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Fourteen "Continuity" versus "Change": Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
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"Continuity" versus "Change": Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods

David J. Sturdy

English coronations have received their due share of scholarly attention over the last hundred years or so. The essay that comprises this chapter traces one theme in the historiography of the subject: the tendency for some writers to emphasize "continuity" between coronations, whereas others stressed change, innovation, departure from tradition. The title of the essay may seem to threaten a mere chronicle of those historians who favored the one approach as against those who adopted the second. But something more ambitious is intended: an attempt to assess how far the broader mental interests and preoccupations of certain scholars could draw them to a particular position vis-à-vis "continuity" or "change." Further, the essay intends to say something of the interpretation of English medieval coronations current when John Joseph Brückmann began his researches, and to comment on his own contribution to the debate on "continuity" or "change."

The Henry Bradshaw Circle

A controversy over continuity or change flourished at the turn of the nineteenth century into the twentieth. Serious studies of the English coronation first appeared in the 1800s; there were published such classics as Arthur Taylor, The Glory of Regality: An Historical Treatise of the Anointing and Crowning of the Kings and Queens of England (London, 1820); T. C. Banks, An Historical Account of the Ancient and Modern Forms, Pageantry and Ceremony, of the Coronations of the Kings of England (London, 1820); and William Maskell, Monumenta Ritualia Ecclesiae Anglicanae , 3 vols. (London, 1846–1847). It is this last work that introduces the origins of the controversy, for Maskell wrote not as a restrained, dispassionate scholar, but as one possessing deep religious convictions that gave his writing a strongly teleological quality. He was steeped


in that High Anglicanism that found rich expression in the Oxford Movement and which set some of its adherents, including Maskell himself, on the spiritual road to Rome. At this juncture a few words on the Oxford Movement are appropriate.[1] Led in its early stages by John Keble (1792–1868), John Henry Newman (1801–1890), and Edmund Pusey (1800–1882), and destined to exert a profound influence upon nineteenth-century Anglicanism, the movement first bloomed in the 1830s and 1840s. It sought to elevate certain principles in the struggle to restore High Anglicanism to preeminence in the church; those principles included veneration for ancient liturgical practices. The main thesis advanced by the Oxford Movement may be summarized as follows, although with much simplification and therefore distortion: the Anglican Church was the depository of "authentic" or "pure" Catholicism, which Rome had foresaken. It had preserved Catholicism through many trials and tribulations, but now stood in danger of betraying its mission: in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Evangelical wing of the church had acquired excessive influence, while the church as a whole was tending to slip into an easy-going Latitudinarianism. If the Anglican church were to remain faithful to its calling it must diminish the influence of the Evangelicals and restore High Anglicanism with its stresses upon tradition, apostolic succession, authority, and a liturgy based on ancient ritual.

Maskell (c. 1814–1890) found in High Anglicanism a religious ethos conducive to his own spiritual development; indeed, like John Henry Newman he was to evolve beyond High Anglicanism to become a convert to Roman Catholicism, in his case in 1850. Before that he acquired public notoriety in 1840 when he attacked the bishop of Norwich, Edward Stanley, for his Latitudinarianism. Maskell, who had entered holy orders, was appointed rector of Coscombe in Devon in 1842; he resigned on his conversion in 1850 but spent the rest of his life in the west country writing upon matters of antiquarian interest. Many of his works dealt with aspects of liturgy, including his Monumenta Ritualia . Its pages contain abundant material on English coronations and remained a standard work of reference on the subject into the twentieth century.

His interpretation of the coronation was to help initiate the late nineteenth-century debate in two respects. First, the general proposition (which runs through many of his early compositions) that the Anglican church had preserved authentic Catholicism over the centuries, incorporated a subsiduary thesis that the church likewise had preserved authentic coronation ritual. The one followed from the other; and just as the ceremonial of Anglican worship stretched back across the centuries in magnificently uniform prospect (admittedly with some lapses along the way!), so did that of the English coronation whose purity and consistency in essentials had been defended by the church. "Continuity" was the hallmark of the coronation.


Second, Maskell's presentation of the coronation suggested that the "protection" given to the ceremony by the Anglican church both symbolized and helped to create a uniquely "English" association between church and state. From at least the tenth century a form of "national synthesis" between church and state existed, which had no exact parallel anywhere in Europe. The association served both parties immaculately: the king, possessing certain ecclesiastical attributes, helped the church to defend itself against heresy or deviation, while the church helped to preserve the legitimacy of monarchy and the purity of the coronation. This tradition of mutual aid helped to explain the capacity of the Anglican church to avoid the errors into which Rome had fallen; it also saved the monarchy from degenerating into the absolutism and despotism that afflicted so many continental dynasties. Viewed from this perspective, that most controversial of episodes, the "Henrician Reformation," ceased to represent a major rupture in traditional relations between church and state; it became a restatement or reinterpretation of those relations, even if the minutiae of Henry's conduct (especially his matrimonial escapades) hardly commended themselves to a sensitive High Anglican of the Victorian age!

A modern commentator doubtless would find much that was defective in the implications of Maskell's work; but this scholar found general support among a group of remarkable writers who studied coronations in the 1890s and early 1900s. Serious coronation studies in English rarely have flourished as they did at the turn of the century. To appreciate how abundant in scholarship those years were one has but to recall such names as Wickham Legg, Wordsworth, Macleane, Dewick, and others who brought to the subject minds of high caliber and a historical methodology based on the newest ideas. Although these writers published a variety of books and articles, the medium through which they announced some of their most original propositions, and the one which served to define them as a "school," was the Proceedings of the Henry Bradshaw Society. Bradshaw (1831–1886) spent most of his career at Cambridge University Library, where he was librarian from 1867 until his death.[2] He too was High Anglican, although he repudiated some of the more extreme views of some of his associates. He also tempered his regard for ancient liturgy with a desire to submit liturgy to historical analysis. He conveyed his enthusiasm to other scholars, who formed the society and journal named after him. The aim of the Henry Bradshaw Society was to track down old liturgical texts chiefly, although by no means exclusively, deriving from the church in England (coronation records were considered to come within their purview), to publish them, and to accompany the printed texts with explanatory introductions and annotation. The Proceedings of the society are representative of the late-Victorian penchant for basing historical research as much as possible on original sources. The late 1800s were a time when in England as on the continent the great official archival collections


were being organized, important private collections were being made available to scholars, and when documents of many types were being printed in bulk so as to distribute the "raw material" of history as widely as possible.[3] The Henry Bradshaw Society conformed to the age as it published an impressive corpus of annotated texts. The Proceedings included ample material on coronations of the medieval and early-modern periods; every student of English coronations has cause to feel a whole-hearted gratitude to the Henry Bradshaw circle whose scholarly labors laid the foundations of later coronation studies.

The publications of the Bradshaw group nevertheless did not go unquestioned either in their method or in their import. For all the apparent objectivity with which members of the group undertook their research, critics discerned a tendentious character in their writing: a strong desire to vindicate the High Anglicanism of the Oxford Movement and its latter-day disciples. Those who deprecated the work of the Henry Bradshaw group held that the "disinterestedness" of much of its research was putative; they chided Bradshaw scholars for having employed methods that appeared to be "scientific" but which in practice were leading to predetermined conclusions. When such charges were applied specificially to coronations, they reproached the Bradshawists for having reinforced without discrimination the thesis suggested by Maskell: English coronation ritual maintained its consistency save in peripheral or unimportant detail, this continuity exemplifying the unbroken association between church and state which underpinned English liberty in politics and right belief in matters of religion.

The most comprehensive assault on the Bradshaw group came from the pen of a Jesuit, Herbert Thurston, whose book, The Coronation Ceremonial (London, 1902),[4] attempted to set the record straight. He stated his objections to the Henry Bradshaw scholars:

But I must confess that while paying tribute to the pains spent by some of the Bradshaw Society editors in editing texts, the net result of all that was then written seems to me profoundly disappointing. Of scholarly and impartial discussion of the many complicated problems suggested by the Coronation Service there is hardly a trace. The whole effort of the writers engaged was to make this question of ritual subservient to a highly controversial purpose, bolstering up a set of highly disputable propositions regarding the ecclesiastical character of the Sovereign, and the supposed independence of the English Church before the Reformation, which no Continental scholar, or for the matter of that no English scholar outside the Ritualist camp, could for a moment regard as established. The mot d'ordre seems to have been given in certain articles of Dr. Wickham Legg, and writer has followed writer echoing his words, quoting his proofs, even exaggerating his conclusions, without contributing a single new fact and hardly so much as a new illustration. Practically speaking, the history of our Coronation Orders still stands where Mr. Maskell's Monumenta Ritualia


left it years ago. . . . The one aim of all concerned has seemed to be to ignore all the connections and parallels which link the English Ordines to Rome and Germany, except in so far as a reference to foreign usages might occasionally be made useful to enforce some pet Anglican theory.[5]

Thurston's general broadside included some specific targets. One was the historian Henry Wakeman whose Introduction to the Church of England (London, 1896) vigorously expounded a self-confident, High Anglican interpretation of the history of the church (the final chapter of the book—"The Oxford Movement, 1833–1896"—was nothing less than an apologia; it defined the movement as, "the complete reaction against the Protestant movement of the sixteenth century"[6] ). Another was F. C. Eeles, author of The English Coronation Service: Its History and Teaching (Oxford, 1902), who stressed the "Englishness" of the coronation ceremony, and the "priestly" nature of the king. But the Jesuit was not merely negative in his remarks; he attempted to correct these Anglicans in three principal areas.

First, Thurston conceded that the "continuity" thesis regarding the ritual of the coronation was tenable with tolerable justification as far as Charles II. But the coronation of James II and even more so that of William III and Mary, included such striking deviation from tradition that a neutral observer surely would conclude that a change of character had indeed taken place; and further, that no English coronation since then had fully restored pre-1685 ritual and meaning.[7]

Second, at no stage could the pre-1685 ceremony be said to have been wholly "English"; that is, immune from outside influences. Thurston examined the four known recensions of the medieval coronation Order. The first or "Egbertine" (fragments of which he traced to the ninth century, the main copies coming in the tenth) he considered to reveal some Scottish or Gallic influences, although no Roman.[8] The second, or "Order of King Ethelred," he placed in the tenth century as having been used at the coronation of Edgar in 973. This recension augmented the first by drawing upon ritual of the coronation of Emperor Otto the Great. Thurston's source on this point was Anton Diemand, Das Ceremoniell der Kaiserkrönungen von Otto I bis Friedrich II (Munich, 1894), who indicated the links with the coronation of Edgar: "But of all this our liturgiologists tell us nothing. It would involve the suggestion that, when the English Churchmen before the Conquest wanted to enhance the dignity of their liturgical forms, they turned their eyes Romewards and borrowed Rome prayers. So Dr. Diemand is left out in the cold. There is not one of the Henry Bradshaw editors, so far as I can make out, who so much as condescends even to mention his book."[9] Of the third Order Thurston has little to say; he devotes only one paragraph to it, asserting that Norman influences are traceable in the prayers.[10] The fourth and most important recension, copied in the Liber Regalis preserved in Westminster


Abbey, contains, he says, "fresh prayers which seem to be borrowed from the Roman Coronation rituals."[11] This was the recension used at the coronation of Edward II and which was the model for all other coronations to 1685.

The third respect in which Thurston sought to remedy the "shortcomings" of the Bradshaw editors concerned those qualities of the king attested by the coronation. Here the objects of his displeasure were Wickham Legg, Eeles, but especially Douglas Macleane's The Great Solemnity of the Coronation of the King and Queen of England (London, 1902). These authors, he protested, alleged that pre-Reformation coronations portrayed the king as a priestly figure who in certain senses shared spiritual authority with the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Thereby, Macleane and others were able to construct the elaborate but erroneous fiction that when Henry VIII assumed headship of the church no revolutionary change was implied, doctrine was unaffected, the king was doing little more than refining a traditional relationship. Here, argued Thurston, the High Anglicans most grievously were at fault. In their desire to expound their understanding of the Anglican church, and in the interests of communicating their vision to others, they were guilty of abusing historical truth. Thurston devoted a whole chapter of his book to a demonstration that the English coronation never recognized spiritual authority of the king within the church.[12] For Thurston the Reformation emphatically marked a breach with the past; the post-Reformation Church of England was not that of the pre-Reformation era. In this, as in the history of the coronation, the Henry Bradshaw group had contrived a continuity not borne out by the facts.

It is no part of the present exercise to attempt a detailed assessment of the tenability of Thurston's objections to the content and implications of the publications of the Bradshaw circle. It can be noted, nevertheless, that even a writer broadly sympathetic to his position—Dom C. Smith in an article published in 1953[13] —conceded that Thurston overstated his case. For one thing the Bradshaw group did not take continuity as implying immutability. Dewick, Wickham Legg and others were aware—indeed, they had demonstrated—that coronation ritual evolved over the centuries. In a somewhat rough-and-ready simile, coronation ritual may be likened to a plant: it grows, produces new foliage, buds and flowers, shedding dead leaves in the process, but it remains the same plant. Similarly, it would be naive to pretend that English coronation ritual did not change during the course of the Middle Ages; but the essence of the ceremony remained unimpaired; it was still the "English" coronation. In short, the concept of continuity was capable of comprehending change of a certain order. An example of this mode of reasoning is an article by H. A. Wilson in 1901 in which he surveyed the four recensions of the coronation Order,[14] drawing heavily on Henry Bradshaw Society publications for his material. His conclusion was that, "The general tendency in the development of the service down to the formation of the


fourth order is towards accretion."[15] From coronation to coronation the ceremony grew in complexity, some features being discarded; yet in all essentials it remained the same down to the early-modern period.[16] Change in ritual was reconcilable with the concept of the continuity of the coronation. Again, the Bradshaw group was by no means ignorant of, or blind to, interaction between English and continental coronations. A publication such as E. S. Dewick (ed.) The Coronation Book of Charles V of France , (London: Henry Bradshaw Society, vol. 16 1899) was at pains to acknowledge the similarities between the English and French ceremonies. It is possible to query the manner in which the Bradshaw editors treated cross-currents between English and the continent, but it would be false to suppose that they depicted English coronations as the product solely of native traditions untouched by outside influences.

English coronations, and that part of their history related to the question of continuity or change, were absorbed into a campaign for the "soul" of the Anglican church. We would do well to avoid an attitude of censoriousness toward scholars involved in the controversy. For all the lip-service paid to Ranke and his disciples with their call for "objectivity" in the writing of history, and for all the meticulous attention paid by scholars to primary sources, most historians in late-Victorian England sensed a duty to seek moral, religious, political laws in history which would raise English civilization to ever more splendid heights. Even the greatest scholars were inveterate searchers after "Truth" in their study of the past, being ever prepared to point to a moral or to read into history signs of the present times.[17] Inasmuch as the Bradshaw circle derived certain lessons from history, lessons that confirmed their own religious convictions, they were typical of the age. It should occasion no surprise that they used their scholarship as they did.

The Coronation and Kingship

Since the early decades of the twentieth century our knowledge and understanding of English coronations have been greatly augmented and corrected. New material has been unearthed, the comparative analysis of coronations has proceeded apace, the relations between coronations and their political or social circumstances have been explored, while documents that have long been well known have been reassessed or reinterpreted in more variegated ways than in the past. That is not to say that the potential for differences of opinion among scholars has appreciably diminished; quite the contrary. To take but the years since the 1940s, the study of English coronations has engendered stimulating, productive debates freed from cloying religious or political piety. Over the last forty years or so coronation studies have attracted first-rate scholars who have maintained the subject in the forefront of research into the Middle Ages. It must be said that much credit for this


healthy state of affairs is owned to non-British scholars among whom such names as Schramm and Kantorowicz are, of course, especially notable. In the case of Schramm it was his general history of the English coronation (the English translation appeared in 1937) that supplied the synthesis of the subject against which further research could be measured. The theme of "continuity" or "change" was given a new lease of life not so much in connection with the internal study of coronations, as with regard to the implications of coronation studies for other branches of medieval history. This is well illustrated in the case of works on the evolution of English kingship. The ritual of the coronation may not have been designed as a comprehensive embodiment of the medieval constitution, but the ceremony was not without significance as a statement on the relation between the king and his subjects.

It was H. G. Richardson who observed that while contemporaries in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries regarded unction as the climax to the coronation, for present-day scholars it was the oath that inspired most interest.[18] During the 1940s and 1950s there developed a far-reaching debate on the oath, in which there loomed large the question of whether the oath remained unchanged, thus sustaining forces of continuity in the concept of kingship, or whether it had undergone amendment in accordance with shifting ideas on monarchy. Paradoxically, historians had at once too much and too little material with which to work. Too much in the sense that, as regards those coronations for which the terms of the oath were extant (such as those of 1308 and 1327), several versions in Latin and in French were available, each displaying individual traits. By what criteria, therefore, could greater or lesser authenticity or authority be attributed to one as against another? How were differences between them to be explained? Of what significance were those differences? But too little in the sense that for many coronations no text of the oath had been discovered. In such cases how far was it safe to depend on the continuity principle and to take for granted that no changes of substance had occured? Thus, while it was conceivable that the coronation oath potentially was a valuable aid to medieval constitutional history, there was an intricate task of textual criticism to be undertaken as a preliminary.

Many articles of the 1940s and 1950s were devoted to that end.[19] It emerged that the oaths taken at two coronations deserved special attention. The first was that taken by Edward I in 1274. It was accepted by scholars that royal coronation oaths normally contained three promises: to preserve peace and to defend the church; to uphold just laws and to abrogate the unjust; to dispense justice to all without favor. But H. G. Richardson argued that a fourth clause was inserted into the oath of Edward I: "that the king would preserve the rights of the kingship—iura regni —unimpaired, and that nothing affecting the rights of the crown would be done without the counsel of the prelates and great men of the realm."[20] The evidence for the fourth clause was circumstantial, for the actual words of Edward I's oath had never


been discovered; nevertheless, Richardson considered that the indications were so convincing that the existence of an extra clause in 1274 could not be doubted. If he was right, what were the constitutional implications of the new clause? To this question Richardson was unable to provide a clear-out answer; but whatever the thinking behind the clause there were, he suggested, remarkable short-term consequences. The king used the clause to ward off papal intervention in English affairs, to resist incursions by barons upon royal rights, and to overcome resistance by the clergy to certain royal nominations to benefices.[21] The fourth clause, in other words, served to dilate royal power. It must be said, however, that skillfully as Richardson argued his case, he had inferred rather than demonstrated the existence of the clause. If the inference was sound then the constitutional implications were truly prodigious: rejection by the crown of almost any unbidden limitations on its actions; a triumphant Erastianism redolent of the sixteenth century; and a drive toward absolute monarchy that portended conflicts of the seventeenth century.

The second oath to merit scrutiny was that of Edward II. Historians reacted with more confidence in this instance, for the coronation of 1308 is exceedingly well documented: this was the ceremony at which the fourth recension of the Order was first employed, while the terms of the oath are available in Latin and in French. Moreover, the context within which the coronation took place is intriguing on several counts. The fact that late in the day the coronation was postponed from 18 February to 25 February invites explanation; was there a serious breach between the king and the archbishop of Canterbury who was out of the country? The disordered state of relations between Edward II and the barons hints at implications for the coronation, as does the ill-grace displayed by earls resentful of the honors bestowed upon the parvenu Piers de Gaveston. These and other possibilities have been countenanced by scholars, whose assembled works make the 1308 coronation the most closely scrutinized of English medieval crowning ceremonies.[22]

The oath taken by Edward II contrasted with that of his predecessors in that it did include a fourth clause; even if it is conceded that an additional clause had been inserted in 1274, again that of 1308 was different. In this new clause (which was administered and responded to in French, not in Latin; it is the French version that is authoritative), the king was asked: "Sire, grauntez vous a tenir et garder les leys et les custumes droitureles les quiels la communaute de vostre roiaume aura eslu, et les defendrez et efforcerez al honour de Dieu, a vostre poer?"[23] The key phrase is: "les quiels la communaute de vostre roiaume aura eslu." Did it imply that the king not only bound himself to rule within the confines of existing law but covenanted to subject himself to future and thus unpredictable law shaped, perhaps, by the caprice of hostile fortune? If so, are we not confronted by a dramatic contrast with 1274 when English monarchy appeared poised to roll back limitations on its


power? In 1308 are we presented with the spectacle of a king whose power is strictly circumscribed, and whose relations with the "community of the realm" have undergone thorough revision?

Not necessarily so, according to one line of argument.[24] When the circumstances immediately surrounding the coronation are taken into account, the fourth clause palpably excites less controversy. Edward II, in an attempt to foster an atmosphere of political amity and cooperation at the beginning of his reign, sought means to restore the rapport between crown and magnates which had been eroded under Edward I. The coronation was useful to achieve that end. Contrary to what has sometimes been maintained, it is certain that the terms of the oath were not concocted in haste; they were composed with the utmost care, the king and his advisers consenting to them only after painstaking analysis of their implications. The oath stands as a genuine statement of the royal position, and as such ought not to be depicted as a form of "surrender" to magnates. The fourth clause in no sense justifies the proposition that the king's will was subordinated to that of his subjects. Its purpose was to reassure them, to placate them, to remove any fears that Edward II later would violate promises taken in 1308. As regards the phrase concerning laws yet to be enacted, even here there was no radical intent or meaning. Once more the king was aiming to be conciliatory. The point of the phrase was not that a new method of creating law was envisaged, or that law might be enacted in opposition to royal will, rather that the customary procedures for creating law would be followed, but that once law passed the king would abide by its provisions and rule according to its prescriptions, just as he promised to rule within existing law. If anything the fourth clause is consistent with the thesis of the growth of royal power: Edward II was prepared to take such an oath precisely because he was confident of his ability to control legislation and to determine that normally it would coincide with royal interest.

These were among the more controversial issues treated by the scholar whose premature death left such a deep sense of loss, personal and professional, among his friends and colleagues: John Joseph Brückmann. It was in his doctoral dissertation, English Coronations , 1216–1308: The Edition of the Coronation "Ordines" (University of Toronto, 1964) that he advanced his own thoughts on the oath. Those thoughts did not entirely confirm the views of Richardson. For Brückmann the oath may have indicated changes in the patern of kingship, but in a different sense from that advocated by Richardson. It should be stressed that the principal contribution of the thesis to coronations studies is textual. Brückmann took the four known recensions of the English coronation Order and presented them in a critical edition. In itself this was an achievement of the first magnitude. The recensions, of course, had long been known to and used by scholars; but the absence of a reliable, thoroughly annotated text of these essential documents had ham-


pered research for many decades. Brückmann produced a text that was masterly in its accuracy, in the sophistication of its analysis, and in the amplitude of its critical commentary. But the dissertation involved more than an exercise in textual presentation and criticism: it included a general history of English coronations from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. In these pages he delved into some of the more knotty problems facing historians; especially was he interested in investigating changes in the coronation oath and the extent to which those changes were of constitutional significance.

Brückmann argued that although the oath taken at some coronations has been lost, and that where texts have survived it is in several versions, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the oath as actually spoken by the king in the thirteenth century varied only marginally in wording and not at all in meaning. He disputed Richardson's claim that during the thirteenth century the traditional threefold oath was augmented by a fourth wherein the monarch swore to defend the rights and privileges attaching to kingship. He considered the evidence to be too circumstantial to be convincing. For Brückmann the thirteenth-century oath remained traditional and lends no support to the idea of innovation. He also queried Richardson's interpretation of the 1308 oath with its fourth clause. Even when the political background to the coronation of Edward II is taken into account, however, even admitting that the king on the eve of his crowning was seeking to placate his magnates, the constitutional principles involved in the proposition that the king will observe not only the established laws and customs of England, but in addition those which the community of the realm might elect in future, can only be deemed revolutionary. Brückmann saw the oath of 1308 as imposing severe limitations on the power of the king. It foreshadowed a monarchy subjected to unprecedented restrictions since the community of the realm at any time might impose legal constraints on royal action, constraints to which Edward II already had committed himself under oath. In the development of English monarchy, said Brückmann, the coronation of 1308 occupies a position of pivotal importance. Whereas Richardson perceived "change" in the coronation of 1274 and "continuity" in that of 1308, Brückmann saw the opposite.

The Coronation and Legitimation

So far this essay has considered the theme of continuity and change as it affected the ceremony of the coronation. In this last section it is proposed to adopted an "external" perspective—that of "legitimation"—and to consider the manner in which early-modern regimes in England contrived to used coronations to define and to propagate their legitimacy. There is no need to labor the point that one of the distinguishing features of the early-modern period, in English as well as in continental European history, is that the state


as we now understand it was beginning to emerge as a recognizable historical phenomenon. The interlocking themes that normally are considered to constitute the growth of the state are fully treated in literature on the subject:[25] the cult of monarchy, the development of new machinery of central and provincial government and administration, intervention in the economy, the creation of more powers of coercion and control of society, the steady expansion and management of the armed forces, and so forth. But it is also instructive to inquire whether coronations of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shed any light on the process whereby regimes legitimized themselves; especially in the case of England where dynasties came and went with comparative frequency, either through natural causes or revolution.

The theme of legitimation calls to mind, of course, the theories of Max Weber and his disciples. For Weber the legitimation process focuses on three categories: tradition and custom, the charisma of leadership, and the legality of a regime, that is, the extent to which it conforms to its statutory obligations.[26] Weber's model is an ideal-type concept useful for organizing the results of empirical research. How far is it of assistance in examining English coronations as instruments in the legitimation process?

There were occasions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when the legitimacy of a regime in a fundamental sense was at stake: was a particular monarch a rightful sovereign? A cloud of doubt hung over Henry VII. Later, Pius V's condemnation of Elizabeth I as heretic and his release of her subjects from obedience to the queen raised the specter of assassination attempts. The aftermath of the 1688 revolution saw the emergence of a Jacobite movement that, in spite of its tendencies toward internal division, was capable of mounting a serious challenge to the Orange and Hanoverian dynasties. In this regard the early modern period witnessed the revival of conditions that the Yorkist kings struggled against in the fifteenth century.[27] Then, Edward IV and Richard III, sensitive to the tenuous nature of their incumbency, exploited all ceremonials in the drive to validate the legitimacy of their rule. For them the coronation was indispensable to legitimation; hence the emphasis they placed on unction, that visible sign of divine approval of the "chosen one." In an age when poison, the dagger thrust, and on one celebrated occasion a hogshead of wine, were liable to be employed to dispatch pretenders or monarchs suspected of usurpation, no ceremony was too stagy, no myth too implausible to be availed of in the process of legitimation. And so Yorkist kings showed no compunction about circulating the story that the oil used at their coronations was none other than that transmitted miraculously to Thomas Becket by the Virgin by virtue of her special regard for the kings of England![28]

Early-modern coronations, at least up to 1685, were based on the fourth recension of the Order. The only change of note, which in no sense modified the meaning of the ceremony, was the use of English in place of Latin from


1603 onward. To this extent, therefore, the retention of the traditional Order even after the Reformation conforms to two of Weber's three criteria for legitimation: tradition and custom, and legality. But on closer inspection it appears that those parts of the coronation that did not carry implications for the actual crowning and unction could be amended if the regime wished to affirm a certain political or social point. The coronation of Elizabeth I provides a case in point. The ceremony followed the conventions until the mass. Then, according to some sources, when the host was about to be elevated the queen temporarily withdrew, dramatically exposing her rejection of transubstantiation.[29] Striking as this version of events is, it rests on the supposition that the host was indeed elevated. Other witnesses assert that the elevation was omitted from the mass, that the representatives of Catholic states withdrew from this part of the ceremony as an act of protest, and that Elizabeth I did not retire. At the time of the coronation of James I the Venetian ambassador even came up with a third version: that the host was elevated, that Elizabeth I remained in position, but that she covered her face with a handkerchief so as not to observe this objectionable act! Much ingenious detective work has been undertaken in an attempt to establish the facts, but questions remain. Who officiated at the mass? Was it George Carew, dean of Windsor, an egregious pluralist and opportunist who would comply with every whim of the queen, or was it Owen Oglethorpe, bishop of Carlisle, who performed the act of crowning Elizabeth I but was no time-server, and who on one occasion had elevated the host against her express command? Again, if Elizabeth I did withdraw, did she remain in the sanctuary or did she go elsewhere? Whichever version is preferred, however, the outcome is the same: Elizabeth I introduced a dramatic gesture into her coronation in order to publicize a statement on the religious ethos of the coming reign.

Religious matters were equally prominent at the coronation of James II, although in a contrary sense: every effort had to be made to concoct a ceremony that remained faithful to tradition but which would disguise the Catholicism of the new king. By resorting to the pretence that the conventional ceremony was too long and that it imposed inordinate physical strains on the monarch, James II's coronation was purged of potentially controversial material with the essence of the ceremony left untouched. More than any other aspect of the crowning ceremony, this was the one that brought from the pen of Macaulay the cynical but celebrated passage:

James had ordered Sancroft [archbishop of Canterbury] to abridge the ritual. The reason publicly assigned was that the day was too short for all that was to be done. But whoever examines the changes which were made will see that the real object was to remove some things highly offensive to the religious feelings of a zealous Roman Catholic. The Communion Service was not read. The ceremony of presenting the sovereign with a richly bound copy of the English Bible, and of exhorting him to prize above all earthly treasures a


volume which he had been taught to regard as adulterated with false doctrine, was omitted. What remained, however, after all this curtailment, might well have raised scruples in the mind of a man who sincerely believed the Church of England to be a heretical society, within the pale of which salvation was not to be found. The King made an oblation on the altar. He appeared to join in the petitions of the Litany which was chaunted by the Bishops. He received from those false prophets the unction typical of a divine influence, and knelt with the semblance of devotion while they called down upon him that Holy Spirit of which they were, in his estimation, the malignant and obdurate foes. Such are the inconsistencies of human nature that this man, who, from a fanatical zeal for his religion, threw away three kingdoms, yet chose to commit what was little short of an act of apostasy, rather than forego the childish pleasure of being invested with the gewgaws symbolical of kingly power.[30]

The coronations of Elizabeth I and James II should cause us to be cautious about the extent to which Weber's legitimation thesis can be applied without qualification. Insofar as the actual acts of crowning and unction remained orthodox they conform to his propositions on tradition and custom and on legality. But around these two essential features of the coronation was a penumbra of associated ritual which could be changed in the interests of legitimation; legitimation could require a departure from tradition and custom.

There is one aspect of the coronation that bears close scrutiny vis-à-vis the theme of legitimation: the sermon.[31] It gave to the church, one of the great and distinctive institutions of the state, the opportunity to address the king and "community of the realm" jointly just before the monarch was crowned. Indeed, it exemplified that association between church and state which stood at the center of the view of coronations advocated by the Henry Bradshaw group. The sermon was preached at an early stage of the coronation, coming after the Procession and Recognition, but before the Oath. It sought to convey to those assembled and others beyond (the sermon was printed and given wide distribution) the church's statement on the condition of society, on the tasks facing the monarch, and on the guiding principles that he ought to adopt. The sermon was no inconsequential diversion peripheral to the more serious proceedings; it was an integral part of the ceremony when the voice of the church spoke prophetically. Although the evidence is circumstantial, it is probable that those who preached the coronation sermons were selected both because their views on the state matched those of monarch and because they had earned royal favor or gratitude in the past; the honor of preaching the sermon was a reward for service. Nevertheless, it would be misguided to suppose that preachers were nothing other than servile mouthpieces for the monarch, or that their sermons aimed simply to propagate a message agreeable to the regime. Early-modern coronation sermons contain outspoken passages on the obligations of kingship and on the penalties of their nonobserv-


ance. They seek to instruct the king as well as to counsel his subjects; to urge him to great tasks; frankly to warn him against the dangers and temptations ahead. Even so, coronation sermons glorified the monarch, dwelt upon the divine origins of the institution of monarchy, railed against rebellion, and sustained every proposition with copious references, biblical, classical, and historical. As a exercise in legitimation the sermon's contribution to the coronation could be of firstrate importance: the voice of the church affirmed to the community at large that divine approbation rested on the monarch.

Among Weber's three themes of legitimation, that of the charisma of the leader surely finds extravagant illustration in early-modern coronations, as well as those of the medieval period. It is a theme capable of much deeper analysis than it has received hitherto. The crowning of a new monarch occasioned a veritable profusion of pageants, balls, processions, private festivities, poems, encomiastic prose, songs, plays, sermons, prophecies, horoscopes, paintings, drawings, engraving, natural signs and portents, miraculour healings (not least by kings who "touched"), and a host of other celebratory or wondrous events. The publication of comprehensive editions of the journals and correspondence of such perspicacious observers as Evelyn, Pepys, or Horace Walpole (a sharp-witted and detailed source on the coronation of George III) have placed at our disposal eyewitness accounts of coronation celebrations that can be exploited to great effect. Here is a field of research that still has many rich results to yield. Already we are indebted to scholars who have published essays in this collection, and to others such as Sydney Anglo and Father Reedy.[32] Their work suggests profitable lines of inquiry: the significance of the themes, often classical or mythological, chosen for pageants or for literary and musical works; the use of symbolism and the meanings it was intended to convey; the qualities of the monarch singled out for special emphasis. Of exceptional importance is the royal procession traditionally held in London on the day before the coronation.[33] It was the event that drew together into a carefully contrived manifestation of civic pageantry many diverse festivities and celebrations. Whatever merit attaches to the thesis that in early-modern England "courtly culture" and "popular culture" were drifting apart into distinct forms,[34] the coronation was an occasion that united all the cultural and celebratory impulses of society into one great carnival with a single point or focus: the king or queen. The ceremony of crowning and anointing the monarch served the legitimation process in respect of tradition and custom and of legality; its attendant festivities served the cult of the charismatic leader.

The conclusions to be drawn from this discussion by now are apparent. The first is uncontroversial but has emerged with some force: even the most distinguished historians of medieval and early-modern English coronations have had difficulty in deciding whether the forces of continuity or of change have been the more characteristic of their subject. This is scarcely surprising.


To the question "what happened?" in the case of an individual coronation, rarely is it possible to supply a precise and detailed answer. The surviving evidence often is too fragmentary or self-contradictory to sustain dogmatic interpretations. Those historians who have been drawn toward all-embracing theories of the history of the coronation often have been inspired by aspirations other than a dispassionate pursuit of historical research. This leads to the second conclusion: as a topic for historical inquiry coronations have a significance above and beyond the minutiae of the ritual itself. Without in any sense straining their possibilities, coronations and their history can augment and refine our understanding of themes in constitutional, political, and social history. If a somewhat rough-and-ready simile may be used, a coronation is rather like a blood test: it may provide essential clues as to the condition and general health of the patient. Thus, coronations, especially if they are understood in the widest sense of comprising processions and festivities as well as the crowning of the monarch, can inform us as to the temper of a community, even of a nation. In this sense coronations both restate those permanent principles that are considered central to monarchy and give expression, either consciously or unconsciously, to current aspirations and concerns. Third, the "blood test" approach to coronations is probably relevant up to and including the crowning of William III and Mary. Thereafter (although this is outside the period covered by this essay) coronations tended to become but shadows of the great ceremonies of earlier periods. Several hypotheses can be advanced as an explanation. The 1688 Revolution greatly advanced the power of Parliament at the expense of that of the crown; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century monarchs reigned in a political atmosphere and according to a constitutional theory very different from that of the middle ages or early-modern period. Again, coronation ceremonial itself was treated in cavalier fashion in the 1700s and 1800s: Hanoverian coronations lacked the attention to detail that characterized those of earlier periods, the nadir probably being reached with the crowning of George III whose coronation was reduced almost to a shambles as one mishap followed another; on that occasion even the sermon scarcely could be heard above the clatter of cutlery and popping of corks as the congregation used the opportunity to take lunch! The coronations of George VI and William IV were mean affairs; that of Victoria only marginally better. In short, after 1685 the constitutional and social significance of the coronation went into decline. By the time of Victoria's coronation, however, there were signs of a desire for the revival of a ceremony of some splendor. In a debate in the House of Lords on 28 May 1838, the Marquess of Londonderry was at the head of those who badgered the government, accusing it of a parsimonious attitude toward what ought to be an occasion of national rejoicing. The debate resulted in some prickly exchanges. Earl Fitzwilliam expressed the opinion that, "coronations were fit only for barbarous, or semi-barbarous ages; for periods when crowns were


won and lost by unruly violence and ferocious contests."[35] The sober tones of Hansard record the response: "The Marquess of Londonderry asked whether the noble Earl opposite was of the opinion that there ought to be no coronation at all? Earl Fitzwilliam answered in the affirmative. The Marquess of Londonderry said that he supposed that the noble Earl was prepared to follow up the proposition by moving that there ought to be no Lord Fitzwilliam at all."[36] And quite right too!

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Fourteen "Continuity" versus "Change": Historians and English Coronations of the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
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