O ceremony, show me but thy worth! What is thy soul of adoration? Art thou aught else but place, degree and form, Creating awe and fear in other men? Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd Than they in fearing. What drink'st thou oft, instead of homage sweet, But poison'd flattery? O, be sick, great greatness, And bid thy ceremony give thee cure! Think'st thou the fiery fever will go out With titles blown from adulation? Will it give place to flexure and low bending? Canst thou, when thou command'st the beggar's knee, Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream, That play'st so subtly with a king's repose; I am a king that find thee, and I know 'Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball, The sword, the mace, the crown imperial, The intertissued robe of gold and pearl, The farced title running 'fore the king, The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp That beats upon the high shore of this world, No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony Henry V, Act IV, Scene i. As this quote from Shakespeare's Henry V, there are many different cermonial customs and adornments that the British monarchs have used to adorn and elevate their kings and queens. Today I'm going to compare and contrast King Charles III and his mother Queen Elizabeth II, then I'll compare these coronations with the monarch who lived during most of Shakespeare's life: Queen Elizabeth I.
Part I: Queen Elizabeth II vs. Charles I
All my information for this section comes from this fascinating article from the Washington Post, which compares and contrasts King Charles’ coronation on May 6th, 2022, with his mother’s, which occurred on June 2, 1953:
Both Charles and Elizabeth were anointed with holy oil- an ancient tradition signifying God’s favor. The tradition goes all the way back to the Bible, where the book of First Kings details the procedure of anointing King Solomon:
And the king said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord and have Solomon my son ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon.
And let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel. Then blow the trumpet and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne,1 Kings Chapter 1, Verses 33-35
King George the Third commissioned composer Georg Friedrich Handel (famous for “The Messiah”) to write an anthem for his coronation based on this Biblical passage in 1761 This song has been a tradition during English coronations for the past 300 years, and as you can see in the video below, it was played when King Charles and Queen Elizabeth were privately anointed behind the canopy you see below.
The scepter is called the Sovereign’s Scepter and it is on display in the Tower of London as part of the Crown Jewels. For more information, go to Royal Collection.org:
The ball in this passage refers to the globus cruciger or ‘the orb and the cross.’ This is a symbol of the king’s status as the head of the Church Of England, which began with Elizabeth I’s father, Henry VIII. The orb telegraphs Christ as the true ruler of the world, and the English monarch as his representative on Earth.
The Sword (and) the Mace
A mace used to be a concussive weapon used in battle against knights in shining armor. Since armor is hard to penetrate, medieval warriors tried to cause blunt force trauma and concussion in their enemies using maces. Since those more violent beginnings, the mace has evolved into a symbol of the King’s power and is used at the opening of Parliament. There are three swords that lords used to herald the King during the coronation- the two swords of Justice, and the Curtana or ‘Sword of Mercy,’ so called, because its blade is broken, making it a ceremonial object of peace, rather than a practical weapon.
King Charles’ own sword is called the Sword of State- it is a steel sword gilded with silver, and the handle is wooden, gilded with gold. It symbolizes the monarch’s commitment to knightly virtues, and it is used to create people as knights.
St. Edward’s crown is adorned with diamonds, furs, and over 2,000 diamonds! This crown, along with the sword of state, dates back to the 1660s, after the monarchy was briefly abolished, though the crown still has had its share of problems over the centuries, including being stolen!
Much like how during graduation ceremonies people wear special robes to signify the transition from one state of being, British monarchs have worn multiple robes to show their apotheosis from a prince to the sovereign head of the country.
The Robe of Estate
The robe of Estate is the long, sumptuous robe of the sovereign; a symbol of his or her wealth. Charles wore his at the end of the ceremony after the crown was placed on his head.
Traditionally, the Robe of Estate is a very specific shade of purple called Tyrian Purple. It is again, a symbol of wealth because it was very labor-intensive and expensive to produce. This is one of the reasons why purple is a color associated with wealth and status:
Elizabeth’s purple Robe of Estate will now be worn by Queen Camilla, Charles’ wife. It is 6 1/2 meters long, weighs 15 pounds, and took 12 seamstresses 3,500 hours to complete, (source: Historic UK).
The oldest part of the ceremony will without question be the throne- a plain-looking piece of oak that is over 700 years old! St. Edward’s Throne has been part of coronation ceremonies since King Edward I, (aka Edward Longshanks from Braveheart) in around 1200 AD. Surely there is no greater symbol of royal continuity- the monarchs in Shakespeare’s history plays actually sat on this throne. Any king or queen who touches this piece of furniture must get a sense of the ancient traditions of the monarchy.
The Tide of Pomp (Royal Processions)
It’s been a tradition ever since the Middle ages for the new king or queen to travel from their home palace through the county so people can see them on their way to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. Long ago, this was a multi-day journey full of public festivals and entertainment that allowed the whole country to get a rare glimpse of the new monarch. By contrast, King Charles and Queen Camila only traveled 1.3 miles from Buckingham Palace to Westminster.
Part II: Queen Elizabeth the First’s Coronation, January 14th, 1558.
After the death of Mary the First, Elizabeth’s sister,
An Account of the Coronation
Like her namesake and the new king, Queen Elizabeth I was crowned at Westminster on January 15, 1558. Unlike them, however, the ceremony was performed in Latin and English by a Catholic bishop. Obviously, since Elizabeth was crowned during the Protestant Reformation, there was a lot of controversy about the liturgy. Some accounts aren’t sure what parts of the Catholic were read, but we do know Elizabeth took the oath, wore a similar golden robe to Charles and Elizabeth II, and was given the balm and scepter just like them. Here is a primary source account from an ambassador from the town of Mantua, Italy:
“The Queen was received under the canopy by the Archbishop and another Bishop, they having previously perfumed her with incense, giving her the holy water and the pax, the choristers singing; then the Earl of Rutland followed her Majesty with a plain naked sword without any point, signifying Ireland, which has never been conquered; then came the Earl of Exeter with the second sword; the third was borne by Viscount Montagu; the Earl of Arundel, having been made Lord Steward and High Constable for that day, carried the fourth (sword) of royal justice, with its gilt scabbard loaded with pearls. The orb was carried by the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Marshal, and in advance were knights clad in the ducal fashion, carrying the three crowns, they being the three Kings-at-arms; they bore the three sceptres, with their three crowns of iron, of silver, and of gold on their heads, and in their hands three naked iron swords, signifying the three titles of England, France, and Ireland..”
— Il Schifanoya, royal ambassador from Mantua
‘And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and be Queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever Queen was unto her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall there lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all I will not spare if need be to spend my blood. God thank you all.’ _Queen Elizabeth I