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Painting of Henry IV coronation in 1399

10 strange facts about British coronations

Image: Painting by Jean Froissart depicting the coronation of Henry IV at Westminster Abbey in 1399. British coronations have been held at Westminster Abbey for over 950 years | Public Domain

For over 1,000 years, the coronation of a monarch has served as an important marker to distinguish each new ascendant from their predecessor. Understandably, given all that time, there have been a lot of coronations in Britain - and not all of them have been a success.

The final step in any new monarch’s journey, it’s no surprise that over the past millennia, some weird and wonderful things have happened. From special spoons to stolen stones - here are ten strange facts about British coronations.

1. Coronations have been held at Westminster Abbey for over 950 years

When Edward the Confessor had Westminster Abbey built in 1050, he probably didn’t realise that it would become the site for all future British coronations. While it’s probable that Edward’s successor, Harold Godwinson, had his coronation at the Abbey, there are no records to confirm it.

Just two months after his victory over Harold at the Battle of Hastings, William likely chose to have his coronation at Westminster Abbey to legitimise his reign in the eyes of the British public.

2. Westminster Abbey gets a makeover for each new monarch

Interior furnishings and temporary external extensions are necessary upgrades for Westminster Abbey. Additions to the Abbey include an annexe and additional seating designed to accommodate all the extra guests.

The annexe for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation featured all the animals from her heraldry, and special grandstands had to be built within the Abbey to accommodate all 8,000 of her guests.

3. Only three British monarchs have not had a coronation

In 950 years since the first recorded coronation, there have only been three monarchs who have not had a coronation. The first, Edward V, was locked in the Tower of London with his younger brother. Missing and presumed to have been murdered by their uncle, Richard III, the princes disappeared before the ceremony.

The next monarch not to receive a coronation was Lady Jane Grey, who inherited the throne from her cousin Edward VI. Named in his will as his legitimate heir, Lady Jane Grey had originally arrived at the Tower of London to prepare for her coronation only to find herself a prisoner of Edwards's older sister, Mary. Ruling for just nine days, six months after arriving at the Tower as a queen, Lady Jane Grey was executed for high treason.

The final monarch without a coronation was Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne following a scandalous love affair with Wallis Simpson. His brother, George VI, ascended to the throne in his place and was coronated on the same date that had been planned for Edward’s inaugural ceremony.

4. The most sacred part of the ceremony is closed to the public

The holiest part of the coronation ceremony, when the monarch is anointed with the chrism oil, is so sacred that it has to be done in private. This moment is incredibly special, allowing the monarch to reflect on the responsibilities and duties that they are undertaking. It is treated with the greatest of reverence.

5. The holy chrism oil was destroyed in WWII

When preparing for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it was discovered that the holy chrism that had anointed her father had been destroyed. Housed in the deanery near Westminster Abbey, the oil was lost due to a WWII bombing raid.

Worse still? The apothecary that had created the special and holy blend had since gone out of business, so a new blend was created based on an ancient recipe.

6. The anointing spoon survived a civil war

During the interregnum, many coronation artefacts were either stolen or melted down. The anointing spoon, an innocuous gilded silver spoon, was purchased by Mr Kynnersl, the Yeoman of Charles I’s wardrobe, in 1649. Keeping the spoon safe throughout the interregnum and ensuing civil war, Mr Kynnersly returned the spoon to Charles II to use at his coronation. The spoon, which dates back to the 12th century, has continued to be used in every coronation since.

7. One of the most important coronation artefacts was stolen from Scotland

The Stone of Scone (also known as the Stone of Destiny) is a symbol of the Scottish monarchy. The ancient stone was used for centuries in the inauguration of Scottish kings before it was seized in 1296 by King Edward I.

Incorporated into the coronation chair, contention surrounding the stone's ownership led to a lot of debate as to where it should reside. On Christmas Day 1950, a group of Scottish students stole the stone, and it wasn’t recovered until three months later when it was found 500 miles away on the altar of Arbroath Abbey.

In 1996, the stone was officially returned to Scotland with the understanding that it will make short return visits to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations.

8. A night in the Tower

While it has since become to be known as a prison and dungeon, the Tower of London actually played a very large part in medieval coronations. New monarchs would typically move to the Tower in the nights leading up to their coronation to prepare for the ceremony.

9. We can thank Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation for Eurovision

Following her father, whose coronation was the first to be broadcast publicly by radio, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation brought the ceremony into the homes of the general public by being the first to be televised.

The first major world event to be broadcast live, the coronation was also shown across Europe thanks to new relay links. The success of this test broadcast went on to inspire the birth of the Eurovision Network, which eventually led to the creation of the Eurovision Song Contest.

10. Botched coronations

Not every coronation has gone to plan, but some coronations have been exceptionally bad. Queen Victoria’s coronation was nicknamed ‘the last of the botched coronations’ as so many things went wrong that a special committee of historians was tasked with drawing up a more regimented plan for future monarchs to follow.

Hiccups on the day included the archbishop having to painfully force the coronation ring on her finger because it had accidentally been made too small, elderly peer Lord Rolle falling down the stairs, and a bishop announcing the end of the ceremony at the wrong moment.