A coronation ceremony for, successively, the monarchs of England and Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom can be traced back more than 1,000 years. Formerly, it was often a necessary stage on an individual’s journey to becoming king or queen. Nowadays, a sovereign succeeds, by law, immediately upon the death of another, although the ceremony remains an important event early in a new reign.
Coronations emerged from a European tradition of increasing church involvement in the state, as well as the need to bring stability to often volatile societies in which several individuals had a claim to the throne. Central to the ceremony is the “unction”, the act of anointing a monarch with holy oil. This signals the conferment of God’s grace upon a ruler. Today, the United Kingdom is the only European monarchy to retain such a ceremony. The last one – for Queen Elizabeth II – took place on 2 June 1953.
Although British coronations have at their heart an Anglican service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey, the ceremony combines not only religion but aspects of the UK’s uncodified constitution and a degree of theatre. The contemporary form of the coronation dates from 1902, when King Edward VII was crowned. They consist of a state procession from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey, another procession inside, the Recognition, the Anointing, the Coronation Oath, the Homage and finally another procession from the Abbey back to the Palace.
The Coronation Oath, in which the monarch swears to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms “according to their respective laws and customs” is the only aspect of the ceremony that is required by law. The wording of this oath has constantly evolved to reflect changes to the territorial composition of the UK and the wider Commonwealth.
As it is a state event, a coronation is paid for by the UK Government. Organisation involves ministers, the Royal Household, the Church of England and the Commonwealth Realms. A Privy Council “Coronation Committee” is usually formed to oversee the planning, and its Executive Committee is chaired by the Earl Marshal. This can take several months. A monarch also has significant influence on the form a coronation takes.
This paper looks at the historical development of coronations in England, Scotland and Great Britain/the UK before examining the planning and execution of the contemporary ceremony. It then looks at each stage in more detail before exploring some of the other customs associated with British coronations during the 20th