1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Coronation

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CORONATION (Lat. corona, crown), a solemnity whereby sovereigns are inaugurated in office. In pre-Christian times in Europe the king or ruler, upon his election, was raised on a shield, and, standing upon it, was borne on the shoulders of certain of the chief men of the tribe, or nation, round the assembled people. This was called the gyratio, and it was usually performed three times. At its conclusion a spear was placed in the king’s hand, and the diadem, a richly wrought band of silk or linen, which must not be confused with the crown (see Crown and Coronet), was bound round his forehead, as a token of regal authority. When Europe became Christian, a religious service of benediction was added to the older form, which, however, was not abandoned. Derived from the Teutons, the Franks continued the gyratio, and Clovis, Sigebert, Pippin and others were thus elevated to the royal estate. From a combination of the old custom with the religious service, the later coronation ceremonies were gradually developed. In the ceremonial procession of the English king from the Tower to Westminster (first abandoned at the coronation of James II.), in the subsequent elevation of the king into what was known as the marble chair in Westminster Hall, and in the showing of the king of France to the people, as also in the universal practice of delivering a sceptre to the new ruler, traces, it is thought, may be detected of the influence of the original function.

The added religious service was naturally derived from the Bible, where mention is frequently made, in the Old Testament, of the anointing and crowning of kings. The anointing of the king soon came to be regarded as the most important, if not essential, feature of the service. By virtue of the unction which he received, the sovereign was regarded, in the middle ages, as a mixta persona, in part a priest, and in part a layman. It was a strange theory, and Lyndwode, the great English canonist, is cautious as to it, and was content to say that it was the opinion of some people. It gained very wide acceptance, and the anointed sovereign was generally regarded as, in some degree, possessed of the priestly character. By virtue of the unction he had received, the emperor was made a canon of St John Lateran and of St Peter at Rome, and also of the collegiate church of Aachen, while the king of France was premier chanoine of the primatial church of Lyons, and held canonries at Embrun, Le Mans, Montpellier, St Pol-de-Léon, Lodève, and other cathedral churches in France. There are, moreover, trustworthy records that, on more than one occasion, a king of France, habited in a surplice and choir robes, took part with the clergy in the services of some of those churches. Martène quotes an order, which directs that at the imperial coronation at Rome, the pope ought to sing the mass, the emperor read the gospel, and the king of Sicily, or if present the king of France, the epistle. Nothing like this was known in England, and a theory, which has prevailed of late, that the English sovereign is, in a personal sense, canon of St David’s, is based on a misconception. The canonry in question was attached to St Mary’s College at St David’s before the Reformation, and, at the dissolution of the college, became crown property, which it has remained ever since; but the king of England is not, and never was personally, a canon of St David’s, nor did he ever perform any quasi-clerical function.

At first a single anointing on the head was the practice, but afterwards other parts of the body, as the breast, arms, shoulders and hands received the unction. From a very early period in the West three kinds of oil have been blessed each year on Maundy Thursday, the oil of the catechumens, the oil of the sick, and the chrism. The last, a compound of olive oil and balsam, is only used for the most sacred purposes, and the oil of the catechumens was that used for the unction of kings. In France, however, a legend gained credence that, as a special sign of divine favour, the Holy Dove had miraculously descended from heaven, bearing a vessel (afterwards called the Sainte Ampoule), containing holy oil, and had placed it on the altar for the coronation of Clovis. A drop of oil from the Sainte Ampoule mixed with chrism was afterwards used for anointing the kings of France. Similarly the chrism was introduced into English coronations, for the first time probably at the coronation of Edward II. To rival the French story another miracle was related that the Virgin Mary had appeared to Thomas Becket, and had given him a vessel with holy oil, which at some future period was to be used for the sacring of the English king. A full account of this miracle, and the subsequent finding of the vessel, is contained in a letter written in 1318 by Pope John XXII. to Edward II. The chrism was used in addition to the holy oil. The king was first anointed with the oil, and then signed on the head with the chrism. In all other countries the oil of the catechumens was alone used. In consequence of the use of chrism the kings of England and France were thought to be able to cure scrofula by the imposition of their hands, and hence arose the practice in those countries of touching for the king’s evil, as it was called. In England the chrism disappeared at the Reformation, but touching for the evil was continued till the accession of the house of Hanover in 1714.

The oldest of all existing rituals for the coronation of a king is contained in what is known as the Pontifical of Egbert, who was archbishop of York in the middle of the 8th century. The coronation service in it is entitled Missa pro rege in die benedictionis ejus, and the coronation ceremony is interpolated in the middle of the mass. After the Gospel the officiant recites some prayers of benediction, and then pours oil from a horn on the king’s head, while the anthem “Zadok the priest,” &c., is sung. After this the assembled bishops and nobles place a sceptre in the king’s hands, while a form of intercessory benediction is recited. Then the staff (baculus) is delivered to him, and finally a helmet (galea) is set upon his head, the whole assembly repeating thrice “May King N. live for ever. Amen. Amen. Amen.” The enthronement follows, with the kisses of homage and of fealty, and the mass, with special prayers, is concluded.

Another coronation service of Anglo-Saxon date bearing, but with no good reason, the name of Æthelred II., has also been preserved, and is of importance as it spread from England to the continent, and was used for the coronations of the kings of France. It differs from the Egbert form as the coronation precedes the mass, while the use of a ring, and the definite allusion to a crown (corona not galea) occur in it. Joined to it is the form for the coronation of a queen consort. It may have been used for the crowning of Harold and of William the Conqueror.

A third English coronation form, of the 12th century, bears the name of Henry I., but also without good reason. The ceremonial is more fully developed, and the king is anointed on the head, breast, shoulders and elbows. The royal mantle appears for the first time, as does the sceptre. The queen consort is to be crowned secundum ordinem Romanum, and the whole function precedes the mass.

The fourth and most important of all English coronation services is that of the Liber Regalis, a manuscript still in the keeping of the dean of Westminster. It was introduced in 1307, and continued in use till the Reformation, and, in an English translation and with the Communion service substituted for the Latin mass, it was used for the coronation of James I. In it the English coronation ceremonies reached their fullest development. The following is a bare outline of its main features:—

The ceremonies began the day before the coronation, the king being ceremonially conducted in a procession from the Tower of London to Westminster. There he reposed for the night, and was instructed by the abbot as to the solemn obligations of the kingly office. Early next morning he went to Westminster Hall, and there, among other ceremonies, as rex regnaturus was elevated into a richly adorned seat on the king’s bench, called the Marble Chair. Then a procession with the regalia was marshalled, and led into the abbey church, the king wearing a cap of estate on his head, and supported by the bishops of Bath and Durham. A platform with thrones, &c., having been previously prepared under the crossing, the king ascended it, and all being in order, the archbishop of Canterbury called for the Recognition, after which the king, approaching the high altar, offered a pall to cover it, and a pound of gold. Then a sermon appropriate to the occasion was preached by one of the bishops, the oath was administered by the archbishop, and the Veni Creator and a litany were sung. Then the king was anointed with oil on his hands, breast, between the shoulders, on the shoulders, on the elbows, and on the head; finally he was anointed with the chrism on his head. Thus blessed and anointed, the king was vested, first with a silk dalmatic, called the colobium sindonis, then a long tunic, reaching to the ankles and woven with great golden images before and behind, was put upon him. He then received the buskins (caligae), the sandals (sandalia), and spurs (calcaria), then the sword and its girdle; after this the stole, and finally the royal mantle, four-square in shape and woven throughout with golden eagles. Thus vested, the crown of St Edward was set on his head, the ring placed on his wedding finger, the gloves drawn over his hands, and the golden sceptre, in form of an orb and cross, delivered to him. Lastly, the golden rod with the dove at the top was placed in the king’s left hand. Thus consecrated, vested and crowned, the king kissed the bishops who, assisted by the nobles, enthroned him, while the Te Deum was sung. When a queen consort was also crowned, that ceremony immediately followed, and the mass with special collect, epistle, gospel and preface was said, and during it both king and queen received the sacrament in one kind. At the conclusion the king retired to a convenient place, surrounded with curtains, where the great chamberlain took off certain of the robes, and substituted others for them, and the archbishop, still wearing his mass vestments, set other crowns on the heads of the king and queen, and with these they left the church.

This service, in English, was used at the coronation of James I., Elizabeth having been crowned with the Latin service. Little change was made till 1685, when it was considerably altered for the coronation of James II. The Communion was necessarily omitted in the case of a Roman Catholic, but other changes were introduced quite needlessly by Archbishop Sancroft, and four years later the old order was still more seriously changed, with the result that the revisions of 1685 and 1689 have grievously mutilated the service, by confusing the order of its different sections, while the meaning of the prayers has been completely changed for no apparent reason. Alterations since then have been verbal rather than essential, but at each subsequent coronation some feature has disappeared, the proper preface having been abandoned at the coronation of Edward VII.

In connexion with the English coronation a number of claims to do certain services have sprung up, and before each coronation a court of claims is constituted, which investigates and adjudicates on the claims that are made. The most striking of all these services is that of the challenge made by the king’s champion, an office which has been hereditary in the Dymoke family for many centuries. Immediately following the service in the church a banquet was held in Westminster Hall, during the first course of which the champion entered the hall on horseback, armed cap-à-pie, with red, white and blue feathers in his helmet. He was supported by the high constable on his right, and the earl marshal on his left, both of whom were also mounted. On his appearance in the hall a herald in front of him read the challenge, the words of which have not materially varied at any period, as follows: “If any person, of what degree soever, high or low, shall deny or gainsay our sovereign lord ..., king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, defender of the faith (son and), next heir unto our sovereign lord the last king deceased, to be the right heir to the imperial crown of this realm of Great Britain and Ireland, or that he ought not to enjoy the same; here is his champion, who saith that he lieth, and is a false traitor, being ready in person to combat with him; and in this quarrel will adventure his life against him, on what day soever he shall be appointed.” The champion then threw down the gauntlet. The challenge was again made in the centre of the hall, and a third time before the high table, at which the king was seated. The king then drank to the champion out of a silver-gilt cup, with a cover, which he handed to him as his fee. The banquet was last held, and the challenge made, at the coronation of George IV. in 1821. The champion’s claim was admitted in 1902, but as there was no banquet the duty of bearing the standard of England was assigned to him. There is no record of the challenge having been ever accepted.

The revival of the western empire under Charlemagne was marked by his coronation by the pope at Rome in the year 800. His successors, for several centuries, went to Rome, where they received the imperial crown in St Peter’s from the pope, the crown of Lombardy being conferred in the church of St Ambrose (Sant’ Ambrogio) at Milan, that of Burgundy at Arles, and the German crown, which came to be the most important of all, most commonly at Aix-la-Chapelle. It must suffice to speak of the coronations at Rome and Aix-la-Chapelle. From Martène we learn the early form of the ceremony at Rome. The emperor was met at the silver door of St Peter’s, where the first coronation prayer was recited over him by the bishop of Albano. He was then conducted within the church, where in medio rotae majoris, the bishop Of Porto said the second prayer. Thence the emperor went to the confessio of St Peter, where the litany was said, and there, or before the altar of St Maurice, the bishop of Ostia anointed him on the right arm and between the shoulders. Then he ascended to the high altar, where the pope delivered the naked sword to him. This he flourished, and then sheathed in its scabbard. The pope then delivered the sceptre to the emperor, and placed the crown on his head. The ceremony was concluded by the coronation mass said by the pope. The custom of the emperors going to Rome to be crowned was last observed by Frederick III. in 1440, and after that the German coronation was alone celebrated. The form followed was mainly thus: the electors first met at Frankfort, under the presidency of the elector-archbishop of Mainz, and, the election having been made, the emperor was led to the high altar of the cathedral and seated at it. He was then conducted to a gallery over the entrance to the choir, where, seating himself with the electors, proclamation was made of the election, and on a subsequent day the coronation took place. If the coronation was performed, as it most commonly was, at Aix-la-Chapelle, then the archbishop of Cologne, as diocesan, was the chief officiant, and the emperor was presented to him by the two other clerical electors, the archbishops of Mainz and Trier. The emperor was anointed on the head, the nape of the neck, the breast, the right arm between the wrist and the elbow, and on the palms of both hands. After this, he was vested in what were called the imperial and pontifical robes, which included the buskins, a long alb, the stole crossed priest-wise over the breast, and the mantle. The regalia were then delivered to him, and the crown was set on his head conjointly by the three archbishop-electors. Mass was then said, during which the emperor communicated in one kind. When the coronation was performed at Aix-la-Chapelle, the emperor was at once made, at its conclusion, a canon of the church.

The coronation form in France bore much resemblance, in its general features, to the English coronation, and was, it is believed originally based on the English form. The unction was given, first on the top of the head in the form of a cross, on the breast, between the shoulders, and at the bending and joints of both arms. Then, standing up, the king was vested in the dalmatic, tunic and royal robe, all of purple velvet sprinkled with fleurs-de-lys of gold, and representing, it was said, the three orders of subdeacon, deacon and priest. Then, kneeling again, he was anointed in the palms of the hands, after which the gloves, ring and sceptre were delivered. Then the peers were summoned by name to come near and assist, and the archbishop of Reims, taking the crown of Charlemagne from the altar, set it on the king’s head. After which the enthronement, and showing of the king to the people, took place. All the unctions were made with the chrism, mixed with a drop of oil from the Sainte Ampoule. After the enthronement, mass was said, and at its conclusion the king communicated in both kinds. The third day after the coronation, the king touched for the evil.

On the “11 Frimaire an 13” Napoleon and Josephine were jointly crowned at Paris, by the pope. Napoleon entered Notre-Dame wearing a crown, and before him were carried the imperial ornaments, to wit: ”la couronne de l’empereur, l’épée, la main de justice, le sceptre, le manteau de l’empereur, son anneau, son collier, le globe impérial, la couronne de l’impératrice, son manteau, son anneau.” Each of these was blessed, and delivered with a benediction to the emperor and empress, kneeling, side by side, to receive them, both having previously received the unction on the head and on each hand. Napoleon placed the crown on his head himself. Mass with special prayers followed.

In Spain the coronation ceremony never assumed the fullness, or magnificence, that might have been expected. It was usually performed at Toledo, or in the church of St Jerome at Madrid, the king being anointed by the archbishop of Toledo. The royal ornaments were the sword, sceptre, crown of gold and the apple of gold, which the king himself assumed after the unction. In recent years the unction and coronation have been disused.

In Sweden the king was anointed and crowned at Upsala by the archbishop. The ceremony is now performed in the Storkyrka, at Stockholm, where the archbishop of Upsala anoints the king on the breast, temples, forehead and palms of both hands. The crown is placed on the king’s head by the archbishop and the minister of justice jointly, whereupon the state marshal proclaims: “Now is crowned king of the Swedes, Goths and Wends, he and no other.” When there is a queen consort, she is then anointed, crowned and proclaimed, in the same manner.

In Norway, according to the law of 1814, the coronation is performed in the cathedral at Trondhjem, when the Lutheran superintendent, or bishop, anoints the king. The crown is placed on the king’s head jointly by the bishop and the prime minister.

In Russia the coronation is celebrated at Moscow, and is full of religious significance. The tsar is anointed by the metropolitan, but places the crown on his head himself. He receives the sacrament among the clergy, the priestly theory of his office being recognized. In some other European countries the coronation ceremony, as in Austria and Hungary, is also performed with much significant ritual. In other countries, as Prussia, it is retained in a modified form; but in the remaining states such as Denmark, Belgium, Italy, &c., it has been abandoned, or never introduced.

Authorities.—L. G. Wickham Legg, English Coronation Records; Roxburgh Club—Liber Regalis; Anon., A Complete Account of the Ceremonies observed in the Coronations of the Kings and Queens of England (London, 1727); F. Sandford, Description of the Coronation of James II. (1687); Menin, The Form, Order and Ceremonies of Coronations, trans. from the French (1727); Martène, De Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibus, lib. ii. (T. M. F.)