From “A Guide to Royal London” by Christopher Hibbert:




The coronation ceremony is over 1,000 years old. It was first planned by St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, for the crowning of King Edgar at Bath in 973. Since 1066 every coronation has taken place in Westminster Abbey. In that year two kings were crowned - Harold in January, and on Christmas Day the victorious William I, whose coronation was marred because the Norman soldiers on guard outside the Abbey thought the shouts of acclaim were a sign of rebellion and began killing the Saxons.


Throughout the centuries some sovereigns have had ill omens at their coronations. A bat swooped round the head of Richard I as he assumed the crown. Richard II lost a shoe as he left the Abbey. Charles I wore white, which many said was unlucky. James II's crown wobbled and nearly fell during the procession to Whitehall. (This Catholic King heard mass at St James's Palace but submitted to Anglican rites at his coronation.) George IV was determined to have a magnificent ceremony and Parliament voted £243,000 for it. It was indeed magnificent, even though it was held on an exceptionally hot July day and the king appeared 'distressed almost to fainting' in his full robes and heavy wig during the five-hour service. Lady Cowper said he looked 'more like the victim than the hero of the fete'. Once revived with sal volatile he recovered sufficiently to wink at Lady Conyngham until the sternly admonitory sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury induced a more serious mood. Meanwhile his rejected Queen Caroline was trying to force her way into the Abbey, but all doors were barred against her.


William IV thought the ceremony 'a pointless piece of flummery' in the words of his biographer, Philip Ziegler; and looked comical rather than regal, and 'very infirm in his walk'. There was great splendour for Victoria's coronation procession in June 1838. The bewildered Turkish Ambassador kept muttering: 'All this for a woman!'


Victoria arrived at the Abbey 30 minutes late, but despite her youth (she was 18) 'performed her part with great grace and completeness'. Other participants did not do so well. Peers, generals and maids-of-honour scrabbled inelegantly for coronation medals tossed about by the Treasurer, and the Queen's ladies proved utterly incompetent to cope with their own trains and manage hers. Lord Rolle tripped and fell down the stairs of the throne, and the congregation cheered as he shakily picked himself up and climbed again towards the Queen's outstretched hand. There was confusion over the presentation of the Orb; and the ruby Ring, designed for her little finger, was painfully forced on to the fourth. Once the Bishop of Bath accidentally turned over two pages at once and nearly ended the service prematurely.


Edward VII was to have been crowned in June 1902 but the coronation was postponed until August because of his serious illness. When the ceremony took place the ancient Archbishop of Canterbury caused great confusion. He almost fell over with the Crown, was only just prevented from putting it on the wrong way round, and had to be helped up after paying homage to the King on behalf of the church. In consequence of past mishaps, there were careful preparations for George VI's coronation in May 1937, but even so rehearsals in the Abbey were chaotic, with the Archbishop of Canterbury wandering about crying 'Where is the Lord of the Manor of Worksop?' (who had the right to present an embroidered glove). There was dismay when the Orb was lost, until the six-year-old Princess Margaret was found playing with it on the floor. The King recorded his own worries, particularly over the reading, and whether his Crown would be the right way round; but despite some anxious moments all went well.


Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in June 1953 was well rehearsed, dignified and well ordered, thanks to the calm organisation of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Earl Marshal. The only adverse factor was the weather, but the pouring rain could not diminish the enthusiasm of the huge crowds. It was the first coronation to be televised. The coronation of her father, George VI, had been the first 'to be recorded by cinematography' and the first coronation photographs were taken at that of her grandfather, George V, in 1911.


The order of service closely followed the Liber Regalis written and illustrated in the 14th century and kept in Westminster Abbey. In it the parts to be played by the various dignitaries and officials in the rite are carefully laid down. The Queen walked into the Abbey at the end of a procession of 250, pausing first at the area, between the Choir and the Sanctuary, known as the Theatre. There were the three chairs used during the ceremony by the Sovereign - the Chair of State; the Throne; and King Edward's Chair, holding the Stone of Scone which was first used for the coronation of Edward II in 1308. In the rite, known as the Recognition, the Archbishop presented the Queen to the congregation and asked if they were willing to do homage and service. All cried 'God Save Queen Elizabeth' and the trumpets sounded. The Oath followed and the Presentation of the Bible, and then the Communion Service began. After the Creed the Queen took her place in King Edward's Chair, clad in a simple white gown, for the Anointing. She was invested with the royal robes and ornaments: the Jewelled Sword, the Armils (gold bracelets of sovereignty and wisdom), the Orb and Sceptre and the Coronation Ring. Then everyone in the Abbey rose as the Archbishop of Canterbury, having dedicated St Edward's Crown, raised it on high and solemnly lowered it on to the Queen's head. All shouted 'God Save the Queen', the trumpets sounded and the guns of the Tower of London fired a Royal Salute.


The enthronement followed and then the Queen received the homage of the Princes and Peers. After the Homage the drums beat and the trumpets sounded and all cried 'God Save Queen Elizabeth, Long live Queen Elizabeth, May the Queen live for ever.' The Queen and Prince Philip then retired to St Edward's Chapel where the Queen was arrayed in her Royal Purple Robe and the weighty St Edward's Crown was replaced by the lighter Imperial State Crown. Finally the newly crowned Queen moved with her great procession through the Abbey to the West Door to the sounds of the National Anthem and the pealing of bells.