The history of coronations at Westminster Abbey

When King Charles III is crowned today, he will be the 40th monarch to have a coronation at the historic Westminster Abbey.

The historic venue has been hosting Britain’s monarchs for centuries, with its first documented coronation of William the Conqueror taking place in 1066.

When our new King is crowned he will sit in the Coronation Chair, facing the High Altar of the Abbey, which has hosted dozens of royals before him since its creation in the 1300s.

The Abbey has been closed to worshippers and visitors since April 25 in order to prepare for King Charles’s coronation – although the Abbey was unable to tell ahead of time what those preparations will look like. It is set to reopen on May 8.

But how will this weekend’s coronation compare the 39 which came before – including that of King Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II? We have all the answers below.

What will happen at the coronation of King Charles III?

Today, King Charles and Queen Camilla will arrive at Westminster Abbey in procession from Buckingham Palace, which is known as ‘the king’s procession’.

The coronation ceremony will be carried out by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and starts with shouts of ‘God Save the King’ from the congregation as trumpets sound.

King Charles will then swear to uphold the law and the Church of England, before his ceremonial robe is removed and he is seated in the Coronation Chair.

A gold cloth is held over the chair to conceal the king from view as the Archbishop of Canterbury anoints his hands, breast and head with holy oil.

King Charles is then presented with items including the Royal Orb, the Sceptre, and the Sovreign’s Sceptre, before St Edward’s Crown is placed on his head.

He then leaves the Coronation Chair and moves to the throne – and Camilla will then be anointed in the same way.

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The historic Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla will take place in Westminster Abbey on Saturday, May 6, 2023.

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Following the service, their majesties will return to the palace in a larger ceremonial procession, known as ‘the coronation procession’.

They will be joined by other members of the royal family.

Once they return the royal family will appear on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to conclude the day’s events.

What was Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation like?

The main elements of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation were:

What happened during the first coronation at Westminster Abbey?

William the Conqueror was the first monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey.

The Frenchman invaded England and defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Following his victory in Hastings he marched to London, overcoming local resistance en route.

Aldred, Archbishop of York, carried out the ceremony, speaking in English while Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances translated into French.

After the French-speaking Normans and English-speaking Saxons shouted their approval, the Norman soldiers outside thought the noise inside was an assassination attempt.

They started setting fire to houses around the Abbey and smoke filled the church, which caused the congregation to flee and riots to break out.

Despite this William and the officiating clergy managed to complete the service.

When was the Coronation Chair first used?

King Edward II was the first monarch to be crowned on the Coronation Chair in 1308.

The chair was made by order of his father, King Edward I, who originally commissioned it as a ‘relic case’ to house the Stone of Destiny, an ancient symbol used during the inauguration of Scotland’s monarchy.

The Stone was captured by King Edward I in 1296 and has been part of coronation ceremonies in England, then Great Britain, ever since.

The chair was originally painted by Walter of Durham and it would have been highly decorated and gilded – coated in gold.

The Coronation Chair is the oldest piece of furniture in the UK which is still being used for its intended purpose.

It’s been altered over time – four gilt lions, the national animal of England, were added in the 16th century.

The chair has only left the Abbey a few times in the last 700 years. During World War II it was evacuated to Gloucester Cathedral to avoid it being damaged during the Blitz.

Which monarchs were crowned at Westminster Abbey and when?

Starting from the most recent coronations and working backwards, the monarchs crowned at Westminster Abbey are:

Did any monarchs not have a coronation?

There are two kings who did not have a coronation.

Edward V, the boy king, was presumed murdered in the Tower of London in 1483 before he could be crowned. He was just 12 years old.

Edward VIII abdicated the throne 11 months after succeeding his father and before the date set for his coronation. He was succeeded by his younger brother, George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II.

Are there any monarchs who weren’t crowned at Westminster Abbey?

There are only a few royals who were not crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Margaret of France, wife of Henry the Young King, was crowned on August 27 1172 at Winchester Cathedral. He was the eldest son of Henry II and despite being crowned during his father’s reign, he did not receive autonomous power. He died six years before his father, leaving his brother Richard I to become king.

Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, was crowned on May 12 1191 in Cyprus. She is known as ‘the only English queen never to set foot in the country’ as it is thought she spent the vast majority of her life in France – though she may have visited England after Richard I’s death.

Henry III was crowned twice in his life – and the first took place at what is now known as Gloucester Cathedral on October 28 1216. He was nine years old when his father, King John, died, and loyalist leaders decided he should be crowned immediately to reinforce his claim to the throne. His second coronation, four years later, is listed above.

Henry VI was also crowned twice – once at Westminster Abbey as listed above, to be named the king of England, and again at Notre-Dame de Paris on December 16 1431 to become the disputed King of France.

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