Bath Abbey, coronation, Edward the Confessor, Harold Godwinson, King Æthelstan of England, King Eardwulf of Northumbria, King Edgar of England, Kingdom of England, Mary II, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, William III, William the Conqueror
A coronation is the act of placement or bestowal of a crown upon a monarch’s head. The term also generally refers not only to the physical crowning but to the whole ceremony wherein the act of crowning occurs, along with the presentation of other items of regalia, marking the formal investiture of a monarch with regal power.
Aside from the crowning, a coronation ceremony may comprise many other rituals such as the taking of special vows by the monarch, the investing and presentation of regalia to the monarch, and acts of homage by the new ruler’s subjects and the performance of other ritual deeds of special significance to the particular nation.
Western-style coronations have often included anointing the monarch with holy oil, or chrism as it is often called; the anointing ritual’s religious significance follows examples found in the Bible. The monarch’s consort may also be crowned, either simultaneously with the monarch or as a separate event.
In England, the Anglo-Saxon king Eardwulf of Northumbria was “consecrated and enthroned” in 796, and Æthelstan was crowned and anointed in 925.
At a council at Kingston upon Thames in 838, Ecgberht and Æthelwulf granted land to the sees of Winchester and Canterbury in return for the promise of support for Æthelwulf’s claim to the throne. The archbishop of Canterbury, Ceolnoth, also accepted Ecgberht and Æthelwulf as the lords and protectors of the monasteries under Ceolnoth’s control.
These agreements, along with a later charter in which Æthelwulf confirmed church privileges, suggest that the church had recognised that Wessex was a new political power that must be dealt with. Churchmen consecrated the king at coronation ceremonies, and helped to write the wills which specified the king’s heir; their support had real value in establishing West Saxon control and a smooth succession for Ecgberht’s line.
English coronations were traditionally held at Westminster Abbey, with the monarch seated on the Coronation Chair. Main elements of the coronation service and the earliest form of oath can be traced to the ceremony devised by Saint Dunstan for King Edgar’s coronation in 973 AD at Bath Abbey. It drew on ceremonies used by the kings of the Franks and those used in the ordination of bishops.
Two versions of coronation services, known as ordines (from the Latin ordo meaning “order”) or recensions, survive from before the Norman Conquest. It is not known if the first recension was ever used in England, and it was the second recension which was used by Edgar in 973 and by subsequent Anglo-Saxon and early Norman kings.
Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster, is an Anglican church in the City of Westminster, London, England. Since 1066, it has been the location of the coronations of 39 English and British monarchs, and a burial site for 18 English, Scottish and British monarchs. At least 16 royal weddings have occurred at the abbey since 1100.
Although the origins of the church are obscure, there was certainly an abbey operating on the site by the mid-10th century, housing Benedictine monks.
Between 1042 and 1052, Edward the Confessor began rebuilding St. Peter’s Abbey to provide himself with a royal burial church. It was built in the Romanesque style and was the first church in England built on a cruciform floorplan.
The church got its first grand building in the 1060s under the auspices of the English king Edward the Confessor, who is buried inside. Construction of the present church began in 1245 on the orders of Henry III.
The building was completed around 1060 and was consecrated on December 28, 1065, only a week before Edward’s death on January 5, 1066. A week later, he was buried in the church; nine years later, his wife Edith was buried alongside him. His successor, Harold Godwinson, was probably crowned here, although the first documented coronation is that of William the Conqueror later that year.
The first documented coronation at Westminster was that of William the Conqueror on 25th December 1066. Before this year there had been no fixed location for the ceremony. Edward the Confessor does not seem to have deliberately planned his new Abbey as a coronation church.
His immediate successor, Harold Godwinson, is likely to have been crowned here following the Confessor’s death but there is no surviving contemporary evidence to confirm this ceremony. William probably chose the Abbey for his coronation to reinforce his claim to be a legitimate successor of Edward.
The Abbey’s role as a coronation church influenced Henry III’s rebuilding of the church in the Gothic style of architecture from AD 1245 and a large space or “theatre” was planned under the lantern, between the quire and the high altar. The first king to be crowned in the present Abbey was Edward I in 1274.
The two monarchs who did not have any coronation were Edward V (the boy king), who was presumed murdered in the Tower of London before he could be crowned, and Edward VIII who abdicated 11 months after succeeding his father and before the date set for his coronation.
William III and Mary II were the only joint monarchs to be crowned and the chair specially made for Mary’s use in 1689 is on view in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries in the Abbey triforium.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, public spectacle sometimes overshadowed religious significance. At George III’s coronation some of the congregation began to eat a meal during the sermon. George IV’s coronation was a great theatrical occasion but he flatly refused to allow his estranged wife Caroline to enter the Abbey. William IV had to be persuaded to have a coronation at all and spent so little money on it that it became known as ‘the penny coronation’. With Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838 came a renewed appreciation of the true religious meaning of the ceremony.
By the time Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953 millions around the world were able to witness her coronation on television.