Thinking allowed

The Coronation Liturgy

This is a longer ver­sion of an art­icle pub­lished in Prax­is News of Wor­ship, March 2023.

In 973 at Bath Abbey, Edgar was crowned King of Eng­land by Dun­stan, Arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury. The Coron­a­tion ser­vice in use derives dir­ectly from that com­piled by Dun­stan over a thou­sand years ago. It has gone through sev­er­al revi­sions or “recen­sions”, with the third being used through the later Middle Ages and (in trans­la­tion) for the first four Stu­arts. The last major revi­sion was made in 1689 by Wil­li­am Compton, Bish­op of Lon­don, for Wil­li­am III and Mary II, but it has been tweaked for each sub­sequent occa­sion, with new mon­archs usu­ally want­ing a short­er cere­mony than their predecessor’s, and new anthems or set­tings being com­mis­sioned. It remains to be seen how much will change in 2023, but the prin­cip­al ele­ments are clear.

The coron­a­tion is set with­in the Euchar­ist, as it has been since 973, and since 1689 most of the cere­mo­ni­al has taken place after the ser­mon and Creed (though there has been no ser­mon since 1911). There are five main elements:

  1. The Recog­ni­tion
  2. The Oath
  3. The Anoint­ing
  4. The Invest­it­ure, cul­min­at­ing in the Crowning
  5. The Enthrone­ment and Homage.

The coron­a­tion of a Queen Con­sort follows.

The ser­vice begins with the entrance pro­ces­sion. Since 1626, verses from Psalm 122 (“I was glad”) have been sung, and in 1902 Sir Hubert Parry incor­por­ated into his set­ting the acclam­a­tion (“Vivat”) by the schol­ars of West­min­ster School. This set­ting is now an estab­lished tradition.

Next the Sov­er­eign is intro­duced as the right­ful mon­arch and acclaimed by the con­greg­a­tion, a vestige of the ancient elec­tion of the mon­arch. In 1953 the Oath was moved to fol­low this, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been at a later point. The mon­arch prom­ises to pre­serve and pro­tect the Church and to obey the laws of the land. In 1953 the Present­a­tion of the Bible to the mon­arch was moved to this point hav­ing since its intro­duc­tion in 1689 been imme­di­ately after the Crown­ing. Only when the Oath has been sworn and the Euchar­ist begun does the ser­vice move on to the Anoint­ing. “Zadok the Priest” has been sung as an anthem here since 973, and Han­del’s set­ting has been used since 1727. The sov­er­eign moves to King Edward’s Chair (which holds the Stone of Scone) placed in the Cross­ing of the Abbey before the Altar, and is stripped. Under a can­opy to pro­tect their mod­esty, they are anoin­ted in the form of a cross on the head, breast, and palms (in the reverse order in 1937 and 1953). After­wards a white lin­en under­gar­ment is put on, the Colobi­um Sin­donis, and a golden robe, the Super­tu­nica, and then the Invest­it­ure begins.

The regalia now used were largely made in 1660 for Charles II, the earli­er items hav­ing been wan­tonly des­troyed by the repub­lic­an gov­ern­ment of the Com­mon­wealth. The ancient regalia, crowns, sceptres, rods and vest­ments, are thought to have been taken from the tomb of St Edward the Con­fess­or when he was trans­lated to a new shrine in 1269, and were used at every sub­sequent coron­a­tion at West­min­ster down to Charles I in 1626. These sac­red items nev­er left the Abbey, being depos­ited by the mon­arch at the end of the ser­vice, and a vestige of that tra­di­tion remains.

The Spurs are brought and touched to the monarch’s heels (in 1953 to the Queen’s hands), and then the king is girded with the Sword (in 1953 it was put in the Queen’s hands). He straight­away ungirds it and places it on the Altar as a gift to the Abbey. It is redeemed for 100 shil­lings and car­ried by one of the Peers.

Next come the Armil­ls (brace­lets) and Stole Roy­al. These were made in 1953 and their form and role has been unclear since the ori­gin­als were lost in 1649. The sov­er­eign is next ves­ted with the Robe Roy­al, a great cloak of cloth of gold embroidered with roses, thistles, and sham­rocks – and imper­i­al Roman eagles, a remind­er that from 973 the Eng­lish were copy­ing the sym­bol­ism of the Byz­antine emperor.

Each stage of the invest­it­ure is accom­pan­ied by pray­ers. Since 1689 these pray­ers have care­ful to bless the per­son receiv­ing each item, the mon­arch, rather than bless­ing the item itself.

The Orb – sym­bol­iz­ing the globe sur­moun­ted by the cross – is placed in the monarch’s hand, and imme­di­ately giv­en back and replaced on the Altar. The ring, sap­phire with a ruby cross, is put on the fourth (ring) fin­ger of the mon­arch’s right hand. His­tor­ic­ally the next item was the Crown, but since 1689 this has been the final item to be presen­ted. Next comes the Sceptre, topped with a cross, and the Rod, with a dove stand­ing on the cross at the top.

Finally, the cul­min­a­tion of the invest­it­ure, the mon­arch is crowned with St Edward’s Crown, made in 1660 to replace the lost crown taken from the saint’s tomb. The con­greg­a­tion acclaim the mon­arch “God save the King”, trum­pets sound, and a gun salute is fired from the Tower of London.

After the Crown­ing the mon­arch is sol­emnly blessed by the Arch­bish­op, and up to 1902 the Te Deum was sung at this point.

The sov­er­eign now moves from King Edward’s Chair to the Throne to be enthroned there. The Arch­bish­op and oth­er bish­ops do their Fealty togeth­er, prom­ising to be “faith­ful and true” and the Arch­bish­op kisses the king’s left cheek. Then the roy­al dukes and the oth­er peers pay their Homage and the lead­ing peers kiss his cheek. His­tor­ic­ally this has been a lengthy part of the ser­vice even when sig­ni­fic­antly shortened so that each degree (dukes, mar­quesses, earls, vis­counts and bar­ons) pays homage togeth­er, and might be fur­ther shortened in 2023.

The Queen’s Coron­a­tion fol­lows, almost unchanged since that of Mary of Mod­ena in 1685. She is anoin­ted – in recent times only on the head, but up to 1761 on the head and breast, her appar­el being opened for that pur­pose – inves­ted with a ring, and then in a sur­viv­al of the earli­er order, crowned. Finally, she receives a sceptre and a rod, and is enthroned next to the king.

The Coron­a­tion itself is now com­plete and the Euchar­ist resumes at the offer­tory, includ­ing in 1953 a con­greg­a­tion­al hymn (Old 100th, “All people that on earth do dwell”), instead of an anthem. Tra­di­tion­ally the mon­arch makes an offer­ing of the bread and wine, an altar-cloth and a pound-weight of gold, and a queen con­sort anoth­er altar-cloth and a “mark-weight” of gold.

The ser­vice fol­lows the 1662 order, as it will in 2023, with the pray­er for the Church mil­it­ant, the Gen­er­al Con­fes­sion and the Com­fort­able Words. The Sur­sum Corda is fol­lowed by a prop­er pre­face, Sanc­tus (sung to the melody of Mer­be­cke in 1911 and 1937), Pray­er of Humble Access, and Con­sec­ra­tion. The Arch­bish­op and assist­ing clergy receive Com­mu­nion fol­lowed by the King and Queen. There is no gen­er­al com­mu­nion. The ser­vice con­tin­ues with the Lord’s Pray­er, post-com­mu­nion (‘O Lord and heav­enly Fath­er’) and the Glor­ia. The mon­arch then moves into St Edward’s Chapel, where they are dis­robed of their golden vest­ments – his­tor­ic­ally St Edward’s vest­ments and crown were not removed from the Abbey. Since 1911 the choir sings the Te Deum at this point. Finally, the mon­arch and con­sort pro­cess out through the Abbey to the west door, in vel­vet robes and the mon­arch wear­ing the Imper­i­al State Crown.

For the text of the Coron­a­tion ser­vice, as used at each coron­a­tion from 1689 to 1953 see




  • John Henley says:

    The coron­a­tion is set with­in the Euchar­ist, as it has been since 973,
    Except, if memory serves me aright, for the Coron­a­tion of James II, when the Euchar­ist was omitted.
    Thank you for the link to the Syn­op­sis. I under­stand that the Coron­a­tion of George I in 1714 was largely in Lat­in, but your text is in English.
    Would Lam­beth have the text as used?

    • Simon Kershaw says:

      Re James II – yes, there was no com­mu­nion at the 1685 ser­vice – It was, I think, set in a ser­vice of Ante-Com­mu­nion, so I was sretch­ing a point a little.

    • Simon Kershaw says:

      As for George I, this is an inter­est­ing ques­tion. I have seen this sug­ges­ted too, not­ably on the West­min­ster Abbey web­site. But I don’t think I have ever seen it sug­ges­ted else­where, in any of the his­tor­ies of the coron­a­tion that I have read (and I have read a few!) unless I am being com­pletely for­get­ful. The text I have repro­duced is from a manu­script copy in Lam­beth Palace Lib­rary. This is the same manu­script (MS 1078) as the coron­a­tion of Queen Anne with hand­writ­ten annota­tion or cor­rec­tion for the 1714 event. There is a second manu­script, for the Coron­a­tion of George II in 1727 (MS 1079a), which is based on that of George I. There is not a hint in any of this that the ser­vice was con­duc­ted in any­thing oth­er than English.

      The help­ful Lam­beth cata­logue has this to say about these two manu­scripts, both of which I have studied.

      George I
      MS 1078. Queen Anne’s for­mu­lary (see above) revised through­out for the coron­a­tion of King George I. On the reverse of the title page there is a memo “that K.G.F. wch is here some­times set dow[n] sig­ni­fies King George’s Formularie”. 

      MS 1079a. “The form and order of the ser­vice that is to be per­formed and of the cere­mon­ies to be observed in the Coron­a­tion of their Maj[est]ies King George the IId and Queen Car­oline …”. Accord­ing to the Archbishop’s notes “no book could be got of the late King’s Coron­a­tion [George I}” until George II pro­duced his own copy. The present manu­script (MS 1079a) was then “made exactly agree­able” both to Queen Anne’s for­mu­lary and to “A for­mu­lary of that part of the Solem­nity wch is per­formed in the Church at the Coron­a­tion of his Matie Kg George at West­mr Octr 20, 1714”. [Unfor­tu­nately Lam­beth does not have this copy of George I’s formulary.]

      • Simon Kershaw says:

        Addi­tion­ally I have a fac­sim­ile copy of “An exact account of the form and cere­mony of His Majesty’s coron­a­tion … 20th Octo­ber 1714”. This con­tem­por­ary prin­ted book­let seems to have been taken from a manu­script copy used at the ser­vice – des­pite describ­ing an event that has happened, the rub­rics being writ­ten, for example, in the present tense. Need­less to say this book­let is also entirely in Eng­lish, without any hint whatever that any oth­er lan­guage might have been used at the service.

    • Simon Kershaw says:

      Inter­est­ing. Though I note that des­pite the Lat­in title it says that it is an Eng­lish text.

  • Jonathan Chaplin says:

    It is strik­ing that not a single Church of Eng­land lead­er, from any wing of the Church, is rais­ing the slight­est ques­tion about the pro­pri­et­ary of a sac­ral coron­a­tion (unique among European mon­arch­ies) presided over by the Church of Eng­land in an age when few­er than 3 per cent of cit­izens are act­ive mem­bers of it. One small and shrink­ing Eng­lish Chris­ti­an denom­in­a­tion presides over the form­al install­a­tion of the head of state of a reli­giously plur­al and mul­tina­tion­al UK. It is imme­di­ately obvi­ous that the mul­tilayered theo­lo­gic­al nuances of this event (which already suf­fer from sur­plus mean­ing even for the ini­ti­ated) will be entirely missed by the vast major­ity of cit­izens, who will not be remotely illu­min­ated by the journ­al­ists who anchor it. What a missed oppor­tun­ity for a moment of crit­ic­ally import­ant civic edu­ca­tion for the whole nation. Let’s start think­ing ahead to the next one. Design­ing a new civic invest­it­ure in say West­min­ster Hall, presided over by the Pres­id­ent of the Supreme Court, would offer such an oppor­tun­ity. In such a pro­cess the Church could actu­ally say some­thing inter­est­ing and chal­len­ging about power and justice that might even by under­stood by oth­er cit­izens. But no, it would rather remain locked in inar­ticu­lacy, so long as it still remains centre stage, admired for its pageantry but silent as to its spir­itu­al mean­ing – host­ing Coron­a­tion lunches but mute as to the Christ who bore a crown of thorns. Any ‘pro­gress­ives’ out there who care a whit about this? Any ‘con­ser­vat­ives’ for that matter?

    • Simon Kershaw says:

      Thanks Jonath­an. You won’t find any sym­pathy for that point of view from me!

      • Jonathan Chaplin says:

        I did­n’t expect you to agree, of course. So thank you for post­ing it any­way. Do feel free to reply to my points if you are so inclined.

    • Mark says:

      We have, both as fol­low­ers of Chris­tian­ity and as Brit­ish people, tra­di­tions, cul­ture and iden­tity that have evolved organ­ic­ally over a very long time-frame: these are things to be cher­ished and just lightly tweaked from time to time, rather than sneered at and done away with by cold ration­al­ists who always think they know bet­ter, I think.

      • Jonathan Chaplin says:

        Where is the cold ration­al­ism? And who is sneer­ing? I’m rais­ing a ser­i­ous crit­ic­al point. Merely invok­ing tra­di­tion is not a reply to what I’ve said.

  • John Beaverstock says:

    The Sanc­tus in 1953 was sung to Vaughan Wil­li­ams in G minor – but using the BCP text, not the Lat­in which RVW set.

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