History academics from Swansea University share some fascinating insights into British coronations
As the UK marked the coronation of King Charles III, History academics from Swansea University shared some insight into this fascinating tradition.
- English coronations have taken place at Westminster Abbey since 1066, with the first British coronation in 1714, following the union on England and Scotland in 1707.
- There have been 40 coronations to date and many aspects of the order of service have hardly changed since the 14th Century. In fact the 2023 ceremony shares many details with Richard I's coronation in 1189, which was described in great detail by an eyewitness.
- The St Edwards crown dates from the coronation of Charles II in 1661. It weighs in at nearly2.5kg of solid gold and is covered in over 444 precious gemstones.
- The strangest coronation in English history was Henry III's in 1216. It was unusual because he was only 9 - but a child monarch wasn't unique (although it was the first time in over 300 years). It was also unusual because it took place in Gloucester Abbey, since a baronial and French army was controlling London and Westminster Abbey; and the "crown" used was a plain gold circlet because the previous king, John, had just (allegedly) lost his treasure in the quicksands of the Wash.
- The most important part of the coronation is not putting on the crown (the investiture) but rather the ritual of anointing (unction). During this anointment. the king is daubed with holy oil. In the Christian faith, this ritual of anointing goes back at least to the Old Testament. It signals that, like senior churchmen such as bishops who are also anointed upon their investiture into office, the office of monarch is one that has a significant religious dimension within the UK tradition.
- At Elizabeth II’s inauguration in 1953 that the ritual of anointing was deemed so sacred that it couldn’t be broadcast on TV. A special umbrella was brought in to shield that moment from the cameras. This part of the ceremony will once again be concealed from public view for Charles III, using a screen created especially for the ceremony.
- While Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised, King Charles III can expect in excess of 300 million viewers worldwide with 3,000 coronation street parties taking place across the UK.
Daniel Power, Professor in Medieval History at Swansea University, said:
“Much of the ceremony is of relatively recent origin, but important aspects of the coronation ceremony can be traced back to the Middle Ages and beyond, and it embodies ideas about the nature of monarchy that have helped to shape crucial events in British political history.”
Interested in finding out more about British monarchies, historical culture and traditions?
Swansea University runs a series of unique undergraduate and postgraduate history degree programmes.
Our Ancient and Medieval History (BA Hons), with or without a Year Abroad or a Year in Industry offers an opportunity for students to study the concepts and practice of monarchy in detail. Covering examples from across the ancient and medieval worlds (including case studies from Asia and Africa, as well as Europe), students gain understanding around which features of monarchy are common, and which are unique to specific places/periods. As part of the course, you can explore how the modern coronation has evolved from its roots in medieval Europe.
Find out more about Swansea University’s exciting and unique history courses.