Yes, I’m an Anglophile, so of course I got up early to watch the coronation of King Charles III. For most people, it was a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. And spectacle it was with all the pomp and circumstance one could wish for. But what did it all mean? Not even most Brits know the true symbolic meaning behind the elements of the elaborate ceremony. Here are three questions you might be asking:
1. What Is The Sovereign’s Orb?
Before the coronation ceremony, the last time we saw the 11.81-inch hollow gold sphere was at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, where it sat precariously atop her coffin, near her crown and scepter. The jewel-encrusted globus cruciger (Latin for ‘cross-bearing orb’) was made for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 and represents earthly dominion. Not the dominion of the British king, obviously. Even at its zenith, the British Empire didn’t rule the world. The Sovereign’s Orb symbolizes God’s sovereign power over the earth and is placed in the right hand of the monarch as His representative with these words: “Receive this orb set under the cross, and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer.” In other words, the Sovereign’s Orb is a reminder, not of the King’s power but of the limits of his power.
2. Why So Many Swords?
Everyone was impressed with the grace and stamina of politician Penny Mordaunt, who took on the sword-bearing role of Lord President of the Privy Council. As the first woman to have that honor, she carried two different swords during the hour-long ceremony, the eight-pound Sword of State and later the lighter Sword of Offering. To prepare for her flawless performance, Ms. Mordaunt did arms presses, wore sensible shoes, and took pain killers. But did you notice that five swords were part of the coronation? The practice dates back to the coronation of Richard the Lionheart in 1189. Each sword has a symbolic meaning:
The Sword of State symbolizing royal authority is probably the most familiar sword to most people since it is used for the Opening of Parliament. This particular sword was first used during the coronation of George IV in 1821 and was carried by Penny Mordaunt.
The Sword of Offering symbolises the monarch’s offering of himself to the people and to the realm. It was carried into Westminster Abbey by Navy Petty Officer Amy Taylor, where it was blessed by Archbishop of Canterbury who handed it to the monarch with the injunction that it should be used for the protection of good and the punishment of evil. The sword was then laid on the altar and exchanged for 100 silver shillings by Penny Mordaunt, who carried the sword before the King for the rest of the ceremony.
The Sword of Temporal Justice symbolizes the King’s pledge to uphold the civil laws of his kingdom. It also represents the monarch’s role as head of the armed forces and was carried by General Lord Houghton of Richmond.
The Sword of Spiritual Justice symbolizes God’s final judgment and the monarch’s role as Defender of the Faith. The sword was carried by Lord Richards of Herstmonceux.
The Sword of Mercy, also known as the Curtana, with its blunt edge and square tip symbolizes God’s mercy reflected in the King’s mercy and was carried by Chief Marshall Peach.
3. What Went On Behind That Screen?
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was the first coronation ever televised. Winston Churchill was reportedly horrified at the thought that the whole ceremony, both the secular and religious aspects, would be presented as a theatrical performance. The coronation was televised—except for one sacred moment, The Act of Consecration, which was performed behind a screen. This was repeated for the coronation of King Charles III. Before the investiture and crowning, out of public sight, Charles’ royal robes and jewelry were removed. He was then anointed with a “blessed oil” of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk, and ambergris as a symbol that the king is God’s chosen vessel.
There were many, many other symbolic aspects of the coronation. Everything had great meaning. Nothing was done just for show. As I end, I’d like to briefly connect this with the process of writing a novel. Every sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter you write must mean something in terms of the whole book. Nothing should be there just for show. For me, that happens in the final revisions where I take out everything (in the words of Hank Phillippi Ryan) that “isn’t the book.”
Did you watch the coronation? What did you think? Is the ceremony an anachronism that has lost its meaning and purpose in today’s world, or does it still symbolize truths greater than any one man, nation, or age? Join the conversation below or on our Facebook page.
I’m fascinated by the historical aspects of the coronation, of the crown, but I don’t have the patience for most of the what surrounds it–commentary about the royal family, who is wearing what, who is sitting where, etc., so I just caught snippets here and there.
I would love to write a historical novel some day.
I’ve always wanted to write a historical novel. And, ahem, who knows??
Fascinating. I’m attending a Royal School of Needlework webinar later today about all the work they did for this coronation including the screen and Camilla’s Robe of Estate (gorgeous). I think they also did new chair covers. There were two other groups involved in all the embroidery. One group worked on the heralds tunics (insane amount of work) and someone else did Camilla’s dress.
I would love to watch that webinar. I’m fascinated with fabrics and sewing even though I have no time to do it anymore.
You can buy a replay or maybe sign up if you hustle. I’ll email you the info. Price of admission is 6 lbs.
Keenan, can’t wait to hear your thoughts about that!
Thanks for the info, Connie. I watched it and I enjoyed it. For me, it’s like watching an opera. I don’t know what it all means, but it’s so spectacular! I feel like I need a bit off sparkle in my life.
A bit of glam, as they say!
I DVR’d it and played out as I cleaned! My husband asked me lots of questions about some of the traditions, which for me, an Anglophile like you, Connie, I was mostly able to answer.
I think the history of the occasion and the longevity of some of the traditions is what struck me. Everything was rich with meaning, down to the embroidery on all of the women’s gowns—Camilla’s two rescue dogs were embroidered on the hem of her gown!
The dogs! I’m warming to her.
I did haul myself up to watch history happening…..and I was very grateful to be on the East Coast so it was just “really darned early” rather than “the blooming middle of the night.” :). Thanks for the run down especially in all those swords!!!
i was at Westminster the week after!!!!! It still wasn’t put back together and entire giant tombs were moved around with folding tables shoved into corners. I saw the coronation chair, went to the tower and saw the crown jewels, including the crown Charles wore, and then nipped up to Edinborough and saw the Stone of Destiny!
What a fantastic time to be in England. Hope we get to hear all about it. Entire giant tombs moved around???? Yeegads. I love Westminster Cathedral. It’s literally stuffed with history!