When it comes to a coronation of a monarch, there are few countries that do it better than the British. In fact, there are few countries that still actually do it. Coronations have fallen out of favour across much of the world due to various social and political reasons, and it is only really the velvet robe and pomp loving British, the Tongans, and some African war lords who still go in for the patriotic bling fest of a coronation. Those countries who have opted out of a coronation still like to make it a big day out though. Inaugurations are popular, so too simple enthronements where the monarch is simply seated on the throne in a formal manner. The difference between a coronation and an enthronement is the crown. No crown, no coronation. It’s hard to get too excited if there is no crown.
A coronation then, is basically the formal investiture, or instillation, of a monarch with regal power. It is characterized by the ritual placement of a crown on the monarch’s head, along with the presentation of other assorted regalia. The monarch’s other half can also be decorated with the appropriate regalia at the same time, or if the taste for a day off work is a popular one, it may happen as a separate event. There may also be vows, acts of homage by various misty eyed subjects, or any other rituals specific to the nation. You might mutter, it would be a bad time to be a goat in and around an African coronation. Indeed.
The coronation of a British monarch takes place at Westminster Abbey in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest and holiest man in the land. Man, that is, not woman, equality remaining something of a work in progress in the Church of England. Rachel Treweek became the first female Bishop in 2015, but later ruffled a few feathers by suggesting that God was not a man. God was, in fact, just God. A valid point perhaps but one that probably lengthens her odds a bit of ever calling the shots out of Canterbury. For the time being, it will be a man doing the honours of crowning his own boss. An act that is rare in the modern workplace, even in the sexy tech startup scene so famed for its ability to think outside the box.
There will of course be other clergy present. Lots of them. All jostling for a good view. And there will be a celebration of the nobility and aristocrats of the land, there with smiley faces on, but quietly worrying how they are going to find the funds to fix the roof. The landed gentry have money problems too. Packing out the back pews will be government officials, assorted guests,and often representatives of other monarchies. The Tongans taking notes, the Belgians excited simply at being some place other than Belgium.
As you might imagine, the ceremony hasn’t changed for well over a thousand years. The British like to follow the form. First the sovereign is presented to the Archbishop who will likely mutter a few words in Latin. He, or she, latterly she, is then acclaimed by the people. Details of which are a bit thin. Acclaiming being a broad term ranging from the kissing of shoes, to the throwing boaters in the air. The monarch then swears an oath to uphold the law and the Church, and today, promise not air personal views on ill thought out government policy with the media. Following that the monarch is anointed with holy oil, crowned and then exits to Zadok the Priest, smiling with various degrees of enthusiasm as the great and good bow in homage. Later there will be a public appearance on a balcony to sate the appetite of the international press starved as they are of a good coronation and to give the people their own opportunity to pay homage. The Red Arrows are also likely to be involved. So too you would imagine, Claire Balding.
The timing of any coronation has varied a great deal through history. King Edgar, or Edgar the Peaceful, who was King of England between 959 to 975 and by all accounts a man who was extremely small, finally got around to his coronation sixteen years after taking the throne. It is thought that the coronation might have been timed to ring the bell on the high point of his reign, or that he had reached thirty – presumably an achievement back then – or for the fact that Jesus was baptized at thirty. Harold II meanwhile, had his coronation on the day after the death of his predecessor old Edward the Confessor, although this was largely explained by the fact that there was widespread confusion as to who Edward’s successor should actually be so Harold – as he was then – was probably very keen to get on with it. Henry VI meanwhile, was only a few days old when he became King, and so it was decided it would be better to wait. Spot on, you say. He was crowned aged seven, but did not assume the reins of government until he was deemed of sufficient age. What age, you ask? That would be fifteen; an age, today, more associated with fart cushions and lengthy periods of petulant silence. Good on the young man. Taking responsibility on the chin. A lesson to us all.
Some monarchs though never got to hum along to Zadok the Priest or wave in a detached manner from a balcony. Edward V and Lady Jane Grey were both clean bowled before they could be crowned, and Edward VIII also missed out given his unconventional decision to abdicate before the end of the customary one-year gap between accession and coronation.
Whilst the coronation may not happen for a year or so, the King or Queen, becomes King or Queen the moment his or her predecessor dies. Not when they are crowned.
Hence the tea towels The King is dead. Long live the King; and its assorted variations.