The Deep History of British Coronations - Deepstash
The Deep History of British Coronations

The Deep History of British Coronations

Curated from: The Rest Is History

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The Coronation - a fabulously ancient tradition

The Coronation - a fabulously ancient tradition

The British coronation is fabulously ancient, as historian Tom Holland puts it. The tradition can be traced back thousands of years as a fusion of:

  • pagan tradition: Arthur being guided by Merlin, represented by bishops
  • old roman imperial tradition of using a diadem as a symbol of political dominion
  • ancient Jewish ritual of anointment with holy oil through which the Holy Spirit flows into the rules

The British coronation is probably the longest surviving ritual right now and it serves as a window into the past. 


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The first coronation

The first coronation

Edgar, the grand-son of Æthelstan (which is considered the first British king) was the first to be crowned. It happened in 973 AD, 4 years after becoming king as a way to symbolise the unity of the newly created nation:

  • The coronation happened in Bath, where the Roman ruins connected Edgar to the late Roman emperors.
  • The title he used was Emperator, again as linkage to the Roman era
  • Instead of being lifted on a shield by warriors the procession is led by a bishop


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One event, 2 rituals

One event, 2 rituals

Although we commonly refer to the coronation as one big event there are actually 2:

  • The actual coronation, meaning the placement of the crown on the head of the king. This symbolises political and military power, similar to the anticent roman title
  • The anointment, using holy oil. This private ceremony symbolises spiritual authority as the Holy Spirit is said to flow into the ruler.


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The symbol of the crown

The symbol of the crown

The crown was not a tradition in the old Saxony. It is believed to come from the old Roman emperors, from the 3rd century onwards, who used a diadem as a Sun inspired symbol.

For hundreds of years, during the Republic and even early Empire, romans had a disdain for kings. But the crown was immortalised as a ritual through coins and paintings.


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The Frankish precedent

The Frankish precedent

Pepin, the Frankish unifier, who established the Carolingian dynasty, used holy oil to legitimise his rule by connecting himself to old Jewish kings like Solomon and David. 

His better known successor, Charlemagne, famously had the pope place the crown on his head, thus crating a connection to the Roman empire.

Considering the ties with the continent, it is very probable this inspired old Saxon kings. And the tradition was obviously continued after the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, king of Normandy, in 1066. 


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Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.


Putting the British coronation in context, as Charles becomes the new king of England.

Vladimir Oane's ideas are part of this journey:

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