This year the Queen celebrates the 60th Anniversary of her Coronation. 2013 is also the 175th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s Coronation. Surprisingly, the differences between these two Coronations, and every other crowning of a Monarch of the UK are small, but, nonetheless, extremely significant.
The Coronation Service is a religious one and the questions and responses can be traced back over a thousand years to 973 and the crowning of King Edgar. It largely follows the Holy Communion with the Coronation phrases being inserted at various points, the only exception being James II in 1685 as he was a Roman Catholic.
The ceremony begins with verses from Psalm 122 being sung as the Monarch progresses from the west end of the Abbey to the Theatre. The Archbishop of Canterbury presents the Monarch to the congregation and they respond with “God Save the Queen!”
The Sovereign then swears an oath in which she promises to govern faithfully, according to laws and customs, with justice and mercy, to uphold the Gospel, and to maintain the doctrine and worship of the Church of England. Under cover of a canopy the Sovereign is then anointed with oil, blessed and consecrated by the Archbishop.
Back in view she is presented with the Orb, the Sceptre and the Rod of the Dove, the last two being retained whilst the Archbishop places St Edward’s Crown on her head. The newly-crowned Monarch then moves to the Throne and it is at this moment that she symbolically takes possession of her Kingdom.
Queen Elizabeth II is the 39th Sovereign to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. William the Conqueror was the first and, with the exception of two Monarchs who were never crowned (Edward V was killed as a child before his Coronation could take place and Edward VIII abdicated) every monarch since has been crowned here.
In the mid-thirteenth century the church at Westminster was remodelled. A much larger arena was created to accommodate the vast number of guests at a Coronation. The monks that worshipped here, however, needed seclusion so wooden shutters were used to give them a more ambient space. Even before the renovations were completed the crowning of Edward I in 1274 took place in the newly created theatre.
The solemnity of the occasion was somewhat overshadowed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when ostentatious display became ever more important and the frivolities even extended to picnicking during the sermon of George III’s Coronation! Seemingly, not to be outdone, George IV also spent vast sums of money to create an almost theatrical event. William IV went to the other extreme though and would have been happy to forgo the whole thing, finally spending so little money his became known as “the Penny Coronation”.
Queen Victoria’s Coronation in 1838 saw a return to a more agreeable combination of ceremonial celebration with public interest. Victoria, a keen diarist, wrote copiously about her feelings leading up to and after her Coronation – most notably writing – “The enthusiasm, affection and loyalty was really touching, and I shall ever remember this day as the proudest of my life”.
Our present Queen’s Coronation embraced the new era as hers was the first to be seen in its entirety by the general public, thanks to the BBC’s decision to televise the event. This splendid mix of pageantry and grandeur helped to re-instate Britain’s greatness around the world and the event was attended by a diverse range of peoples from around the globe.
The Ministry of Food allowed the roasting of oxen when meat rationing was still in place and to impress foreign visitors Coronation Chicken was invented. It’s no wonder then that many felt that this was a turning point for the nation after the gravity of World War II and the austerity of rationing.
“I can remember neighbours sitting at long trestle tables making sandwiches for the event, lots of coloured streamers and paper hats, someone giving a speech and a Pearly King and Queen.” says Catraoine who lived in Walthamstow at the time.
“There were no televisions in our neighbourhood; my cousin told me her aunt had just got a TV so we walked the 5 miles to her house so we could see it” – Willie (now living on the Isle of Mull.)
There can be no doubt then that we British like a party, we proved it in 1977, 2002 and again last year. Can we though, achieve the same level of unity and pride again this year despite a poor economy and much political unrest? Let’s hope so.