The royal coronation of the newly proclaimed King Charles III will take place a few months from now. During this ancient ritual, which dates back nearly 1,000 years, the king will have placed upon his head a centuries-old and priceless relic, St Edward’s crown.
The former Prince of Wales was officially proclaimed the new king of the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Commonwealth on Saturday, September 10 at St. James’ Palace in London. Charles actually became the king immediately upon the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Saturday ceremony functioned as a public acknowledgment of that fact.
While this event is important, it should not be confused with the coronation. This traditional anointing will take place on a yet-to-be-determined date, likely in several months’ time.
During this final initiation rite, King Charles III will be presented with the royal regalia, which includes the elaborate clothing and other adornments a monarch wears at formal presentations and events. The culminating moment in coronation ceremony will take place when the archbishop of Canterbury, the senior cleric of the Church of England, places the royal crown upon the new king’s head, putting the finishing touches on the transfer of power from one sovereign to another.
In the minds of the public, the office of the king is most strongly associated with the royal regalia, and especially with the crown. In England, the king’s headpiece is known as St. Edward’s Crown, and this bejeweled treasure has a fascinating history that directly connects the latest King Charles with the last person to hold that title.
St. Edward’s Crown was named after legendary Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor, who wore the first version of the headpiece during his 1042-1066 AD reign. King Edward the Confessor wearing a crown in the first scene of the Bayeux Tapestry. (Bayeux Tapestry Museum / Public domain )
The History of St. Edward’s Crown, Versions One and Two
St. Edward’s Crown is a venerated and priceless relic, and it is considered the prize possession among the Crown Jewels of England.
The metal base of the spectacular headpiece is made from solid 22-carat gold, divided into sections that include the headband, arches, crosses, and several fleur-de-lis. It is decorated with 444 precious and semi-precious stones, some of which were added long ago and some of which were added in the 20th century. Its purple cap is made of velvet, trimmed with ermine fur. The crown is approximately 12 inches (30 centimeters) in height and weighs a neck-bending 4.9 pounds (2.23 kilograms). Because of its heaviness, it is usually only worn during coronation ceremonies, and replaced with the lighter Imperial State Crown during royal appearances at subsequent formal occasions.
St. Edward’s Crown was named in honor of the legendary Anglo-Saxon king Edward the Confessor , who wore the first version of the headpiece during his 1042-1066 AD reign. Even after the Norman Conquest English monarchs continued to wear the lavishly decorated golden crown at their coronations, a practice that endured until 1547 when the Church of England denounced the use of medieval relics with links to Catholicism.
When the monarchy was banished in 1645, following the victory of Oliver Cromwell and the armies of the Parliament in the English Civil War , the original version of St. Edward’s Crown was either sold off or melted down (the story varies depending on the source). But the beautiful crown was not forgotten—its association with Edward the Confessor, who was declared a saint by the Catholic Church in 1161, helped keep its memory alive.
The current version of St. Edward’s Crown was crafted in 1661, to mark the restoration of the English monarchy under King Charles II . The new crown was modeled closely after the original, with the same gold-and-precious-stone design. It does include Baroque arches that were not present in the first model, which give it more of a 17th-century flavor than its predecessor.
For reasons that remain unknown, St. Edward’s Crown was excluded from coronations starting in the 18th century. When it fell into disuse this time, however, it was preserved for prosperity rather than being discarded.
After its use in the coronation of William III in 1689, the crown stayed out of circulation for more than 200 years. But it was finally resurrected in 1911, when the new king, George V, chose to wear the remarkable headpiece at his coronation. He got the idea from his father, Edward VII, who had planned to wear the crown at his 1902 coronation ceremony but couldn’t because he was recovering from an illness and was too weak to support its weight.
St. Edward’s Crown was out of the public eye and the royal mind for a long time. But George V’s decision to make it his official royal headwear apparently started a new tradition.
The next two sovereigns, George VI and his daughter Elizabeth II , both chose to wear the crown at their coronations, in 1937 and 1953 respectively. Elizabeth was especially enamored with the crown’s striking appearance, which she demonstrated by choosing an adaptation of the crown’s image as a symbol to be used on royal logos, coats of arms, badges, and other official seals.
Some modifications in the design of the crown were made by George V, mainly to reduce its weight. But overall, the crown looks nearly identical to the first version that was worn by Saint Edward the Confessor nearly 1,000 years ago.
Close-up of the precious stones on St Edward’s Crown. Credit: The Royal Collection Trust
Two Kings Charles, One Royal Crown
When his coronation day finally arrives, sometime in 2023, King Charles III will be crowned with the very same stunning headpiece that his 17th-century namesake, Charles II, ordered for his coronation ceremony 337 years ago. King Charles III may switch to the Imperial State Crown for later appearances, but for at least one special day St. Edward’s Crown will be brought out and shown to an international audience, for the first time since 1953.
In the meantime, anyone who would like to get an up-close look at St. Edward’s Crown can do so by visiting the Jewel House at the Tower of London . This is where the crown is displayed when it is not perched on the head of the latest king or queen of the British Commonwealth.
Top image: St. Edward’s Crown, the centrepiece of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. Credit: The Royal Collection Trust
By Nathan Falde