton’s official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation

On 2 June 1953 Queen Elizabeth ll was crowned in Westminster Abbey. The coronation is the greatest of royal ceremonies and to mark the 60th anniversary of  this great occasion I will take a look at some of the customs and history behind the crowning of the monarch through the ages.

The origins of the coronation can be found in the pagan custom of installing their leader, usually warrior kings,  by seating them upon a stone and investing them with  symbols of their office  for example a spear. With the arrival of Christianity this ceremony then acquired a religious element and kings were anointed and consecrated. In the ceremony the King binds himself on oath to serve the people and in return the people pledge their allegiance to the King.

The ceremony last seen in 1952 is very similar to coronation  of King Edgar  in 973. For which there is a written record. Early coronations were held at Kingston upon Thames and you can still see the stone on which the Anglo-Saxon kings were crowned.

Coronation Stone, Kingston upon Thames
Coronation Stone, Kingston upon Thames

Coronations were not always held at Westminster Abbey and have also taken place  at Bath Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, Oxford, Winchester Cathedral and St Paul’s Cathedral. It was only in the middle ages Westminster Abbey was granted the sole right to hold the ceremony and to date there have been 38 coronations there.

The ceremony in 1952 took 16 months preparation and looked spectacular on a cold, rainy June day even in black and white on the small  televisions then in use. Yet our books on coronations and their customs give us an insight into even bigger events in the past.

In the thirteenth century it became the custom for the monarch to spend time before the coronation at the Tower of London and then formally process through the City to Westminster Hall.  On the day itself a there was procession from the Hall to the Abbey and following the service the monarch returned to Westminster Hall for a lavish banquet. The procession was abandoned in 1685 and the banquet in 1821 as a cost saving measure, the pageant alone had cost a mere £243,000.

The Coronation Procession of King George IV from Westminster Hall to the Abbey
The Coronation Procession of King George IV from Westminster Hall to the Abbey

One custom which sadly no longer takes place is the arrival of the King’s Champion during the coronation banquet. Dressed in full armour with lance and shield  and  mounted on a horse – the champion threw down his gauntlet asking if anyone denied the rightful title of the King or Queen.  As a reward for performing the service the champion got to keep the horse, trappings, armour and was given a gold cup filled with at least 36 ounces of gold.

Sir Edward Dymoke throwing down the gage at King Edward VI's Coronation
Sir Edward Dymoke throwing down the gage at King Edward VI’s Coronation

We can see from this picture of the procession that there were  minor  roles including strewing fragrant  herbs before the King on his way to the Abbey. This probably originated as an antidote to the plague. This picture show the last named herb woman, Miss Fellowes leading her ladies in 1821.

Miss Fellowes and her ladies strewing fragrant herbs
Miss Fellowes and her ladies strewing fragrant herbs

A few chosen facts about coronations

William the Conqueror was crowned on Christmas Day 1066 but during the ceremony the noise of from inside the Abbey  alarmed the Norman guards outside who fearing a  revolt began to massacre the local Saxon populace  in the local area.

William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day 1066
William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day 1066

Henry lll was the first child to be crowned King at the age of 9 at Gloucester Cathedral in 1216. The ceremony could not take place at Westminster Abbey because London was occupied by the French who had invaded England. The regalia was still in London so Henry was crowned with his mother’s gold head circlet. He was crowned again  in 1220 in a full ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Henry Vl was even younger becoming King at the age of  8 months  in 1422 but was not crowned until the age of eight in 1429. He remains the only King to also be crowned King of France, at Notre Dame Paris in 1431.

The Coronation of King Henry VI, 1429
The Coronation of King Henry VI, 1429

William lll and Mary ll had the first ever joint coronation in 1689. A duplicate coronation chair and regalia were made for Mary and William using the originals.

Two kings were never crowned, Edward Vlll who abdicated in 1936,and Edward  V who went into the Tower prior to his  coronation  in 1483  and  with his brother Richard, Duke of York  was never seen again.

In 1821 George IV’s estranged wife Caroline of Brunswick arrived expecting to be crowned Queen but was refused admittance to the ceremony – she was turned away from every door.

Central to the crowning of the  monarch is the regalia which has its own very colourful history. The most significant being the destruction of the original  regalia following the execution of  Charles l in 1649 on the orders of Oliver Cromwell. The gold and silver were melted down and the jewels were sold. At the restoration new regalia had to be made and this is what we are familiar with today which is on display at the Tower of London.

Karen Ullesperger, Triborough Reference Manager
Karen Ullesperger

Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Manager

Further information

  • You can find more information the lives of all our King and Queens in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which is available online on the library website (you’ll need a Kensington and Chelsea library membership to access this database) or you can borrow a book from the special biography collection at Kensington Central Library.
  • Books on the history and customs of the coronation through the ages  be found in the Folklore and Customs collection in Kensington Central Reference Library
  • More information on coronations can be found on the Westminster Abbey website.

Books that were used for this piece – all are available in the Folklore and Customs collection:

  • Shramm, Percy Ernst, A History of the English Coronation, Oxford, (Clarendon Press) 1937
  • Passingham, W. J, A History of the Coronation, London, (Samson Low Marston Ltd ) 1937
  • Brooke-Little,John, Royal Ceremonies of State, London, (Country life, Hamlyn press) 1980
  • Roe, F Gordon, Coronation Cavalcade,  (P. R . Gawthorne) 1937

 

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Philosopher, philanthropists and philanderers: famous and infamous characters from the Regency Era

James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington
James Heywood, Founder of the First Free Library in Kensington

Kensington and Chelsea libraries holds a nationally renowned biography collection at Kensington Central Library (we’ve blogged about it before).   There are over 80,000 printed works with over 1000 new titles added each year.

As part of our celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Two of our Triborough Stock Librarians (who are responsible for the maintenance of the collection), Sally Connew- Volpe and Andy Norton highlight a few of the most important and often notorious characters from the Regency Era who feature in our biography collection.  

The collection features numerous biographies, memoirs, diaries and volumes of letters by and about the contemporaries of Jane Austen.

Charles Babbage by Anthony Hyman
Charles Babbage by Anthony Hyman

Charles Babbage: (26 December 1791 – 18 October 1871) was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who originated the concept of a programmable computer. Considered a “father of the computer”, Babbage is credited with inventing the first mechanical computer that eventually led to more complex designs

William Blake by Peter Ackroyd
William Blake by Peter Ackroyd

William Blake: (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in the history of poetry and the visual arts.

George IV: A Life in Caricature by Kenneth Baker
George IV: A Life in Caricature by Kenneth Baker
The Prince of Pleasure by J.B. Priestley
The Prince of Pleasure by J.B. Priestley

George IV: (12 August 1762 – 26 June 1830) was king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and king of Hanover following the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820, until his own death ten years later. From 1811 until his accession, he served as Prince Regent during his father’s final mental illness.

Beau Brummel by Hubert Cole
Beau Brummel by Hubert Cole

Beau Brummell: (7 June 1778 – 30 March 1840) was an iconic figure in Regency England, the arbiter of men’s fashion, and a friend of the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. He established the mode of dress for men that rejected overly ornate fashions for one of understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored clothing. This look was based on dark coats, full-length trousers rather than knee breeches and stockings, and above all immaculate shirt linen and an elaborately knotted cravat.

Byron: The Flawed Angel by Phyllis Grosskurth and Byron by Benita Eisler
Byron: The Flawed Angel by Phyllis Grosskurth and Byron by Benita Eisler

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, later George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron, FRS (22 January 1788 – 19 April 1824), commonly known simply as Lord Byron, was an English poet and a leading figure in the Romantic movement. Among Byron’s best-known works are the lengthy narrative poems Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and the short lyric “She Walks in Beauty.” He is regarded as one of the greatest British poets and remains widely read and influential.

Coleridge by Richard Holmes
Coleridge by Richard Holmes

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: (21 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets.

Bucks and Bruisers: Pierce Egan and Regency England by J.C. Reid
Bucks and Bruisers: Pierce Egan and Regency England by J.C. Reid

Pierce Egan : (1772–1849) was an early British journalist, sportswriter, and writer on popular culture. He born in the London suburbs, where he spent his life. By 1812 he had established himself as the country’s leading ‘reporter of sporting events’, which at the time meant mainly prize-fights and horse-races. The result of these reports, which won him a countrywide reputation for wit and sporting knowledge, appeared in the four volumes of Boxiana, or, Sketches of Modern Pugilism, which appeared, lavishly illustrated, between 1818-24.

Elizabeth Fry by Catherine Swift
Elizabeth Fry by Catherine Swift

Elizabeth Fry: (21 May 1780 – 12 October 1845) Fry was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist. She has sometimes been referred to as the “angel of prisons”. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by George IV.

England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams
England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams

Lady Hamilton: Emma, Lady Hamilton (26 April 1765 – 15 January 1815) is best remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson.

Edward Jenner by I.E. Levine
Edward Jenner by I.E. Levine

Edward Jenner: (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was an English physician and scientist from Berkeley, Gloucestershire, who was the pioneer of smallpox vaccine. He is often called “the father of immunology”, and his work is said to have “saved more lives than the work of any other man”.

A selection of Nelson biographies
A selection of Nelson biographies
Nelson: a Dream of Glory by John Sugden
Nelson: a Dream of Glory by John Sugden

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, KB (29 September 1758 – 21 October 1805) was a flag officer famous for his service in the Royal Navy, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his inspirational leadership and superb grasp of strategy and unconventional tactics, which resulted in a number of decisive naval victories. He was wounded several times in combat, losing one arm and the sight in one eye. Of his several victories, the best known and most notable was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, during which he was shot and killed.

John Soane by Gillian Darley
John Soane by Gillian Darley

Sir John Soane, RA : (10 September 1753 – 20 January 1837) was an English architect who specialised in the Neo-Classical style. The son of a bricklayer, he rose to the top of his profession, becoming professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and an official architect to the Office of Works. He received a knighthood in 1831.

A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline by E.A. Smith
A Queen on Trial: The Affair of Queen Caroline by E.A. Smith

Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel (Caroline Amelia Elizabeth; later Queen Caroline; 17 May 1768 – 7 August 1821) was the Queen consort of King George IV of the United Kingdom from 29 January 1820 until her death. Between 1795 and 1820, she was Princess of Wales.

A Flame in the Sunlight:The Life & Work of Thomas De Quincey by Edward Sackville West
A Flame in the Sunlight:The Life & Work of Thomas De Quincey by Edward Sackville West

Thomas De Quincey (15 August 1785 – 8 December 1859) was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821).

The Life of Walter Scott by John Sutherland
The Life of Walter Scott by John Sutherland

Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet (15 August 1771 – 21 September 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time. Scott was the first English-language author to have a truly international career in his lifetime. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Life of Wellington - in two volumes
Life of Wellington – in two volumes

Duke of Wellington (1 May 1769 – 14 September 1852), was a British soldier and statesman, a native of Ireland from the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy,and one of the leading military and political figures of the 19th century.

The Man Who Freed Slaves: The Story of William Wilberforce by A. & H. Lawson
The Man Who Freed Slaves: The Story of William Wilberforce by A. & H. Lawson

William Wilberforce (24 August 1759 – 29 July 1833) was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark
Mary Shelley by Muriel Spark

Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, biographer, and travel writer, best known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein.  She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

All of the titles featured above and many more are available for loan from Kensington Central Library.

You can also find more information about these Regency Era characters  online by visiting the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library.

Andy Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe
Andy Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe

Andrew Norton and Sally Connew-Volpe

Tribrorough Stock Librarians