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Why will the coronation take place at Westminster Abbey?

On 6 May, His Majesty King Charles III will become the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey since 1066. Ahead of the coronation, Dr George Gross explains the significance of this place of worship in the history of the British monarchy.

Westminster Abbey, one of the symbols of London and the United Kingdom, has witnessed numerous key events in British history. 39 monarchs were crowned in the Abbey, 16 royal weddings took place there, and for 30 British kings and queens, it became their final resting place.

In the 1040s, the Anglo-Saxon King Edward (later St Edward the Confessor) created a royal palace near the present-day Palace of Westminster on the banks of the river Thames. Nearby there was a Benedictine monastery, founded around 960 by King Edgar and St Dunstan. Following restructuring work, it was greatly enlarged and became known as ‘west minster’. Edward the Confessor was buried there in 1066, and his brother-in-law Harold, Earl of Wessex, was crowned the next day.

The image shows King William I The Conqueror.
William I The Conqueror. Iconography by John Smith

William the Conqueror, the Norman ruler who defeated King Harold at the battle of Hastings and ended Anglo-Saxon rule, wanted to be associated with Edward the Confessor. He was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day in 1066. The coronation combined the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the Witan (leading advisors of the country who would elect the monarch) and the Norman idea of a coronation where the ruler was selected based on inheritance, uniting the government, the monarchy, and the church in Westminster for the first time.

The image shows St Edward's Chair, famously known as the Coronation Chair.
The Coronation Chair

King Edward the Confessor was made a saint in 1161. His canonisation was essential in creating the holiness of Westminster Abbey as a house of Kings or Queens. On 13 October 1163, Edward the Confessor’s body was moved to a special shrine within the Abbey. Since then, every Westminster Abbey coronation has taken place in the vicinity of his shrine and, therefore, in the saint's presence. Successors were placed in St Edward's Chair, famously known as the Coronation Chair, and typically crowned with St Edward's Crown

Coronations of the past united the two cities of London, with the royal and political centre in Westminster and the financial one in the City. The new monarch would traditionally process from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall, and then on to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation. This year, the King’s Procession will begin from Buckingham Palace rather than the Tower of London.

state coach

The Gold State Coach was commissioned in 1760 for King George III. It was designed by Sir William Chambers and built in the London workshops of Samuel Butler in 1762.

On 6 May, His Majesty King Charles III will become the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey since 1066. Their Majesties will travel to the Abbey from Buckingham Palace in the newest of the royal carriages – the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, first used in 2014. The King’s Procession will be observed by thousands of spectators as it will follow the 1.3-mile (2.1km) route down the Mall to Trafalgar Square through Admiralty Arch, along Whitehall and Parliament Street to Parliament Square, bringing the King and Queen Consort to Westminster Abbey. Following the Service conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Their Majesties will return to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, used at every coronation since 1831, along the same route in reverse. The Royal family will then greet the crowds from the balcony to conclude the Coronation Day.

In this story

George Gross

George Gross

Visiting Research Fellow

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