War, Political Change and British Coronations

Sarah Heath

Queen Victoria’s Coronation in 1838

The Coronation of a British monarch will always be a massive event. Whatever else is going on for the country – and wider world – the news agenda will always sit up and take notice of the crowning of a new King or Queen. The ceremony marks a stark change in the status quo. It heralds the arrival of a new reign, during which there could be a great deal of political and social upheaval.

In a similar vein, many British Coronations have been subject to their own kinds of political change. Some have happened in close proximity to a war, affecting where, when, why and how the British or English Coronation happened. Others have had unexpected events occur that threatened the calm order of the ceremony. It has even been known on some occasions for prominent family members and other dignitaries to be banned from the Coronation of the British monarch in case they caused a scene or incited conflict.


Charles I (1626)

Charles I 1626

The reign of Charles I is probably best known for its dramatic political change and civil unrest, culminating in the Civil War and the monarch’s eventual beheading by republican rebels in 1649. Twenty-three years previously, Charles I was crowned in Westminster Abbey, taking his place in British Coronation history. His wife, Henrietta Maria, was unable to be crowned alongside him, due to difficulties arising from her status as a Roman Catholic.

Charles I argued with his own Parliament during his reign, creating much political instability and change. He believed in the divine right of Kings, whereas Parliament wanted to curb his royal powers. Many people considered his policies to be tyrannical and unfair. From 1642, Charles I fought the armies of the English and Scottish Parliaments who, despite witnessing his Coronation and the pomp and ceremony that accompanied it, no longer wanted the country to be ruled by a monarchy.

Discover the Medallions: 

1626 Coronation of Charles I Historical Medal by N Briot

1633 Charles I - Return to London After Scottish Coronation Historical Medallion by N Briot


William III and Mary II (1689)

William III and Mary II of England

The crowing of William III and Mary II in 1689 was the country’s only joint Coronation and the circumstances by which it came about were quite exceptional. The ceremony had great significance for Parliamentary law and political change. It was the first Coronation that included an oath sworn by the monarchs to recognise Parliament’s sovereignty during their reign. 

In other words, William III and Mary II promised to rule according to the ‘statutes in Parliament agreed on,’ rather than by ‘the laws and customs… granted by the Kings of England.’ Among other areas, the oath limited their own powers and reaffirmed Parliament’s authority to control taxes and legislation. The joint monarchs’ British Royal Coronation oath is now considered the basis of today’s model of constitutional monarchy.

Discover the Medallions: 

1689 William and Mary Coronation Historical Medallion by R Arondeaux

1689 William & Mary Coronation Historical Medallion by G Hautsch


Queen Anne (1702)

Queen Anne 1702

Queen Anne was another ruler whose Coronation led to political change. She was Mary II’s sister and the last of the Stuart monarchs. Queen Anne enjoyed brandy and suffered from gout as a result., She had to be helped into her British Coronation robes and carried into the ceremony on an open chair by the Yeoman of the Guards, as she was unable to walk in by herself.

One major political change that occurred during Queen Anne’s reign was the passing of the Act of Union by the English and Scottish Parliaments. This led to the creating of the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, five years after Queen Anne’s Coronation. The new United Kingdom Parliament met for the first time in October 1707.

Discover the Medallions:

1702 The Coronation of Queen Anne Historical Medallion by J Croker

1707 Queen Anne - Union of England & Scotland Historical Medallion by J Croker


George IV (1821)

The Coronation of King George IV 1821

George IV was another monarch who had overseen war and political change in England. He was Prince Regent (serving in place of his father, George III who had become incapacitated) when Napoleon suffered his final defeat at Waterloo in 1815. George IV was a lover of extravagance, fashion and pageantry. This was reflected by one of the most opulent ceremonies in the history of the Coronation.

‘War’ on a smaller scale broke out during the ceremony. George IV had married his cousin, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, but the couple quickly grew to hate each other. He instructed his guards to deny his wife access to Westminster Abbey during his Coronation. She was desperate to get in and be crowned Queen Consort. After trying every single door in the Abbey and being turned away each time, she eventually acceded defeat and left.

Discover the Medallion:

1821 George IV Coronation Historical Medallion by B Pistrucci


Queen Victoria (1838)

Queen Victoria 1838

Queen Victoria reigned for almost 64 years, during which time she oversaw the rise and rise of the British Empire. So much so that she was proclaimed Empress of India in 1877. She was crowned at the tender age of 19 in a ceremony that took more than five hours to complete. Several mistakes were made, including the ring being jammed onto the wrong finger and a rather infirm peer, Lord Rolle, falling down the steps while making his homage to the new monarch.

A series of Reform Acts in 1867 and 1884 gave additional rights to the electorate during Queen Victoria’s reign. It brought about much social change without the need for civil war or political upheaval. She celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887 with a ceremony in Westminster Abbey that was reminiscent of her Coronation – including her observing proceedings from the Coronation Chair.

Discover the Medallions:

1838 Victoria Coronation Historical Medallion by J Davis

1887 Art Union Jubilee Medal - Victoria Historical Medallion by A Gilbert


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