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The Coronation

This weekend was the coronation of King Charles III, the first coronation many of this generation will have seen and the first King Charles we have had since 1685.

So what was the coronation of the last Charles like? And how does it compare?

There were many differences between the coronations of the two Kings. We watched King Charles III be crowned in Westminster Abbey like many Kings and Queens before him. King Charles II was crowned, at first, in Scotland. He was the last monarch crowned in Scotland and it happened in one of the most ancient of coronation paces – Moot Hill in Scone.

Moot Hill has long been the place the Scottish monarchs were crowned, the first being Kenneth McAlpine in 843. Legend has it, Kenneth brought the Stone of Destiny to Scotland. The Stone of Destiny is a mysterious thing. Some suggest it was originally Jacob’s Pillow, which is mentioned in the book of Genesis as the stone Jacob rested his head on in Bethel, and some say the Stone we now have is a reproduction and that the original was hidden away so well we never found it. Setting aside myths, the Stone of Destiny is revered and respected by the people of Scotland and seen as a national symbol.

During its five centuries in Scone it was kept in the monastic church and brought out for enthronements. Many great monarchs have been crowned on Moot Hill before Charles II including Robert the Bruce and the famous Macbeth (a real King with a reign totally unlike Shakespeare’s version!)

However, both Kings were not crowned while sitting on the Stone of Destiny. King Charles III sat on a coronation throne designed by King Edward I where the Stone of Destiny is stored underneath the seat, allowing a monarch to be crowned while sitting on it in a little more comfort. This throne was used at the late Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as well as this weekend’s coronation of King Charles III so it is a familiar sight to us now. But at the time of King Charles II, England had possession of the Stone of Destiny.

During the lifetime of the Stone, it has been stolen many times (hence the rumours of replication). In 1296, King Edward I of England was unhappy with the deposition of John Balliol and so he marched north, starting the Wars of Independence and stealing the Stone of Destiny. By the time of King Charles II’s coronation, the Stone of Destiny was still being held by England and it would remain in England until the 1950s. But that’s a blog for another day!

Charles II himself would argue that you can’t have a coronation without a crown! Charles II was crowned in Scotland with the Honours of Scotland and Charles III crowned with St Edwards crown. Charles III will have a planned trip to Scotland where he, like the Queen Elizabeth before him, will be presented with the Honours of Scotland.

Finally, something I’m sure we all hope will remain a difference - Charles II had two coronations. Currently, Charles III has only had one.

Known as the Restoration period, Charles II was restored to the throne after years of exile in 1660. Often, his first coronation is overlooked for many reasons but it was a very important moment in history and should be remembered as such. And his second coronation, in England, bears incredible resemblance to that of Charles III. This time The Merry Monarch, as he was known, had a bustling and rather intoxicating affair. Very different to his Scottish coronation which was, while still a huge event, very respectful and solemn.

During this coronation, Charles II was crowned with the St Edwards crown, a crown that was made for him since the crown jewels had been sold or melted down after the English Civil War. The Sceptre and Orb were also made for Charles II and used in coronations since then, including with Charles III. Finally, they both would have been anointed with oil using the silver-gilt coronation spoon. A rare survivor of Oliver Cromwell’s royal purge, it has been used in coronations since the 12th century and it was the only part of Charles III’s coronation we were not allowed to see.

There were many more elements created for Charles II that were used in Charles III’s coronation – maces, swords, armills, ampulla and more. But these items have not stayed the same through time, many have had jewels added to them and there were far more items of significance added since the Restoration that Charles III had in his coronation.

Not only was it the same crown but they sat on the same throne, the Stone of Destiny underneath, in Westminster Abbey and with the Archbishop of Canterbury having the role of placing the crown on their heads.

A section of Samuel Pepys diary describes the coronation of King Charles II and you could be mistaken for thinking it a description of the weekend just passed:

“The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath, and having things read to him by the Bishop.”

Traditions are powerful things and regardless of your feelings of the monarchy, to watch the coronation of King Charles III was to watch the ghosts of coronations of many Kings and Queens before him.

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1 Comment

mark devine
mark devine
May 08, 2023

Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to write that informative piece.

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