Friday, 7 June 2013

Crowning an English Monarch, King Edwards Chair and the Stone of Scone

It is sixty years ago this month that we crowned, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, Queen Elizabeth II of England at Westminster Abbey. On the 2nd June 1953 the coronation took place but the twenty five years old Elizabeth ascended the throne upon the death of her father King George VI who had died on February 6th 1952.

The coronation ceremony is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who is the most senior cleric in the Church of England. This ancient ceremony has remained largely unchanged for a thousand years. The sovereign is  presented to, and acclaimed by, the people then swears an oath to uphold the law and the Church. The monarch is anointed with oil and then crowned.  The timing of the coronation has varied throughout British history, William The Conqueror was crowned on the day he became king the 25 December 1066, most of his successors were crowned within days or weeks after ascending to the throne whilst Elizabeth II's coronation was a year after the death of the late king. A monarch, however, accedes to the throne the moment their predecessor dies not when they are crowned and this is why we hear this saying "The King is dead. Long live the King." History has seen some monarchs not crowned at all due to circumstances occurring during the time between accession and coronation. Edward V and Lady Jane Grey were both deposed before they could be crowned, in 1483 and 1553 respectively. Edward VIII also went uncrowned, as he abdicated in 1936.

The chair on which every King or Queen sits during the coronation is known as King Edwards Chair and except for three kings every monarch since the coronation of Edward II has been crowned on this chair. Edward I had commissioned a court painter to decorated the chair, you cannot see in this picture but there is a figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I his feet resting on a lion painted on the back. Only traces of this original paintwork survive and the chair has been damaged with graffiti by visitors and boys form the Westminster school carving their names in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the early sixteenth century four gilt lions were added at the base of the chair but the present ones were placed there in 1727. Under the chair was a red sandstone stone that Edward I had brought back with him from his battles with the Scots. Edward, known as the Hammer of the Scots, was determined to bring Scotland under English control, he invaded Scotland in 1296 taking the town of Berwick and crushing Scottish forces at Dunbar. On his return to England he brought back the above mentioned stone. Known as the Stone of Scone it was the Scottish coronation stone that had been used for centuries in the coronation of the Kings of Scotland. In November 1996 the Stone was returned to the Scottish people and it is now on exhibition at Edinburgh Castle, but will be used for the coronation of our future monarchs.

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