A Guide to The Ceremonial Traditions of British Coronations

Sarah Heath

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II

On 6 May 2023, King Charles III will be crowned during the first British Royal Coronation ceremony for seventy years. The ceremony will take place at Westminster Abbey in front of an invited congregation of 2,000 guests, with millions more people watching on television at home. As well as King Charles III’s crowning ceremony, there will also be a separate Queen crowning ceremony for his wife, Queen Camilla.

Kind Charles III will wear a ceremonial crown and be anointed with holy oil as part of a complex ceremony filled with symbolism. So, will he be ‘coronated or crowned’? Although the word ‘coronated’ comes from the Latin ‘corona’ or ‘crown’, tradition dictates that the ritual is described as ‘being crowned’.

Afterwards, the King and Queen will travel by carriage in a spectacular procession through London. So, what can we expect to see during this historic royal crowning ceremony? Several religious artefacts and symbols of monarchy play important roles during the Coronation of a King, each with its own traditions attached.

Planning a British Coronation

Westminster Abbey

Not even a year after Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and then, her Lying in State and State Funeral, a huge amount of planning goes into Coronations. Preparations are led by the Royal Household, the UK Government, the Privy Council and the Church.

Coronation dates of British monarchs are traditionally set by the Cabinet and the Royal Household. They fall between May and September to give the best chance of good weather and are only scheduled after a respectful amount of time has passed since the previous monarch’s death. A public bank holiday normally accompanies the occasion.

Other aspects of the planning such as the guest list, procession route, regalia and music are then finalised, along with private celebrations afterwards for family members and invited guests. On the day of the Coronation, attending dignitaries will include representatives from foreign governments and royal families. The King and Queen will arrive at Westminster Abbey by carriage in a state procession to allow as many people to see them en route as possible.

The Recognition

The Coronation of Queen Victoria in Westminster Abbey

After another procession inside the Abbey, the ceremony will formally begin with The Recognition. King Charles III will be officially presented to the people as their monarch by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the same person who crowns the King later on in proceedings.

The Coronation Oath

This is the oath that King Charles III will take to swear allegiance to the people he has agreed to serve as King. He will formally answer a set of questions presented to him by the Archbishop, affirming his dedication to his role. The oath is taken kneeling and with a hand placed on the Bible. The new King will then apply his royal signature to a transcript of the oath and the ceremony will continue.

The Anointing

The Anointing

The Anointing of King Charles III is the most religious and sacred part of the Coronation proceedings and is not expected to be televised. The Archbishop will take holy oil from a special vessel called an Ampulia and, using a silver gilt Anointing Spoon that dates back to 1349, pour the consecrated oil onto the monarch’s head, hands and breast. It signifies his status as Supreme Governor of the Church of England mirrors the anointing of Biblical figures such as Solomon by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet. The oil will be sourced from olive groves on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

The Investiture and Crowning

Coronation of Queen Victoria at Westminster Abbey

Next, the new monarch will be invested with his symbols of state, including his Coronation robes, Sovereign’s Ring, the Jewelled Sword of Offering and the Sovereign’s Rod and Sceptre that represent his power and control of the nation. He will also hold the Sovereign’s Orb that represents the Christian world. King Charles III will be served at this point by four Pages of Honour, including his eldest grandchild, Prince George.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will place the St Edward’s Crown on the head of King Charles III at this point, officially crowning him as monarch. The King will move to sit on the British Coronation throne (which dates from the end of the 13th Century) in the part of the ceremony known as the Enthronement. At this point, trumpeters will play and joyous music will accompany the historic moment in the form of the British Coronation anthem, composed by Lord Lloyd Webber and sung by the Abbey choir. Prayers will be said for the new monarch and the people will shout “God save the King!”

The Homage

The Homage-Giving - Westminster Abbey, 9th August, 1902

Peers of the Realm traditionally recognise the new monarch by kneeling and paying homage after the Enthronement. This is a throwback to the country’s old feudal system of rule. King Charles III’s Coronation will include a pared down version of the Homage, during which his heir, Prince William will kneel, touch the crown and kiss his father’s right hand before swearing allegiance to him. He will be accompanied in this by a select group of senior peers. A separate Coronation crown ceremony will then take place for the Queen Consort, Queen Camilla. There will then be a carriage driven procession out of the Abbey and back to Buckingham Palace.

How to celebrate the Coronation

United Kingdom Marching Band

Anyone who is not fortunate enough to have received an official invitation to the Coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey on 6 May 2023 can celebrate in other ways, should they wish. There will be a large number of events planned around the country – and the world – including Coronation themed street parties. Official memorabilia is already on sale, with items ranging from teddy bears to mugs; biscuit tins to jewellery. A special British Army Coronation medal will be struck and presented to those eligible to receive it, along with commemorative Coronation medals designed to mark the occasion. Of course, special coins and medals will also be available to purchase as a souvenir of this truly historic occasion.

For more information, or to browse our collection of British Coronation medals, take a look at the rest of our website.


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