A Thousand Years of Coronations
On May 6, King Charles III will be crowned in Westminster Abbey with his consort, Queen Camilla. While Charles became King at the moment of the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Sept. 8, 2022, the coronation ceremony serves to symbolize the monarch’s lifelong commitment to the roles of sovereign and supreme Governor of the Church of England. At the event, King Charles III will be crowned King of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. He’ll be anointed with holy oil, and will swear to govern as a constitutional monarch according to the laws decided in parliament.
While key traditions associated with modern royal weddings, christenings and jubilees date from Queen Victoria’s reign in the 19th century, the coronation service is much older. It was written by St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in AD 973, and Westminster Abbey has been the setting for coronations since 1066. Charles III will be the 40th monarch to be crowned there.
Despite centuries of past precedents, each monarch brings their own personal touch to their coronation, whether it’s spending lavishly or sticking to a budget, commissioning new music or new Crown Jewels, or, more recently, inviting television cameras into Westminster Abbey. Here are 12 memorable British royal coronations that shaped the history of the monarchy from medieval to modern times – including a few that did not go according to plan.
The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953) Coronation on television
The accession of the 25-year-old Queen Elizabeth II on Feb. 6, 1952, symbolised the beginning of “a new Elizabethan age” after the austerity of the Second World War. The decision to invite television cameras into Westminster Abbey to film the whole ceremony (except for the sacred anointing of the monarch) on June 2, 1953, seemed to bring the monarchy into the modern age, allowing audiences around the world to feel as though they were part of this landmark event. More than 250-million people watched on television as Queen Elizabeth II was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, many purchasing television sets for the first time for the occasion and hosting coronation parties. In Westminster Abbey, the four-year-old future King Charles III attended the ceremony, seated between his aunt, Princess Margaret, and grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The Coronation of King George VI (1937) A Change in King
While 16 months passed between Elizabeth II’s accession and coronation, her father, King George VI, didn’t have nearly so long to wait. When Edward VIII abdicated to marry the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson, George VI succeeded his brother as King, and was crowned just five months later on Dec. 11, 1936 – the day originally scheduled for Edward’s coronation. Under the circumstances, the coronation followed past traditions to emphasise continuity, but there were a few significant departures. For the first time, the coronation was broadcast on the radio and film footage was shown in cinema newsreels. The coronation oath also changed to reflect the equal status of the United Kingdom and Dominions following the 1926 Balfour Declaration and 1931 Statute of Westminster. George VI swore “to govern the peoples of Great Britain, Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa, of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, and of your Empire of India, according to their respective laws and customs” – setting the tone for the development of the modern Commonwealth.