Britain has seen a succession of monarchs crowned at Westminster Abbey in its long history. Indeed, the most recent British Coronation ceremony only took place in May 2023, when King Charles III was crowned alongside his wife and Consort, Queen Camilla.
However, as resplendent as the ceremony was, it was not the most unusual UK Coronation ceremony the country has ever seen. That honour arguably goes to the Coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II on 11 April 1689 – the first British monarchs to be crowned as equals, to reign together as King and Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland.
Cousins who fell in love
At the age of 15, Mary was sent to the Netherlands to marry her cousin, Prince William of Orange. What started as a political match turned into one of love and affection. So much so, that Mary refused to rule as Queen without being able to do so jointly with her husband and insisted on a joint Coronation ceremony.
The couple ruled together from Hampton Court Palace until Mary’s death from smallpox in 1694. William then ruled alone until his own passing in 1702 following a horse-riding accident at Hampton Court. He was succeeded by Mary’s younger sister, Queen Anne, since the couple did not have any children.
An unusual Coronation
In addition to there being not just one monarch to be crowned, but two, the Coronation ceremony of William and Mary was unusual in other ways. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, was sympathetic to James II, so refused to officiate. The Bishop of London, Henry Compton, took his place. Another notable fact was that a second throne was commissioned for Mary. She did not sit in the traditional King Edward’s Chair, or Coronation Chair that her husband used, and indeed was seen at the Coronation of King Charles III this year. That throne is now preserved in the museum at Westminster Abbey.
A Glorious Revolution
So, how did King William III and Queen Mary II of England, Scotland and Ireland come to power? They ascended the throne (or should that be ‘thrones’?) straight after the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 that saw the Catholic James II deposed as King and his daughter and her Dutch Protestant husband installed in his place.
The Glorious Revolution was also known as the Bloodless Revolution, due to the fact that only two minor clashes took place between James II’s armies and forces loyal to William and Mary of England. After the second skirmish, James II fled to France and his daughter ascended the throne with her husband.
The change in monarchs and revolution resulted in significant changes for Britain’s Parliament, as well as a shift in power for Catholicism to Protestantism. The new King and Queen of England were willing to accept more restrictions on their power from Parliament than Mary’s father had been, or indeed any previous British rulers. This change, which was called the Declaration of Rights (later Bill of Rights), paved the way for today’s balance of power between monarchy and Parliament.
Some of these changes included abolishing the Crown’s ability to dispense with laws or impose taxes without the consent of Parliament. It also declared a standing army illegal in times of peace without Parliament’s express permission. However, the document also stated that the reigning monarch would retain powers to summon and dissolve Parliament, appoint or dismiss ministers, declare war and veto legislation.
No more Catholic monarchs
The Bill of Rights agreed by King William III and Queen Mary II also stated that there would never again be a Catholic monarch in Britain; all heirs would be required by law to be Protestant. William and Mary also swore an oath during their Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey to uphold the Protestant religion.
All subsequent British monarchs have been Protestant in their religion, as have their spouses. The marriage laws actually changed in 2013 to allow monarch to marry a Catholic spouse; however, the requirement to be Catholic in order to reign as King or Queen (as opposed to being crowned as a Prince or Queen Consort) remains in place.
Commemorative medals and medallions
As with all British crowning’s and other significant royal events, commemorative medals and medallions were struck to mark the joint Coronation. In fact, this was the first coronation where a significant number of medals, more than thirty different types were made, mostly in Holland, where the event was widely celebrated.
One rarer example is the 1689 William and Mary Coronation medallion by R Arondeaux. This is a silver medal where the obverse is emblematic of Great Britain. William and Mary, the orange and the rose, with the four sceptres of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland united under one crown, and supported upon the laws of England and the Bible, thus providing for the security of the kingdom and the happiness of the people. The reverse represents James II as the fallen oak and William as the flourishing orange tree
Discover the Medallion: 1689 William and Mary Coronation Historical Medallion by R Arondeaux
A second fine example of a medal from the time of William and Mary’s reign is the silver 1689 Security of Britain Historical Medallion by P H Muller. This again shows busts of the two monarchs, as well as Britannia holding a cross, scales, cornucopia and staff and wearing the cap of liberty. Latin wording around the medallion’s edge translates as: “Britain, severely oppressed of late by her foreign yoke, again breathes free under her ancient laws.”
Discover the Medallion: 1689 Security of Britain Historical Medallion by P H Muller