Read ANECDOTES OF THE REGALIA AND ROYAL VESTMENTS of Coronation Anecdotes , free online book, by Giles Gossip, on ReadCentral.com.

“History the picture of man has shared the fate of its original.
It has had its infancy of Fable; its youth of Poetry; its manhood
of Thought, Intelligence, and Reflection.” Anon.

No 1. The Regal Chair.

The Regalia of England are the symbols of a monarchical authority that has been transmitted by coronation ceremonies for upwards of ten centuries. But the incorporation of England, Scotland, and Ireland, into one united kingdom, an event peculiar to the coronation of George iv, to have recognised, has connected the history of the Imperial Regalia with some tales of legendary lore, the truth of which, if this circumstance does not demonstrate, be assured, gentle reader, nothing will. Irish records are said to add at least another thousand years of substantial history to the honours of that solid regal seat, or coronation chair, in which our monarchs are both anointed and crowned: while some of our own “honest chroniclers” assign to it a still more marvellous antiquity.

Holinshed gives us the history of one Gathelus, a Greek, who brought from Egypt into Spain the identical stone on which the patriarch Jacob slept and “poured oil” at Luz. He was “the sonne of Cecrops, who builded the citie of Athens;” but having married Scota, the daughter of Pharaoh, he resided for some time in Egypt, from whence he was induced to remove into the West by the judgments pronounced on that country by Moses. In Spain, “having peace with his neighbors, he builded a citie called Brigantia (Compostella),” where he “sat vpon his marble stone, gave lawes, and ministred justice vnto his people, thereby to maintaine them in wealth and quietnesse,” And “Hereof it came to passe, that first in Spaine, after in Ireland, and then in Scotland, the kings which ruled over the Scotishmen received the crowne sittinge vpon that stone, vntill the time of Robert the First, king of Scotland.” In another part of his “Historie of Scotland,” Holinshed mentions king Simon Brech as having transmitted this stone to Ireland, about 700 years before the birth of Christ, and that “the first Fergus” brought it “out of Ireland into Albion,” B.C. 330. One important property of this stone should not be unnoticed. It is said, by the writers from whom the foregoing particulars are derived, to furnish a test of legitimate royal descent; yielding an oracular sound when a prince of the true blood is placed upon it, and remaining silent under a mere pretender to the throne. We heard various joyful acclamations on the recent “royal day;” but (perhaps from that very circumstance) could not distinguish the sound in question.

Apart from these legends, the real history of the [Saxon: hag-fail], or Fatal Stone, is curious; and has induced the learned Toland to call it “the antientest respected monument in the world.” It is to be traced, on the best authorities, into Ireland; whence it had been brought into Scotland, and had become of great notoriety in Argyleshire, some time before the reign of Kennith, or A.D. 834. This monarch found it at Dunstaffnage, a royal castle, enclosed it in a wooden chair, and removed it to the abbey of Scone, where for 450 years “all kingis of Scotland war crownit” upon it; or “quhil y^e tyme of Robert Bruse. In quhais tyme, besyde mony othir crueltis done be kyng Edward Lang Schankis, the said chiar of merbyll wes taikin be Inglismen, and brocht out of Scone to London, and put into Westmonistar, quhaer it remains to our dayis.”

An ancient Irish prophecy, quoted by Mr. Taylor in his learned “Glory of Regality,” assures us, that the possession of this stone is essential to the preservation of regal power. It runs literally, “The race of Scots of the true blood, if this prophecy be not false, unless they possess the Stone of Fate, shall fail to obtain regal power.” King Kennith caused the leonine verses following to be engraved on the chair:

Ni fallat fatum
Scoti quocunque locatum
Invenient lapidem
Regnare tenentur ibidem.

Thus given by Camden,

Or Fate is blind,
Or Scots shall find,
Where’er this stone
A royal throne.

A prophecy which is said to have reconciled many a true Scot to the Union in Queen Anne’s time; and which, since the extinction of the Stuart family, is remarkably fulfilled in the claims of the House of Brunswick, George iv. being now the legitimate heir of both lines.

At or near a consecrated stone, it was an ancient Eastern custom to appoint kings or chieftains to their office. Thus we read in Scripture of Abimelech being “made king by the plain of the pillar that was in Shechem,” (the earliest royal appointment, perhaps, of which we have any traces in history;) and of Joash having the “crown put upon him” while he “stood by a pillar, as the manner was.” Subsequently, and among the northern nations, the practice “was to form a circle of large stones, commonly twelve in number, in the middle of which one was set up, much larger than the rest: this was the royal seat; and the nobles occupied those surrounding it, which served also as a barrier to keep off the people who stood without. Here the leading men of the kingdom delivered their suffrages, and placed the elected king on his seat of dignity.” From such places, afterwards, justice was frequently dispensed.

“The old mun early rose, walk’d forth, and sate
On polished stone, before his palace gate;
With unguent smooth the lucid marble shone,
Where ancient Neleus sate, a rustic throne.”

HOMER’S Odyss. Pope’s Tr. [Greek: G]. 496 10.

Thus arises the name of our Court of King’s Bench.

At the coronation of our kings, the royal chair is now disguised in cloth of gold; but the wood-work, which forms its principal parts, is supposed to be the same in which Edward I. recased it, on bringing it to England.

Shakspeare’s RICHARD III. inquires

“Is the Chair empty? Is the Sword unswayed?
Is the King dead? The empire unpossessed?
What heir of York is there alive but We?”

And the Earl of Richmond describes him, in admirable allusion to the foregoing facts, as

“A base foul stone, made precious by the foil
Of England’s chair, where he is falsely set.”

No 2. Of the Crowns.

We, can only speak to the growth and antiquity of their present “fashion,” none of those now used being of older date than the reign of Charles II. This monarch issued a commission for the “remakeing such royall ornaments and regalia” as the rebellious Parliament of his father had destroyed, in which “the old names and fashions” were directed to be carefully sought after and retained. Upon this authority, we still have the national crown with which our monarchs are actually invested called St. EDWARD’S, although the Great Seal of the Confessor exhibits him wearing a crown of a very different shape.

Whether the parent of our present crowns were the Eastern fillet, in the tying on which there was great ceremony, according to Selden, the Roman or Grecian wreath, a “corruptible crown” of laurel, olive, or bay, or the Jewish diadem of gold, we shall leave to antiquarian research.

“This high imperial type of [England’s] glory”

has slowly advanced, like the monarchy itself, to its present commanding size and brilliant appearance. From the coins and seals of the respective periods, several of our Anglo-Saxon princes appear to have worn only a fillet of pearl, and others a radiated diadem, with a crescent in front. AEthelstan’s crown was of a more regular shape, resembling a modern earl’s coronet. On king Alfred’s there was the singular addition of “two little bells;” and the identical crown worn by this prince seems to have been long preserved at Westminster, if it were not the same which is described in the Parliamentary Inventory of 1642, as “King Alfred’s crowne of gould wyer worke, sett with slight stones.” Sir Henry Spelman thinks, there is some reason to conjecture that “the king fell upon the composing of an imperial crown;” but what could he mean by this accompaniment?

Gradually the crown grew from ear to ear, and then from the back to the forehead; sometimes it is represented as encircling a cap or helm, and sometimes without. William the Conqueror and his successor wore it on a cap adorned with points, and with “labels hanging at each ear;” the Plantagenets a diadem ornamented with fleurs de lis or strawberry leaves, between which were small globes raised, or points rather lower than the leaves; Richard III. or Henry VII. introduced the crosses; about the same time (on the coins of Henry VII.) the arches first appear; and the subsequent varieties of shape are in the elevation or depression of the arches. The maiden queen wore them remarkably high.

Blood’s exploit with the new crown of Charles II. is told to all the young visitors at the Tower. It is only wonderful that, in that age of plots, no political object or accusation was connected with it. The beautiful dialogue which our great dramatist puts into the mouth of Henry IV. and his son, who had taken the crown from his dying father’s pillow, we could willingly transcribe entire:

K. Henry. O foolish youth! Thou seek’st a greatness that will overwhelm thee. Stay but a little; for my cloud of dignity Is held from falling by so weak a wind, That it will quickly drop; my day is dim. Thou hast stolen THAT, which after some few hours Were thine without offence; and at my death Thou hast sealed up my expectation; Thy life did manifest thou lovedst me not; And thou wilt have me die assured of it.

P. Henry. O pardon me, my Liege! but for my tears, (The moist impediments unto my speech,) I had forestalled this clear and deep rebuke, Ere you with grief had spoke, and I had heard The course of it so far. There is your CROWN And He that wears the crown immortally Long guard it yours! Coming to look on you, thinking you dead, (And dead almost, my Liege, to think you were,) I spake unto the crown, as having sense, And thus upbraided it. ’The care on thee depending Hath fed upon the body of my father; Therefore thou best of gold art worst of gold; Other, less fine in carat, is more precious, Preserving life, in medicine potable: But thou, most fine, most honoured, most renowned, Hast eat thy bearer up!’”

It is the same prince who afterwards so well apostrophizes his own greatness:

“O, be sick, great Greatness!
And bid thy ceremony give thee cure.
Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out
With titles blown from adulation?
Will it give place to flexure and low bending?
Canst thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee,
Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,
That play’st so subtly with a king’s repose,
I am a king that find thee; and I know,
’Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farsed title running ’fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shoar of this world;
No, not all these thrice gorgeous ceremonies,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave.”

No 3. The Sceptre

Is a more ancient symbol of royalty than the crown. Homer speaks of “sceptred kings” [Greek: skeptouchoi basilees]; and the book of Genesis, “of far elder memory,” of a sceptre, as denoting a king or supreme governor. There is a very early form of delivering this ensign of authority preserved in the Saxon coronation services; and the coins and seals of succeeding reigns usually place it in the hand of our monarchs. Very anciently, too, our kings received at their coronations a sceptre for the right hand, surmounted by a cross; and for the left, sometimes called the verge, one that terminated in a globe, surmounted by a dove. The two great symbols of the Christian religion are thus professedly embraced; but the monarch never appears with two sceptres except on this occasion.

No 4. The Ampulla, or Golden Eagle

And the “holy oil” which is poured from it, are connected, like the royal chair, with some of the miracles that no one now believes, and with some interesting historical facts.

Amongst the honours bestowed by the Virgin on St. Thomas a Becket, (according to a MS. in the Cotton Library,) he received from our Lady’s own hands, at Sens, in France, a golden eagle, and a small phial of stone or glass, containing an unction, on whose virtues she largely expatiated. Being then in banishment, he was directed to give them in charge to a monk of Poictiers, who hid them in St. Gregory’s church at that place, where they were discovered in the reign of Edward III., with a written account of the vision; and, being delivered to the Black Prince, were deposited safely in the Tower. Henry IV. is said to be the first prince anointed with these vessels.

“Holy oil” still retains its use, if not its virtue, in our coronations. The king was formerly anointed on the head, the bowings of the arms, on both shoulders, and between the shoulders, on the breast, and on the hands; but the cérémonials of the last two coronations only prescribe the anointing of the head, breast, and hands. In these, too, nothing is said of the “consecration” of the oil, which seems anciently to have been performed on the morning of the coronation.

Historically, the custom of anointing kings is to be traced to the times of the Jewish judges; the consecration of one of whose descendants, Abimelech (before noticed), connects the subject with the earliest and one of the most beautiful fables of the East that of the trees going forth to anoint a king. Selden regards this fable as a proof “that anointing of kings was of known use in the eldest times,” and “that solemnly to declare one to be a king, and to anoint a king, in the Eastern parts, were but synonymies.” The elegant allusion to the olive tree, “honouring both God and man” with its “fatness” or oil, should not escape us, as corroborating this conjecture. This poem is dated by the learned antiquary “about 200 years before the beginning of the [Jewish] kingdom in Saul.”

We have several instances in Scripture of the inauguration of the Jewish kings by anointing, and of its being performed at the express command of God a circumstance which was held to communicate an official sanctity to their persons, their attire, &c. The noble David twice spares the life of his bitterest enemy, Saul, upon this ground. “Jéhovah shall smite him,” he says; “or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into the battle, and perish” “Who can stretch forth his hand against Jehovah’s anointed, and be guiltless?” and he finely alludes to the general reverence of his country for these appointments, when he exclaims, in his memorable ode over his fallen rival, “The shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though it had not been anointed with oil!”

With the spread of Christianity, or rather of the papal domination, over the kingdoms of western Europe, came the adoption of this rite into the coronation ceremonies of its princes. It at once increased the influence of the church, and surrounded the monarch with a popular veneration. The three distinct anointings yet retained (i.e. on the head, breast, and hands or arms,) were said by Becket to indicate glory, holiness, and fortitude: another prelate, one of the greatest scholars of his age, assured our Henry III., that as all former sins were washed away in baptism, “so also by this unction.”

“Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an ANOINTED king,”

Richard II. is made to say, by Shakspeare, on the invasion of Bolingbroke. Sir Walter Scott, in his notes to Marmion, speaks of a singular ancient consecration of the kings of arms in Scotland, who seem to have had a regular coronation down to the middle of the sixteenth century, only that they were anointed with wine instead of oil.

No 5. The Royal Swords

Are named, Curtana, or the Sword of Mercy; the Sword of Justice to the Spirituality; the Sword of Justice to the Temporality; and the Sword of State. Of these the last alone is actually used in the coronation, being that with which the king is girded after his anointing; the rest are only carried before him by certain great officers. But Curtana has been honoured with a proper name since the reign of Henry III., at whose coronation it was carried by the Earl of Chester. It is a flat sword, without a point; looking to which circumstance, and to its being also entitled the Sword of Mercy, some etymologists have traced it to the Latin curto, to cut short; while other writers, among whom is the learned Mr. Taylor, would transfer our researches to the scenes of ancient chivalry, and the exploits of Oger the Dane, or Orlando, as affording the title to this appendage of the monarchy, “The sword of Tristan,” says this writer, “is found (ubi lapsus!) among the regalia of king John; and that of Charlemagne, Joyeuse, was preserved to grace the coronations of the kings of France. The adoption of these titles was, indeed, perfectly consonant with the taste and feeling of those ages, in which the gests of chivalry were the favourite theme of oral and historical celebration; and when the names of Durlindana, of Curtein, or Escalibere, would nerve the warrior’s arm with a new and nobler energy.”

The Sword of Justice to the Spirituality is obtuse, that of Justice to the Temporality sharp at the point. “Henry VIII.,” says a writer in a respectable periodical publication for July, “seems to have exercised his taste in endeavouring to abolish this discrepancy.”

No 6. Of the Ring, Spurs, and Orb; and St. Edward’s Staff.

In the book of Genesis we read of Pharaoh’s ring being given by him to Joseph, as a method of investing him with power: and thus the Persian monarch Ahasuerus transferred his authority to Haman and to Mordecai. What is added in the Scripture narration of one of these latter cases will illustrate the significancy of this mode of investiture. “Then were the king’s scribes called, on the thirteenth day of the first month; and there was written according to all that Haman commanded unto the king’s lieutenants, and to the governors that were over every province to every people after their language; in the name of king Ahasuerus was it written, and sealed with the king’s ring.”

Of the golden ring with which our kings are invested, as “the ensign of royal dignity, and of defence of the catholic faith,” there is yet another miracle of the coronation to relate. A certain “fayre old man” having asked alms of St. Edward the Confessor, he had nothing at hand to bestow upon him but his ring. Shortly after, two English pilgrims lost their way in the Holy Land, when “there came to them a fayr ancient man, wyth whyte heer for age. Thenne the olde man axed theym what they were, and of what regyon. And they answerde that they were pylgryms of England, and hadde lost theyr fellyshyp and way also. Thenne thys olde man comforted theym goodly, and brought theym in to a fayre cytee; and whanne they had well refreshed theym, and rested there alle nyhte, on the morne, this fayre olde man went with theym, and brought theym in the ryght waye agayne. And he was gladde to here theym talke of the welfare and holynesse of theyr kynge Saynt Edward. And whan he shold depart fro theym, thenne he tolde theym what he was, and sayd, ’I am JOHAN THE EVANGELYST; and saye ye vnto Edward your kyng, that I grete him well by the token that he gaff to me, thys rynge, with hys one handes.’”

By the exact mode that we have quoted from Scripture, do we find Offa, king of the East Angles, appointing Edmund as his successor; and with the ring, it is noticed, with which he had been invested at his own promotion to the royal dignity.

On the detention of James II. by the fishermen of Sheerness, in his first attempt at escape from this country, in 1688, it is particularly noticed in his Memoirs, “The king kept the diamond bodkin which he had of the queen’s, and the coronation ring, which for more security he put into his drawers.” The captain, it appeared, was well acquainted with the dispositions of his crew; (one of whom “cried out, ’It is father Petre I know him by his lantern jaws;’ a second called him an ‘old hatchet-faced Jesuit;’ and a third, ’a cunning old rogue, he would warrant him!’) for, some time after he was gone, and probably by his order, several seamen entered the king’s cabin, saying they must search him and the gentlemen, believing they had not given up all their money. The king and his companions told them that they were at liberty to do so, thinking that their readiness would induce them not to persist; but they were mistaken; the sailors began their search with a roughness and rudeness which proved they were accustomed to the employment: at last, one of them, feeling about the king’s knee, got hold of the diamond bodkin, and cried out, with the usual oath, he had found a prize, but the king boldly declared he was mistaken. He had, indeed, scissors, a tooth-pick case, and little keys in his pocket, and what he felt was undoubtedly one of those articles. The man still seemed incredulous, and rudely thrust his hand into the king’s pocket; but in his haste he lost hold of the diamond bodkin, and finding the things the king mentioned, remained satisfied it was so: by this means the bodkin and ring were preserved.” Whatever may be our opinion of the conduct of the monarch, we cannot follow him into these scenes without compassion for the exile, whose family seems to have been born to demonstrate how much of our pity unfortunate princes may claim, apart from their personal worth.

This is said to have been originally a favourite ring of the beautiful but unfortunate Mary queen of Scots; to have been sent by her, at her death, to James I.; through whom it came into the possession of our Charles I., and on his execution, was transmitted by bishop Juxon to his son. It lately came into the possession of his present Majesty, through the channels by which he has obtained all the remaining papers of the house of Stuart.

Richard II. resigned the crown to Henry IV. by transferring to him his ring. A paper was put into Richard’s hands, from which he read an acknowledgment of being incapable of the royal office, and worthy, from his past conduct, to be deposed; that he freely absolved his subjects from their allegiance, and swore by the holy Gospels never to act in opposition to this surrender: adding, that if it were left wholly to him to name the future monarch, it should be Henry of Lancaster, to whom he then gave his ring.

The SPURS are a very ancient emblem of knighthood; in later coronations, the abundance of ceremonies has only allowed time for the king’s heel to be touched with them. At the battle of Crecy, when Edward III. was requested to send reinforcements to his son, his reply was: “No; tell Warwick he shall have no assistance. Let the boy win his spurs.”

The ORB, or MOUND (Fr. monde), is an emblem of sovereignty, said to be derived from imperial Rome; and to have been first adorned with the cross by Constantine, on his conversion to Christianity. It first appears among the royal insignia of England on the coins of Edward the Confessor; but Mr. Strutt authenticates a picture of Edgar, “made in the year 996,” which represents that prince kneeling between two saints, who bear severally his sceptre and a globe surmounted by a cross. This part of the regalia being inductive of supreme political power, has never been placed in the hands of any but kings or queens regnant. In the anomalous case of the coronation of William and Mary as joint sovereigns the ‘other world,’ that Alexander wept for, was created; and the spare orb is still to be seen amongst the royal jewels of England!

The only remaining member of the regalia now in use is St. EDWARD’S Staff; but whether so called from any of the pilgrimages of the Confessor from its being designed to remind our monarchs of their being but pilgrims on earth or simply from its being offered with the other regalia at that monarch’s shrine, on the coronation of our kings, we have not the means of determining. All the regalia are supposed, indeed, to be in the custody of the Dean, as the successor of the Abbot of Westminster, at the period of each coronation.

No 7. The Royal Vestments

Of England are amongst the most gorgeous “makings of a king” known to history. In the robes ordinarily designed to be worn in Parliament; and consisting of a surcoat of the richest crimson velvet, and a mantle and hood of the same, furred with ermine, and bordered with gold lace, the king first makes his appearance on the Coronation day; (on which he wears a cap of state, of the same materials, and at this time only.) These are, therefore, called his Parliament Robes, in distinction from the Robes of Estate, for which he exchanges them in the Abbey, at the close of the coronation, and which only differ from the former in being made of purple velvet.

These sumptuous external robes are of course laid aside during the anointing, and other parts of the coronation service.

The ARMIL, or STOLE, is the only ecclesiastic symbol now retained in the investiture of our kings. In “MS. W. Y. in the College of Arms,” quoted by Mr. Taylor, Henry VI. is said to have been “arrayed at the time of his coronation as a bishop that should sing mass, with a dalmatic like a tunic, and a stole about his neck.” This writer insists that the conductors of our English coronations since Henry VII.’s time (at the least) have very singularly mistaken the Stole for the Armil of more ancient times, and transferred to the latter the form of delivery originally designed for “a BRACELET or royal ornament of the wrist.” It is singular that the form in question should appear, as it certainly does, to suit either symbol. “Receive this armil as a token of the divine mercy embracing thee on every side.” The ornament at present in use embraces the neck.