1902 Encyclopedia > Coronation


CORONATION, literally a crowning, a placing of a crown on the head. The word is restricted, in use, to the ceremony or solemnity of placing a crown on the head of an actual or future king or emperor to signify his accession or his formal recognition as actual or future sovereign. The custom of marking the commencement of a king's reign by some special rite is a very ancient one. The Jewish kings, like the Jewish high priests, were anointed; but, as the crown was among the insignia of their new royalty, it is probable that they were also crowned, and in some cases certain that they were. We read, for example, of the crowning as well as of the anointing of King Joash (2 Kings xi. 12), and when David, or rather Joab, had sub-dued Rabbah, the crown which the king of Rabbah had worn was taken from him, and placed upon David's head. We find among the nations of modern Europe a tolerably exact counterpart of all these observances. After the de-struction of the western Roman empire, the tribal chiefs or kings among whom the Roman territory was divided appear generally to have been crowned on their accession or elec-tion to office. This was customary, we know, among the Franks, the Lombards, and the Burgundians, as it was also among our own Saxon ancestors. The revival of the empire by Charlemagne was marked by his solemn coronation at Rome by the Roman Pontiff. His successors in the empire for more than three hundred years were, without exception, inaugurated in the same way. The rule was followed, though not invariably, for some time afterwards, most of the emperors up to the time of Frederick III. (1440) being crowned, as Charlemagne had been, at Rome. On the day before the coronation, the Roman elders met the emperor-elect at the gate of their city, had their charters confirmed by him, and received an oath from him that he would preserve their good customs. On the next day the emperor went to Saint Peter's, and was there met by the Pope and his clergy, and was solemnly blessed and crowned. From Frederick III. downwards, this custom, always distasteful to the Roman people, wholly ceased to be observed. Charles V. received the imperial crown at the Pope's hands, not at Rome but at Bologna, and at the same time with the Lombard or Italian crown. There were, besides the im-perial crown, three other distinct crowns, some or all of which were assumed by each emperor according to his re-spective rights. The German crown, which by the time of Charles V. had become the most important of the four, was taken at Aix-la-Chapelle ; the Lombard or Italian crown generally at Milan; and the Burgundian crown, of less importance than the other two, at Aries. Charlemagne, uniting in his own person what were always distinguishable and what became afterwards distinct sovereignties, took them all four. Charles V. took first the German crown at Aix-la-Chapelle. It was not until 1530 that he took his other two crowns at Bologna. From the time of Charles V., down to the close of the empire in 1806, every emperor bound himself at his accession that he would proceed to Rome, and receive the imperial crown from the Bope, but as a matter of fact no one of them complied with the obligation.
We have clear traces of the coronation of the English kings before the Conquest, though, as in the case of the Jewish kings, we read of their being anointed more frequently
than we read of their being crowned. Bath, Winchester, or Kingston-upon-Thames was the place commonly chosen for the rite. After the foundation of Westminster Abbey by Edward the Confessor, Westminster succeeded to the privilege to the exclusion of the others. Harold, we read, was made king at Westminster, and so was William I. Of the actual crowning of the kings before William there are sometimes precise notices by the chroniclers, and the ceremony itself is sometimes to be found represented on medals. That the king was hallowed or anointed is, how-ever, the phrase generally employed; but that crowning also was an essential part of the rite we may infer from the case of William, I., of whom we are told that Archbishop Aldred hallowed him to king at Westminster, and also swore him, ere that he would set the crown on his head, that he would as well govern the nation as any king before him best did. For some time the archbishops of Canterbury claimed the sole right of crowning, personally or by deputy. Becket made it a cause of complaint against Henry II. that he had not been called in to crown Henry's son, and he even procured the excommunication of the archbishop of York and the bishop of Durham for having acted in the matter without his licence. It was usual with the early Norman kings to be crowned more than once, and also, as we have seen in Henry II.'s case, to have their sons crowned, and oaths of allegiance taken to them during their own lifetime. The reader will be reminded here of the case of David and Solomon, though he may refer the resemblance to nothing more than an accidental choice of the same obvious means to secure a disputable succession. He will find, how-ever, in some parts of the English coronation rite traces of its Jewish original not so easily to be explained away.
The coronation of Bichard I. is the earliest of which we have a circumstantial account. The archbishop of Canter-bury officiated at it, and with him were the archbishops of Bouen, of Treves, and of Dublin, and all the bishops of the kingdom. The king was accompanied to the abbey by a grand procession of nobles, and among them came the earl of Chester bearing the royal crown. When the crowrn had been laid on the altar, and the coronation oath had been taken by Richard, next came the actual ceremony of coronation, or rather the long series of ceremonies of which the placing of the crown on Richard's head formed a part. After Richard had drawn near to the altar, his head was first covered with a sacred linen cap. He was then anointed in several places. The great crown was then brought to him, and was by him handed to the archbishop, who placed it on the king's head. After various further rites and prayers, the king left the altar and went back to his former seat, and there exchanged the great crown for a lesser crown, which he continued to wear when he left the abbey.
The doubtful title of Henry IV. was confirmed by a double ceremony. The already crowned king, Richard II., was brought to the Tower of London in his coronation robes, holding in his hands his crown and other royal insignia. These he resigned into the hauds of Henry, then duke of Lancaster. The public assumption of them by Henry was made afterwards with great splendour. On the day appointed, after having confessed and heard three several masses, he went to Westminster Abbey with a vast procession of nobles and clergy. A high scaffolding was erected in the abbey, and on this Henry was displayed to the people, seated, and with his head bare. The archbishop of Canterbury then demanded of the assembly whether he should crown Henry, and was answered by general shouts of yes, yes. Plenry then drew near to the altar, and was first anointed by the archbishop in six places. The crown of Edward the Confessor was then brought forward, blessed by the archbishop, and placed by him upon Henry's head. Mass was then again said, and the king and his attendants left the abbey, Henry VI. was twice crowned while he was still a child, first at the abbey at Westminster, after-wards at (Saint Denis near Paris. Representations of the two ceremonies are to be found in Strutt's Manners and Customs. The coronation of Richard III. has also been very fully recorded. It does not differ materially from the instances already given. The directions followed, both in these cases and subsequently, are taken from the Liber Regalis, in the archives of Westminster Abbey; nor, indeed, from the nature of the case is there much room for variety in essentials. The anointing and crowning may be accompanied by circumstances of more or less magnificence, but the acts themselves are likely to be done in much the same way at one time and at another.
Coronation Oath.—The imposition of some form of coro-nation oath appears to be as old as the ceremony of coron-ation. It is natural enough that, at the commencement of each new reign, the king and people should mutually give and receive pledges from each other, the people promising obedience to lawful commands, the king binding himself to act with justice and to observe the established laws. There are informal traces of this to be found in abundance in the histories of the Jewish kings. It was still more regularly the case among the tribal chiefs who broke up the westernRoman empire, and established themselves upon its ruins. Hereditary title was far from absolutely recog nized, and the will of the people had a most potent influence in determining the succession. There was thus room for something like an express bargain, the new chief or king receiving his dignity on conditions which his people imposed upon him. The custom thus established continued after the rules of succession had become settled. The election to the imperial office was marked in the same way. Before the time of Charles V. a verbal promise had been thought sufficient, but on Charles's election a formal" capitulation " of rights and liberties was drawn up in waiting by the German electors, signed by the new emperor's ambassadors, and solemnly confirmed by himself on his coronation at Aix-la-Chapelle. From that time forward the same condi-tions were observed at each election, the attacks by Charles V. upon the rights of his German subjects not having con-vinced them of the intrinsic worthlessness of agreements of the kind. We have seen already the form of coronation oath prescribed to William I. of England, and we know, too, the amount of regard he paid to it. Richard I. was sworn to keep the holy ordinances of God, to exercise justice, to abolish grievous laws, and to put in practice all laws that were good. The Liber Regalis prescribes a series of similar oaths. The king is to grant and to confirm the laws and customs of his predecessors, and especially those of the glorious king Saint Edward. He promises peace and agreement to God, the holy church, and the people, and swears further, with a vast amount of verbiage, to maintain law and justice, to uphold customs, and to perform rightly all the other duties of his office. The modern form of the coronation oath dates from the coronation of William and Mary in 1689, with some slight necessary alterations and additions made afterwards at the Unions with Scotland and with Ireland. The oath, in 1689, was made at every point more precise and explicit than before; and, in particular, there was added an express engagement on the part of the sovereign to maintain " the laws of God, the true profession of the Gospel, and the Frotestant reformed religion as it is established by law." It pro-vided, further, that the king should preserve to the bishops and clergy, and the churches committed to their charge, all their actual and future legal rights and privileges. Its intention, as the debates at the time prove, is to restrain the king in his administrative, not in his legislative, capacity. It binds him to observe the established law. It does not and cannot bind him to refuse his assent to all subsequent changes of the law in ecclesiastical any more than in civil matters. The point, obvious enough in itself, deserves notice chiefly because the opposite view was taken by George III., fatally for Pitt's project of Catholic emancipation, a measure of relief to which it is difficult to see how the coronation oath, whatever force is given to it, could with any reason be thought opposed. In connection with the subject of coronation, see also CROWN. (S. H. R.)

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