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Not quite a Coronation, not quite an Investiture – a ceremony for the Scottish Honours in 2023

This summer His Majesty King Charles III will be presented with the Honours of Scotland, the most powerful symbols of Scottish nationhood. Dr George Gross explains the significance of the regalia in the history of the British monarchy.

3 weeks after her coronation on 2 June 1953, Elizabeth II and the then Duke of Edinburgh went to Scotland to be presented with the Honours of Scotland in Edinburgh on 24 June for a service of National Thanksgiving. King Charles III will retrace these steps later this summer, although he is likely to be better advised on his costume. Her late Majesty the Queen attended the service in ‘day clothes’ which were interpreted by some as a slight, for they expected ceremonial attire.

Scottish regalia

The carved miniatures of the crown, sceptre and sword of Scotland. Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. Image credit: Lawrence OP (Flickr, used under Creative Commons license).

1953 was memorable for the appearance of the Honours – it was the first time in over a century that the Crown and Sceptre of Scotland were borne through the streets of Edinburgh in a procession to the High Kirk of St Giles Cathedral. During the ceremony, the regalia were formally presented to Queen Elizabeth II and then returned to Edinburgh Castle. Last year, the Crown of Scotland featured atop Queen Elizabeth II’s coffin, when she lay in state at St Giles Cathedral.

The image shows a metal plate on the wall saying: 'The Honours: The Scottish Crown Jewels. The crown, sceptre and sword of state used in the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots in 1543 are displayed in the ancient Crown Room.

The Scottish Honours are the oldest regalia in the British Isles. The crown, sword, and sceptre date from the late 15th/early 16th century, the reigns of James IV and James V of Scotland – respectively grandfather and father of Mary Queen of Scots. Separately to the rest of the Scottish Honours sits an ampulla last used for the coronation of Charles I in 1633. The ampulla is housed in the National Museum of Scotland away from the rest of the regalia, owing to the controversy surrounding the 1633 coronation, the problematic question of anointing for Presbyterians, and the flux of the Cromwellian invasion in the 1650s.

The image shows a print depicting Mary, Queen of Scots.

The first monarch to use the Honours as coronation regalia was Mary Queen of Scots, crowned in 1543 at the age of just 9 months. Her one-year-old son, James VI of Scotland, was crowned with the Honours at Stirling Castle in 1567, and Charles I did likewise at his Scottish coronation in 1633 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The last coronation to take place in Scotland was in 1651 for Charles II at Scone in Perthshire. He was later crowned again at Westminster Abbey in 1661 symbolising the Restoration of the monarchy. Oliver Cromwell failed to prevent Charles II's 1651 Coronation, but nevertheless, as with the English regalia, he sought to capture and destroy the Scottish Honours – he pursued them to Dunnottar Castle near Aberdeen but failed to take them. They were smuggled out of the castle and returned safely at the Restoration.

Scotland Sceptre

Replica of the Sceptre of Scotland, held at Edinburgh Castle

Until the Act of Union of 1707 – creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and in the absence of a resident monarch, the Scottish Honours were taken to sittings of the Parliament in Edinburgh to signify the Sovereign's presence and their consent to the passing of each Act. After the Union, when the new United Kingdom Parliament met in London, the Honours had no ceremonial role. Mysteriously, the Honours were locked away in an old oak chest in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle and then seemingly forgotten. In 1818, the chest was opened by none other than the famous author Sir Walter Scott in the presence of the Castle Governor and, to their astonishment, there before them were the Honours. The regalia were then presented to George IV in a ceremonial visit in 1822 (following his London Coronation in 1821) at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

The image shows a replica of the Stone of Scone.
A replica of the Stone of Scone. Image credit: Paul Farmer (used under Creative Commons license).

The Honours were hidden again during WWII, buried in separate locations at Edinburgh Castle in case of a Nazi invasion. In 1996, the Stone of Scone returned to Scotland and was added to the Honours Collection at Edinburgh Castle, after 700 years in Westminster Abbey.

The Stone was again made part of St Edward’s Chair for Charles III’s coronation on 6 May. It will be a focal point during Charles III’s Scottish service of dedication at St Giles. It is thought that the service of thanksgiving or dedication will involve the Honours being escorted from Edinburgh Castle to the High Kirk by a ‘People’s Procession’ of around one hundred representatives showcasing different fields, industries and talents from across Scotland. The service and presentation of the historic Honours will be a reminder of the monarch’s role in Scotland and the older Union of Crowns of 1603. It will also have yet more political symbolism following Devolution and the Scottish Parliament, for 1953 there was no such settlement. Scots voted in favour of devolution during the 1997 referendum. The UK Parliament then passed the Scotland Act 1998 establishing a Scottish Parliament, which opened in 1999 – the first Scottish Parliament since 1707.

In this story

George Gross

George Gross

Visiting Research Fellow

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