On May 6, London was the scene of a coronation ceremony after 70 years. After the death of Isabel II on September 8, her eldest son, Carlos III, was formally invested as head of state and head of the Anglican Church. Camila, his wife, was crowned with him as queen.
Crowning kings and queens at Westminster Abbey has been a tradition since the days of William the Conqueror in 1066. Since then, 39 coronations of British monarchs have taken place at this historic venue.
It is a ceremony full of pomp, glory and symbology, which has changed little in the last thousand years, and includes the presentation of the ceremonial objects of royalty, the crown, jewels and garments. But not all coronations have gone as planned.
Flammable Coronation: William I
Norman King William I, known as William the Conqueror, couldn’t have been more nervous the day he was crowned in Westminster Abbey on December 25, 1066.
A little over two months ago, he had invaded England and defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Harold II in the bloody battle of Hastings, who died in combat.
At the head of his invading army, William rushed towards London, ruthlessly wiping out any resistance he encountered along the way.
He wanted as soon as possible to reaffirm his legitimacy to the throne and be invested in the historic abbey that had been built by the admired King Edward the Confessor who, according to William, had explicitly promised him the crown.
But the atmosphere was tense, so he surrounded the temple with his troops. However, in a gesture to demonstrate the new relationship with the conquered people, the ceremony was held in French and English.
French-speaking Normans and English-speaking Anglo-Saxons present in the hall cheered in approval of the new king with great uproar.
The Norman soldiers standing guard outside thought it an assassination attempt and started burning down the houses around the abbey. a common strategy of the time to suppress uprisings.
The congregation fled the smoke in a panic, there was confusion, fighting and looting. Amidst the chaos, the bishops who remained with the king in the abbey quickly concluded the sanctification ritual.
According to Orderic Vitalis, a historian who lived a few years after the events, “the new king trembled from head to foot.”
Mutinous Coronation: George I
George was a German sovereign, Elector of Hanover, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, who did not speak a word of English and had never lived in Great Britain. But he was a Protestant.
A new law, known as the Act of Settlement of 1701, stipulated that the British throne could only be occupied by Protestants, thus thwarting attempts by dissident factions seeking to proclaim a Catholic king.
It was then that, in 1714, George inherited the British crown as the closest Protestant relative of Queen Anne, who had died childless.
But his selection did not calm the divisions. 56 Catholic candidates with greater hereditary rights than Jorge were ignored.
George I was crowned on October 20 in Westminster Abbey, in a ceremony in Latin because the new king did not understand English and his ministers did not understand German.
Anti-Protestant factions and the Tory aristocracy absented themselves from the event and riots broke out in more than 20 towns around England.
When the king’s supporters celebrated the coronation with parties and bonfires and drinking in taverns in different parts of the country, they were attacked by rioters chanting slogans such as “Damn foreigners!” and “Kill King George!”
There were injuries and at least one death as a result of these riots. George I always felt uncomfortable with his British heritage and incompatible with his people. During his reign, he spent as much time as he could in Hanover.
Extravagant Coronation: George IV
Before he ascended the throne in 1820, George Augustus Frederick, the fourth king in a row of the House of Hanover, had already served as Prince Regent for almost nine years, due to the mental illness that had disabled his father, King George III.
Despite being a cultured and charming person, a promoter of the arts and fashion, his dissolute behavior earned him the scorn of his people. As regent and later as king, George IV was known for his extravagant lifestyle. He was a drinker, a libertine, and racked up pitiful debts.
The rent he received from his father and other subsidies from Parliament (equivalent to almost US$15 million today) were not enough for his extraordinary expenses.
That hype was reflected in a magnificent and expensive coronation that exceeded $25 million today and took place on July 19, 1821.
Jorge ordered a new crown made with more than 12,000 diamonds for a ceremony that included a large banquet for 2,000 guests and various shows.
Thousands more watched the actions from the stands. However, his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, had been excluded from the ceremony by order of the king, although she tried unsuccessfully to break through the security cordon and enter the abbey.
The king, by then obese, advanced in years, and addicted to laudanum, was sweating profusely in his heavy velvet robes, long curly wig, and feathered hat.
When, at the end of a long day, the king got up and left the place with part of his retinue, the nobles who had not participated in the banquet rushed to the tables to carry off the leftovers and some of the lavish decorations, crockery and covered. It was the last time a banquet was held inside Westminster Abbey.
Canceled Coronation: Edward VII
Only the current King Carlos III had to wait longer behind the scenes to be crowned than Alberto Eduardo, Queen Victoria’s eldest son.
Perhaps for this reason, as a prince without a defined role, he devoted himself to fine dining, wine, horse racing, elegant suits, gambling, and women.
“I can never look at him, nor will I look at him, without shuddering,” Queen Victoria once remarked of her son. After inheriting the throne in November 1901, Edward VII’s coronation was scheduled for June 26, 1902, with guests coming from all over the world.
However, a few days before, the king suffered from appendicitis that evolved into peritonitis.
He was in danger of dying if he did not cancel the event and undergo immediate surgery.
He had waited so long for this moment that he repeatedly refused to postpone the ceremony, but finally gave in to postpone the event was scheduled for the following August 9. Although by then the Eduardo VII was already quite recovered, the solemn service was not free of mishaps.
The elderly and almost blind Archbishop of Canterbury could barely read the prayers and misrecited some passages.
Furthermore, the crown slipped from his hands and he placed it upside down on the king’s head.
But it’s not all bad memories.
The new headdresses for the clergy, specially designed for this ceremony, made of velvet printed with flowers and crowns, continue to be used to this day.