Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Coronation Regalia

The procession of Charles II from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace on the eve of his coronation, 1661, by Dirck Stoop (c.1614-c.1683).

The Coronation Regalia

The Crown Jewels displayed in the Jewel House at the Tower of London are largely those items used at the coronation of a sovereign and are collectively known as the Coronation Regalia. Most of the collection dates from the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, when Charles II ascended the throne. The old regalia used up to Charles I's coronation in 1626, had been either destroyed or disposed of by Cromwell's Parliamentary Commissioners who regarded it as symbolic of the "detestable rule of kings". After Charles Ps execution in 1649 Cromwell ordered that the regalia be "totally broken, ant that they melt down all the gold and silver, and Commonwealth". Luckily, detailed records of the old regalia survived the Cromwellian era and were used to draw up a list of new ornaments required for Charles II's coronation. The new regalia was supplied by the royal goldsmith Sir Robert Viner for the sum of £12,184 7s 2d.

The portrait of Charles II by John Michael Wright, c.1661, shows the King bearing the new state crown, orb and sceptre made for his coronation. Although the crown no longer exists, the orb and sceptre have been used at every subsequent coronation, including the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Many additions and alterations have been made to the regalia since Charles II's day. For example, a new set of regalia had to be made in 1685 for Mary of Modena, James 11's wife, as she was the first queen consort since the Restoration. Another new set was required in 1689 for Mary II when she was crowned with her husband, William 111, because she was queen in her own right and not queen consort.

Up until the early 20th century it was common practice for some crowns to be set with hired jewels for the coronation, normally at a cost of 4% of their total value. For the coronation of George IV, for instance, a new crown was made and set with hired diamonds valued at £62,250. Due to the postponement of his coronation, the eventual hire charges for the stones were £24,425. George IV was reluctant to part with his new crown and tried to persuade the Government to buy it outright hut it was finally broken up in May 1823. When the hired stones were removed the crown frames were sometimes re-set with imitation stones and placed in the Jewel House for display. The crown of Mary of Modena on show today is one such example. More often, the crowns were dismantled and the frames abandoned. Several of these frames survive and some, on loan to the Jewel House from the Museum of London, are on show today.

The significance and function of the regalia is best understood by reference to its part in the coronation ceremony. The English coronation ceremony, which dates back to the 8th century, has taken place at Westminster Abbey for the last 900 years. It comprises six stages: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture, the enthronement and the homage. The ceremonies begin with the Sovereign's procession to the Abbey.

Charles I by Daniel Mytens, 1631. The old regalia were used for the last time at his coronation in 1626
With two exceptions every monarch from Richard II to Charles II rode in magnificent procession from the Tower of London to Westminster Palace on the eve of his or her coronation. The processions of James I and Charles I were cancelled because of the plague. This Vigil Procession, as it was known, was dispensed with by James II in 1685 on the grounds of economy and replaced with a walking procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey on the day of the coronation. This tradition lasted over 200 years until the coronation of William IV in 1831. Today the monarch is driven by carriage from Buckingham Palace and is met at the Abbey by those carrying the processional objects.


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