The Coronation Service for each monarch is put together using set elements, some of which are legally required, and others that can modified or updated over time. The structure of the service draws on the Old Testament, and has developed over many centuries of use in England, and later the UK. The last significant overhaul, especially of the oaths, came for the coronation of William III and Mary II in 1689, following the Glorious Revolution. Both William and Mary were strongly Protestant, and one of the factors behind the revolution was the latent (later made formal) Catholicism of Mary’s father James II. The Coronation and Accession Oaths from 1689 were explicitly written to exclude anyone with Roman Catholic tendencies from becoming monarch again. The Accession Oath was somewhat watered down in 1910, with less detail about transubstantion and other Roman doctrines spelled out.
At the moment of the death of the previous monarch, the new monarch immediately succeeds to the role. Usually they will be formally proclaimed shortly afterwards. When Elizabeth II died on 8th September, 2022, Charles became King. He was proclaimed as King on September 10th. At the coronation, he does not become king. Rather he is acknowledged as King, not by the state, but by the Church and in the eyes of God. The promises he makes are not that he will rule, but how he will rule. The service is a reminder throughout that he is only King by the will of God and with the consent of the people. He is not our ultimate authority, and he himself is subject to another king, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. There are moments in the service designed to humble the king, to demonstrate this publicly, as well as moments in which he is literally lifted high, when the people pledge to serve him.
Above all, however, this will be a church service. The people of God will meet to worship the living God. It is a bit like a marriage service in which there is a lot of focus on two people, but nonetheless it is still a gathering of God’s people to worship him. On Saturday, no doubt the television commentary will focus on Charles, but the worship is directed towards Christ.
The entire Order of Service, including the sung elements, can be found here.
Charles will be presented to the congregation as ‘your undoubted king’ who will respond in acknowledgement. This has the practical purpose of ensuring that the right person is crowned (less necessary in an age where the monarch’s face is one of the most recognisable in the country!)
He will first be presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury, indicating that the Church recognises him as God’s chosen king. Old Testament kings were not self-proclaimed but presented to the people by a prophet or a priest. Samuel, for example, presented Saul to the people as the king whom God had given (1 Samuel 10:17-23).
The congregation will be asked, “Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service: are you willing to do the same?” That is to say, “Are you willing to honour and serve him as your king?” The king is acknowledged by the people, as a reminder that he rules by consent of the people. We can see a parallel to this when David (previously chosen by Samuel) finally takes the throne by the consent of the Israelite elders (2 Samuel 5:1-3).
Charles will be presented with a Bible by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. The monarch is not the head of the Church of Scotland, and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 was the first time any role in the service was given to someone outside the Church of England. This presentation acknowledges the informal relationship that the monarch is expected to have with the Church of Scotland. The Bible is presented as a reminder that any monarch needs to live in accordance with it, and to depend on God’s wisdom and guidance at all times.
As the introduction to the oaths, the Archbishop will say:
Your Majesty, the Church established by law, whose settlement you will swear to maintain, is committed to the true profession of the Gospel, and, in so doing, will seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely.
This is not actually part of the oath, and nor is it a description of what the King will do. It is a description of the Church. The Church is committed to the true profession of the Gospel and seeking to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely.
This is a very odd description of the mission of the Church of England. We are not in the business of religious oppression, certainly, but we live in a nation where religion is a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act and religious freedom is protected under the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It seems that it is Christians – and even Anglicans – whose religious freedoms are most in danger of legally being curtailed. The Church of England is not noticeably doing anything to prevent the ban on conversion therapy which threatens to make ordinary pastoral conversations and prayers illegal, for example.
There is no clear example of an Old Testament king making coronation oaths as such, though there is certainly an expectation that kings will commit themselves to knowing and keeping God’s law, and revering him as God (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). These two promises are reflected in the Coronation Oaths to uphold both the law of the land, and the law of God; as well as in the Accession Oath declaring personal faith.
The Coronation Oath and the Accession Oath were made explicitly Protestant at the end of the 17th century. Although the Accession Oath was simplified in 1910, this section of the service still talks about ‘the true profession of the gospel’, ‘the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law’, and ‘the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof.’
Not only this, but he must make his personal oath:
...that I Charles do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.
The monarch must say not only that he is a man of ‘faith’, nor even that he is ‘a Christian’, but that he is ‘a faithful Protestant’. He further commits himself to ensuring that his successors will also be Protestant.
These are not generic oaths. They are not promises that were originally written to enable the defence of all faiths. They are precise and specific, written at the end of more than a century of religious upheaval and conflict, to commit the monarch – and therefore the nation – to the true gospel, as expressed in the religion established by law: the Church of England, Protestant and Reformed.
After the oaths, the King will pray:
God of compassion and mercy
whose Son was sent not to be served but to serve,
give grace that I may find in thy service perfect freedom
and in that freedom knowledge of thy truth.
Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children,
of every faith and conviction,
that together we may discover the ways of gentleness
and be led into the paths of peace.
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is not a traditional prayer – indeed, it is not traditional for the monarch to offer their own prayer in the service. This was composed especially for King Charles. It begins by taking Christ as a model of service and the one whom the King serves. It is appropriate for the King to pray that he will be a blessing to all people, including those of other faiths, though calling them God’s children is somewhat ambiguous. The conclusion is here is a classic prayer of universalism, in which we are supposed to learn together, from people of all religions, the way to peace. A better prayer would be for Christ to lead all people to himself as the way, the truth and the life.
The prophet Samuel anointed Israel’s first two kings: Saul and David, thus confirming each as God’s chosen king over Israel (1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:12-13). The practice continued, with David’s son, Solomon, being anointed by both Zadok, the priest, and Nathan, the prophet (1 Kings 1:39). Anointing with oil indicates that someone is set apart by God for a specific role. In the Old Testament, this included priests as well as kings.
The Hebrew term for a person who has been anointed is ‘Messiah’ and the Greek translation of this is ‘Christ’. Jesus is the Anointed One. All human kings and priests are but faint shadows pointing to him who is our Great High Priest and heavenly King.
When Charles is anointed, his robes will be removed. He cannot claim kingship by virtue of his own attributes. He must stand before God as a man, and acknowledge that it is only by God’s will and God’s grace that he has been set apart for this role. The Archbishop will anoint him with oil, signifying that he is recognised by the church as the one whom God has chosen. The anointing will be in the sign of the cross, just as all believers are signed with the cross at their baptism.
He is king, but he is under God, just as we all are.
In this part of the service, the person who has been recognised and anointed as God’s chosen king is dressed in royal robes and presented with all the regalia of the monarch. There are many elements to this, some of which have more obvious symbolism than others. The most important element is the one which has Old Testament precedent: the crown. When King Saul dies, his anointed successor David takes the throne from Saul’s head and places it on his own (2 Samuel 12:30). When the young king Josiah is brought out of hiding to be acknowledged publicly, the crown is placed on his head. (2 Kings 11:12). The crown is the symbol of kingly rule throughout the Bible, not merely for human kings, but ultimately for the King of Kings.
Amongst the items Charles will be given are two sceptres: one of justice and one of mercy. There are military items which signify his temporal rule. And there is the orb, a representation of the world, surmounted by a cross: Christ rules over the whole earth. Earthly kings are always subordinate to the one who has eternal dominion over all creation.
Finally, having been garbed in his royal robes and invested with all the appropriate royal regalia, Charles will take his place on the throne. Perhaps even more than the crown, the throne is the embodiment of all that it means to be the monarch, so mu ch so that even in the Old Testament the throne is more often referred to figuratively than literally (compare 2 Samuel 7 with 1 Kings 1).
Following this, people pay their homage to the newly crowned King. Representatives of royalty and the church will do this in person. For the first time, all the King’s subjects are invited to do this, whether in the Abbey or watching elsewhere. Like it or not, this is still a kingdom, not a republic and we are subjects, not citizens. Submitting to God-given authorities is the duty of all Christians and this is an opportunity to give our willing consent to that.
The ceremony then turns to the Queen. She is not the sovereign, but will take on her role as consort at the will of the King. She is to be anointed and crowned, but the service will make clear how her position is subordinate to that of her husband. Camilla, like the rest of us, is one of his subjects.
Eucharist and blessing
The service concludes with the Lord’s Supper. It is notable that in the Proper Preface, Charles will be referred to as ‘the Defender of thy Faith’, not as he once hoped, ‘Defender of Faiths’. Only the King and Queen will receive the bread and wine at this service. In this context, receiving communion is primarily a demonstration of their faith and dependence on Christ, rather than an expression of unity for the whole people of God.
The Archbishop of Canterbury will proclaim the blessing and the congregation will sing “God save the King”, an appropriate prayer at the end of such a service.