The coronation of King Charles III

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The coronation of King Charles III will take place on Saturday 6 May 2023 at Westminster Abbey. This blog gives an overview of what will be involved in the coronation and considers its connection to Scotland.

What is a coronation?

A coronation is a ceremonial event which takes place early in a monarch’s reign. It is conducted in accordance with a number of traditions and is centred around a religious ceremony. A coronation is not what makes someone a King or Queen. King Charles III became King automatically when Queen Elizabeth II died, which is called ‘accession’. This means that King Charles III already has the status and authority of a monarch before the coronation.

Westminster Abbey lists three key purposes of coronations:

  • Religious significance: the monarch makes promises to God during the coronation ceremony.
  • Public significance: the monarch makes promises to the people they serve during the ceremony.
  • Public celebration: coronations are an occasion for the public to celebrate the new monarch in a way that would be inappropriate directly after the death of the previous monarch.

What will happen at the coronation?

The coronation will be held on Saturday 6 May 2023. According to Buckingham Palace, it will begin with a procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. Then a coronation service at Westminster Abbey will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. After the service, there will be a second procession from Westminster Abbey back to Buckingham Palace where the King and Queen Consort, along with other members of the Royal Family, will appear on the balcony. The Coronation is paid for by the UK Government.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place in 1953. It was the first time a coronation was broadcast live on television. Twenty-seven million people in Britain watched the coronation and 11 million listened to it on the radio. The coronation of King Charles III will also be broadcast live on television, including versions with subtitles, sign language, and alternative commentary for people with sight loss.

The coronation service

The ‘Liber Regalis’, a manuscript created in 1382, sets out the basic order of service for coronations, although some adaptions have been made over the years. It is unclear, at this stage, to what extent King Charles III’s coronation service will differ. Buckingham Palace has stated that the coronation ceremony “will reflect the Monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry”. It has also announced that as part of the service, twelve pieces of music commissioned for the coronation will be performed and that the procession route will be shorter than for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Key stages of coronation ceremonies are illustrated in the diagram below.

  • The Recognition: according to tradition, the monarch is formally presented to ‘the people’ and recognised by them as the new monarch. This has historically been done as part of the service at Westminster Abbey, whereby the congregation assembled represents the people. The UK Government determines who takes part in the coronation service.
  • The Oath: the monarch makes an oath to the people of the UK and Commonwealth which symbolises an oral contract between them. This part of the coronation is legally required by the Coronation Oath Act (1688).
  • The Anointing: the monarch is anointed with holy oil as part of a Communion service. The oil will be used to touch the King on the head, chest, and hands. The anointing historically symbolised the status of the monarch as divine and nowadays confirms the monarch as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. The holy oil that will be used in the coronation of King Charles III has been consecrated in Jerusalem.
  • The Investiture: the monarch is presented with special objects called ’Coronation Regalia’ which represent different powers and responsibilities of the monarch.
  • The Crowning: the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns the monarch, after which they leave the Coronation Chair and move to the throne.
  • The Homage: members of the House of Lords then kneel before the monarch.

The coronation will not just involve King Charles III but also the Queen Consort, Camilla Parker Bowles. After the coronation of King Charles III, the Queen Consort will also be anointed, crowned, and enthroned, but she is not required to take an oath. Coronation ceremony arrangements differ for male consorts of monarchs. For example, while the Duke of Edinburgh took part in the coronation ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II, he was not crowned or anointed.

During different parts of the service, Coronation Regalia are used, including:

  • The Coronation Spoon – used to anoint the monarch with holy oil.
  • The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross and the Sovereign’s Orb – presented to the monarch.
  • St Edward’s Crown – placed on the monarch’s head.
  • The Imperial State Crown – worn by the monarch when they leave Westminster Abbey after the coronation.

The monarch also wears several types of coronation robes during different parts of the service.

The use of some gemstones in Coronation Regalia is controversial because of questions about how they were obtained. The most controversial stone, the Koh-i-noor, has been claimed several times by the Indian government and others. The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, stated that wearing the Koh-i-noor at the coronation would bring back “painful memories of the colonial past”. Buckingham Palace has confirmed that the Queen Consort will wear a modified version of Queen Mary’s crown without the Koh-i-noor. Instead, it has stated that the crown will pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II by resetting it with stones from her personal jewellery collection.

What is Scotland’s role in the coronation?

Coronations of Scottish monarchs traditionally took place at Scone Palace in Perthshire and involved the Stone of Destiny, also called the ‘Stone of Scone’. In 1296, it was seized by King Edward I and from then on used in the coronations of English and later British monarchs. The Stone of Destiny was officially returned to Scotland in 1996. Announcing the return, then Prime Minister, John Major MP, stated:

The stone remains the property of the Crown. I wish to inform the House that, on the advice of Her Majesty’s Ministers, the Queen has agreed that the stone should be returned to Scotland. The stone will, of course, be taken to Westminster abbey to play its traditional role in the coronation ceremonies of future sovereigns of the United Kingdom.

A Royal Warrant of 1996, made by Queen Elizabeth II, gave responsibility for the Stone of Destiny to the Commissioners for the Keeping of the Regalia. It now forms part of the Honours of Scotland which includes the crown, sword and sceptre which were used to crown Scottish monarchs from the late fifteenth century. Historic Environment Scotland’s website states:

Under the conditions of the Royal Warrant, the Commissioners are responsible for ensuring that the Stone returns to Westminster Abbey for the next and all future coronations of monarchs of Great Britain.

During his coronation, King Charles III will sit on the Coronation Chair which contains the Stone of Destiny. The stone is currently located in Edinburgh Castle but will be transported to London for the coronation and then returned to Scotland afterwards.

In response to a parliamentary question in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, stated on 1 March 2023:

The Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are working with the Scottish Government, Historic Environment Scotland and the Commissioners on the movement of the Stone for the Coronation of King Charles III, as part of the preparations for the Coronation proceedings.

The coronation ceremony that will take place on 6 May 2023 is part of a wider coronation weekend. This includes a coronation concert, to take place and be broadcast live on 7 May 2023. The UK Government maintains a website which lists further coronation activities. A bank holiday will be observed across the UK on 8 May 2023.

King Charles III visited Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland shortly after the beginning of his reign. After the coronation, it is custom for a monarch to visit Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. No plans for a Scottish visit after the coronation have been made available to date.

Annie Bosse, SPICe Research

westminster abbey” by hjjanisch is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.