Preferred Citation: Bak, János M., editor Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.

Introduction Coronation Studies—Past, Present, and Future


Coronation Studies—Past, Present, and Future

János M. Bak

This volume of essays offers a survey of the most recent work in "coronation studies" in the widest sense of this term, meaning inquiries into the different symbolic and ritual acts that served both to legitimate and to present monarchical rule in the Middle Ages and the ancien régime.[1] The selection reflects, without claim to be comprehensive, the variety of topics treated by students of rulership and the character of the premodern state, including their different methods of approach and the distinct types of sources used as evidence. The volume contains studies focusing on most of the geographical regions of Europe.[2] There is also a diversity in genre: the essay-type summary of a scholar's many years of thought and research, the initial analysis of a document by a team, the textual study demonstrating a point, the informative survey of development, the brief comment on a controversial issue, and so on. I am pleased to have been able to include authors from various "schools," if they can be called thus,[3] and representatives of several generations, from doyens of the field, such as Reinhard Elze and Ralph Giesey, to a few recently graduated philosophiae doctores .

Many of the following articles address an agenda that has been with us for over a century, ever since historians began to scrutinize events surrounding the accession of rulers and the writings associated with it: establishing authentic readings for those liturgical scripts—ordines —which guided the actors of the rites; dating these texts; and interpreting their formulae in terms of continuity or change, of native roots and borrowings, of politics, theology, and ritual. Other studies address the general context of the ceremonies, their constitutional, ideological, and propagandistic place in medieval politics. Again, others look at the changes in royal ritual during the early modern centuries, both in form and meaning. One paper explicitly (others more implicitly) explores the historiography of the field, placing it in the context of modern political and intellectual history.


Several authors, moreover, depart from traditional procedures, which were characterized by textual scrutiny and iconographical analysis. By introducing new questions and novel methods their contributions are frequently informed by modes of inquiry elaborated in the social sciences—such as historical anthropology or comparative ethnographical study of gestures, of rites, and of rituals—and apply such sociological terms of analysis as that of legitimation. Many include questions about the relationship of participants and observers, about the relative role of various groups in the events, and about the perception of these acts by eyewitnesses and other contemporaries.

Most of the studies are based primarily on liturgical text (ordines in the wider sense, that include more or less elaborate directions) but confront these with other sources of many types. Often the actual prescription for the rituals is missing, so that reconstructions have to be attempted, based on other contemporary pieces of evidence or on later liturgical writings. It is a tradition in this field to devote as much attention to pictorial evidence as to written sources; in fact, the emancipation of historical images from illustrative decoration to critically evaluated evidence was pioneered in the field of studies on rulership.[4] Authors of this volume remain true to that tradition and refine the modes of interpretation introduced by earlier scholars. The contrasting of image and text (both in liturgical books and chronicles) and precise analysis of relevant illuminations (including colors, dimensions, internal symmetries, and so on) are to a certain extent new directions of inquiry. One pioneering study is based on the musical material of the liturgy: the reconstruction of a ritual's development with the help of the surviving notations of music, an approach novel both in method and in the type of source upon which it is built.

Students of royal ritual have been long aware of the fact that liturgical and ecclesiastical evidence alone is insufficient; only the contrasting of normative prescriptions in ordines and related texts with reports on events can offer valid insights. Several studies in this volume underline the importance of this rule. In particular, the systematic evaluation of a major narrative source, the Annals of St. Bertin , written by Hincmar of Reims, sheds unique light on the archbishop's perceptions about kingship. These perceptions are in many respects not consonant with our expectations based on theoretical and liturgical texts of the same age, even of the same author. Even though not discussing ritual in itself, or just because of this, the inquiry into Hincmar's description of "king-making" is an important corrective to one-sided ecclesiastical and liturgical analyses. All in all, this selection of studies attempts to demonstrate that scholars in this field are engaged in completing tasks left unfinished in the past as well as pursuing inquiries of a wider range, based in part on traditional material but also embarking on entirely new avenues of exploration.


Critical scholarship on the Middle Ages may be regarded as some three hundred years old if one takes, for example, Mabillon, the father of modern diplomatics, as a point of departure. In contrast, the critical study of royal, imperial, and papal coronations and other rites of accession is much younger: only just over a century old. It is perhaps not merely through central European chauvinism that I date the beginning of historical study of coronations, or more precisely, of their ordines, from the commented edition of texts published by Georg Waitz in 1873 in the proceedings of the Göttingen Academy.[5] To be sure, coronations and related royal ceremonies had been discussed by theologians, lawyers, and royal officers, both during and since their heyday in the medieval centuries. However, those treatises were closely connected to specific inaugrations or to constitutional issues of the day. Their intent was to explain, allegorically or legally, the words, gestures, and precedences within a living practice of royal representation. They are of great value to the historian of kingship, elucidating as they do the perception by contemporaries of the various aspects of the ritual and ceremonial. The allegorical exegesis of events and symbolic objects, as presented by medieval authors, is very significant for the understanding of the sacred character of kingship and of its connections to the liturgy and theology of the Roman Church. The late medieval and early modern changes in interpretation (which can be discovered, for example, by studying the relevant French literature on the sacre of the king of France) belong intrinsically to the development of the rituals.[6] It is also true that one of the mottoes of our pursuits, recently quoted by Janet Nelson, originates from the early seventeenth century: John Selden wrote in 1638 that "to know what was generally believed in all ages the way is to consult the liturgies."[7] Yet, I believe that, strictly speaking, the kind of scholarly inquiry which we are still pursuing begins with the study of a closed corpus of past customs, one not immeditely connected to legal, political, or constitutional matters.

Naturally, it would be foolish to dismiss the more or less conscious political and ideological implications of such studies, either in the nineteenth century or even in our own day. When Wilhelm Giesebrecht in the late 1860s suggested that the imperial coronation ritual should be studied,[8] his call was surely not unconnected to the imminent "renewal" of the empire. I do not know whether Georg Waitz's presentation of the ordines, the first to be based on extensive manuscript studies, was in any way perceived by the author as related to the inauguration of the Second Reich. The studies that followed were initially also motivated by a combined historical and political interest in the medieval Holy Roman Empire.[9] Later, especially under the impact of Geistesgeschichte , partially also in response to the challenging studies of Georg von Below,[10] scholars came to consider a wider question: the structure and form of power in premodern polities and the origin and growth of the modern state in general. Percy Ernst Schramm, whose work is still the


most extensive body of inquiry into this field, explained his own approach by pointing to the debate on the character of medieval monarchy, which he saw as "more of a state" than the modern one, precisely because of the religious aura surrounding its rulers. He also admitted, of course, that it was "less of a state" because of the highly personal nature of power in it.[11] Both of these aspects of medieval politics can be studied in an exemplary way in the records of coronations and of related rites and ceremonies.

It would be a worthwhile enterprise—in fact it is a desideratum for coronation studies—to write a pan-European historiography of this field, with a careful eye for the political and ideological implications, along such lines as those sketched by David Sturdy about "continuity" and "change" in English studies of royal ceremonial.[12] Without trying to offer such a historiographical overview of the "long century" since Georg Waitz, or even a bibliographical survey, I shall attempt an outline of a few major approaches to coronation studies in the last sixty-odd years. Chronologically one should start with Marc Bloch, who in Les rois thaumaturges ,[13] was, I believe, the first to utilize the insights and methods of ethnography and anthropology for the study of medieval monarchical customs. However, he did not pursue this topic any further and, indeed, found no followers till quite recently. Among those who continued the German tradition of Waitz and others, three main concerns seem to stand out which can be more or less connected to three scholars and their "schools." Some historians have looked at medieval coronations in the general context of symbology of kingship (P. E. Schramm, his friends, and his pupils), others have investigated medieval political and legal theory (Walter Ullmann and his students), while a third group has studied "political theology" and the overall perception of the medieval state (Ernst H. Kantorowicz and his pupils). These three major approaches have certainly not been strictly separated, and there have been many other authors who included royal ceremonial in their inquiries.[14]

There were common points of departure in the work of the three German historians who headed these schools, above all the rigorous methods of textual study à l'allemande, but adverse conditions (to put it mildly) reduced contact between Schramm, the Göttingen professor; Ullmann, the Austrian emigré in England; and Kantorowicz, the German exile in America. Yet, students of kingship often consulted more than one of them, and pupils were encouraged to visit other leading scholars. Schramm, for example, corrected a few of his conclusions on Anglo-Saxon orders—albeit only minor ones—after Paul Ward's visit to Göttingen and the publication of his study and accompanying edition.[15] Nevertheless, much work written in Germany and Central Europe did not find its way into English or French scholarship until recently. Most strikingly, Schramm's attempt at a general history of coronations in France was never translated into French. On the other hand, his


rather sketchy history of the English coronation was immediately translated for the accession of King George V and is still a point of reference for students of the topic. Bloch's seminal work appeared in English translation as late as 1973 and was thus for half a century accessible only to more learned readers; it was merely noted in Germany, and its innovative methods had no impact on that trend of scholarship either. Quite a few essential issues elaborated upon by German scholars appear occasionally in recent French or English books as new discoveries, and conversely Western European and American scholarship is often overlooked in Central Europe. Such are the vagaries of Western intellectual history.

The three "schools" about which I shall risk saying something may be perhaps called that of Göttingen, that of Cambridge, and that of Berkeley. I have sketched elsewhere the development of Schramm's interest in coronations and their ordines.[16] He started out from the images of medieval kings and was puzzled by the intricate relationship between the classical tradition and medieval accretions. He also felt that Byzantine models are crucial for understanding these developments, without entirely neglecting their partially Germanic, barbarian, or gentile roots.[17] Realizing that the iconography of rulership was closely connected to symbolically relevant objects, he explored the types and history of those objects, parallel with the ritual acts in which they were handed over to the ruler and interpreted politically, theologically, and—above all—allegorically. Challenged by the somewhat one-sided reading of the texts by the canon lawyer Eduard Eichmann,[18] and encouraged in his global approach in terms of the "world of ideas" by the work of Fritz Kern and Carl Erdmann,[19] Schramm began to collect, order, and edit the coronation ordines of the Anglo-Saxon and Frankish realms and of medieval Germany. We know now that many more texts must be considered than those he had in his hands. The more complete editions of the important Roman and Roman-German ceremonial texts subsequently published[20] allow far more precise analyses of borrowing and imitatio . Nevertheless, Schramm's "Ordines-Studien" of the 1930s are still bread and butter for our field.

Walter Ullmann's concern for the ordines and royal liturgy originated from his inquiry into ideas of royal and papal sovereignty, the relationship between regnum and sacerdotium , and those trends that he later called the ascending and descending themes in medieval political thought.[21] While demonstrating his willingness to participate in the continuity of English coronation studies by publishing some of his work with the Henry Bradshaw Society, Ullmann also kept his connections to continental German research: for example, his fine piece on the idea of sovereignty in medieval ordines appeared in the Festschrift for Schramm's seventieth birthday. If Schramm's contribution suffered from a certain overreaching and from growing into


massive catalogues, Ullmann's seems to be somewhat limited by his primarily legalistic approach, his strong emphasis on the ecclesiastic side, and his almost exclusive reliance on written evidence.

Ernst H. Kantorowicz may have been the scholar who aimed at the widest all-round analysis of those data and ideas on which our present knowledge rests.[22] Having been trained as a classicist, he devoted his academic career to exploring the survival and revival of Antique notions of rulership in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond. Already in his work on Frederick II of Sicily Kantorowicz utilized the ritual and iconographical dimensions of the subject.[23] Later he widened his field of research by including liturgical acclamations not studied earlier, the laudes , complete with musical analysis contributed by a colleague.[24] Kantorowicz's great summary of the perceptions of medieval kingship, The King's Two Bodies ,[25] place all these elements, together with coronation rites, ordines, royal funerals (which were extensively studied by his pupil, Ralph Giesey[26] ) into the context of the growth of what he called political theology. The progression from Christ-centered kingship to law-centered and man-centered rulership is still one of the most powerful paradigms for the understanding of continuity and change in the medieval state and its symbolic presentation.

In short, one might risk stating that the scholarly "generation" of Schramm-Ullmann-Kantorowicz, together with a few other scholars, such as Marc Bloch, Carl Erdmann, Cornelius Bouman,[27] Paul Ward, Gerhard Ladner,[28] and Reinhard Elze,[29] raised the study of royal ritual from the marginal and illustrative to the paradigmatic, thereby challenging medieval historians to reformulate many tenets about medieval rulership in particular and the state or the structure of power in general.

What is the relevance of this work for our present-day study of history? When some years ago Jacques Le Goff addressed the question whether politics is still a backbone of history, he could only answer it in a qualified affirmative, pointing to the paramount importance of the division and legitimation of power in any society, medieval no less than modern.[30] In that essay Le Goff replied to those who were, not surprisingly, tired of political history cast in terms of battles, dynastic conflicts, and legal quarrels, by pointing to the pioneering work of Bloch, Schramm, and others in exploring the deeper layers of politics by examining the intricacies of power structures. The symbology of rulership and ritual acts, he argued, opens up avenues of inquiry in no way less exciting than the study of other aspects of mentalité . And by the mere fact that these ideas and symbolic forms have quite a lot to do with the fate of people, high and low, they are just as relevant to our understanding of medieval life, social change, intellectual growth, and political transformations, as are perceptions of time, space, class, gender, riches, or poverty.

While much remains to be done, the first task in this field (as in any other


historical enterprise) was the establishment of solid foundations in textual and pictorial evidence, and that has been to a great extent accomplished by the scholars of the nineteenth and earlier twentieth century. They also delineated the main modes of inquiry and the tools for interpreting liturgical texts, festive presentations, royal and princely iconographies. Above all, they placed the symbolic and ritual expressions of political programs and realities on the map of historical study. Furthermore, they defined various contexts—legal, theological, political, or cultural—in which the texts and images can be analyzed.

The tasks of the present generation of historians—and of future ones—is not necessarily to depart radically from what their teachers and teachers' teachers had pursued. Unedited texts still remain, and published ones also need to be reexamined in the light of new finds and new questions. To begin with, there is still no complete critical edition of the coronation ordines and related texts of any of the kingdoms of medieval Europe. Recent books by Lawrence Bryant, Sarah Hanley, Richard Jackson, and Janet Nelson,[31] as well as articles in this volume on France (by Jacques Le Goff, Jean-Claude Bonne, and Anne Hedeman) demonstrate that well-known texts and images may have to be redated and that even the most studied ones yield new information if scrutinized with an eye for detail, for the implicit meanings of the mise en scène of the entire ritual, the significance of color in the images, or bodily movements and gestures (see also Alexander Gieysztor's essay on Poland). The successive redactions of the English ordines, on which so many excellent scholars had worked and debated, among them our late friend John Brückmann, are still not established in a satisfactory way,[32] and Andrew Hughes's study suggests new avenues for dating by using musical as well as textual evidence for the process of change. The very meager textual basis for the history of the coronations in the European North has been only recently explored (presented here by Erich Hoffmann) and, owing to the lack of medieval ordines, much remains conjectural and open to debate (see the comments of Elisabeth Vestergaard). Reinhard Elze offers in this volume an edition of an ordo in the best tradition of the Monumenta , of which he is part, in order to demonstrate how one of the most difficult questions, the dating of a liturgical text, can be solved when text and circumstances are considered conjointly.

There are, however, directions in which historians now need to depart from the roads trod upon by their predecessors. For example, the study of ordines has been burdened by the fact that, in spite of repeated caveats, the existence of a liturgical script was still often regarded as evidence for the performance of a certain rite or of a certain sequence of rites. Schramm used to joke, "Show me your insignia and I'll tell you who you want to be," implying the programmatic rather than descriptive character of many of our sources on royal, imperial, or papal dress, Herrschaftszeichen , or gestures. Elze, who keeps


emphasizing the dichotomy between prescription and reality, offers in this volume a nice example in which the two can be compared. His dating and interpreting of the Sicilian ordo teaches another very important lesson: changes and continuities in liturgical texts should not be expected to offer proofs for political development as reliable as we would wish, for the inertia of ritual is often greater than the willingness to adapt.[33] In his study of papal consecrations in Avignon, Schimmelpfennig bases his argument for dating late medieval ceremonial not only on liturgical texts, naratives, and accounts, but also on the architecture of the papal palace.

Besides widening the source base and the methods of its scrutiny, there are some new questions to be asked. Even though the scholars of the preceding generation did consider the wider political and social context of royal rituals (Walter Ullmann, for example, in his discussions of the "ascending theme" and the individual), rarely did they study their perception by the "people." The constitutional theme, that is, the place of royal presentation in the context of power sharing (or otherwise) between crown and lords (or estates) was certainly not overlooked, but Schramm, for one, explicitly stated that in the Middle Ages he wished to look at the rulers because they and not the ruled were able to "move" history.[34] As already noted, Marc Bloch was a unique exception in this regard as well. Several studies in this volume demonstrate the considerable importance of participants other than the king and his closest associates in all these symbolic performances. The definition of primary and secondary actors, of stage and audience, and the analysis of interaction between all these in the articles on the ordo of 1250, in the study on gestures in Poland and especially on the elaborate "dialogue" implicit in the entry ceremonies as presented by Larry Bryant are important advances in this direction. There is one further step: Janet Nelson's survey of Hincmar's views on rulership suggests that the archbishop, surely an expert on ritual, placed the greatest importance not on coronations, but on the king's being blessed from on high and accepted by lords and prelates. Her other studies in early medieval politics and ritual underline the need to keep the realities of power as much in mind as the magic and ritual elements of legitimation.

Understandably, the great majority of studies in the preceding generation concentrated on the early and high Middle Ages, that is, on periods when gestures, insignia, and visible ceremonies played a more important role than political tracts or written agreements, if there were any. However, it would be wrong to regard the late developments towards pageantry and festivity as mere "degradations." The early modern centuries witnessed various steps in changing certain functions of the traditional ceremonies. Some of them were replaced by more explicitly contractual and legal enactments, others discarded because their Roman origin was unsuitable for Protestant monarchies. Richard McCoy's study of Queen Elizabeth I's "troublesome" coronation


suggests avenues to be explored, while some others have been discussed recently in the Davis Seminar at Princeton and in 1982 at a conference in Mainz.[35]

Future studies will certainly have to address these matters and many others as well. Coronation ritual and royal ceremonial were, of course, parts of a whole world of symbolic action, gesture, and behavior. Le Goff and his colleagues actually came to investigate the ordo, about which they present some preliminary findings here, while studying normative treatises on gestures in general, such as Hugh of St. Victor's De instructione novitiorum . In their seminar at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales they chanced upon the ordo of 1250 to discover that it offered unique evidence for gestures—comparable to sculptures on Romanesque tympana or images on gestures of prayer, of marriage, of vassalage—combining, as it does, text and illuminations. Studies on both European and extra-European kingship and state suggest that not all political ritual was concentrated on the major event of accession or funeral of a ruler, moments on which most researchers in this field had usually concentrated their attention. From festive crown wearing through reception of guests, envoys, and vassals, from hunts and feasts to the assembly of the fideles , many other occasions were also symbol-laden ritual events and political spectacles.[36]

Exploring harmony and divergence between prescription (ordo, etc.) and actual performance demands research into many hitherto neglected directions. For "reality" is not a one-dimensional matter: even if we can establish what actually transpired, we still need to ask how was it perceived by those present, and furthermore, in what, surely different, ways by contemporaries of various "estates." The mere visual and auditory perception of these events depended on whether one was admitted to a defined sacral or ritual place, or was left outside, whether one belonged to the chosen few in the immediate surrounding of the ruler or to the wider elite, to the secular or the clerical one, or to the populus , sometimes present in form of a selected group, at other times serving as mere "extras" in the spectacle. The task becomes very difficult when one must establish how symbolic actions were understood and interpreted by the various persons present or by those informed secondhand about the ceremonies. Since we would have to enter the minds of mostly illiterate laymen and lesser clergy, this will not be an easy task; however, the full weight of the argument about legitimation depends on it.

It is in these spheres of inquiry, where the traditional types of historical record are too thinly spread, that genuine new departures have to be made. One no longer has to defend the legitimacy of comparative and interdisciplinary procedures, which for a long time were regarded as mere auxiliaries admissible in instances where no "better" evidence was available. But it is still not fully agreed to that methods and findings of sister-disciplines, such as ethnography and anthropology, can be properly applied to the interpretation


of medieval history. No doubt, there have been foolish and superficial parallels drawn by historians between rituals of "primitive tribes" and the elaborate ecclesiastical and secular festivities of medieval Europe. Such generalizations do not help us in reaching the hidden sides of political symbology. Anthropologists, too, have sometimes made too facile comparisons, often because they had only fragmentary knowledge of the historical material or, more frequently, because they lacked the critical skills and methods of textual interpretation. However, there is no reason to assume that the study of the relations—and the perception of these relations—between ruler and ruled (an essentially nonliterate population, deeply embedded in a fragmented and hybrid magical world view)[37] would not be susceptible to methods applied to recently observed preliterate societies and that certain features of these societies could not help to fill the gaps of our inquiries. The frequency with which anthropologists (A. van Gennep, V. Turner, C. Geertz, E. Leach, M. Fortes, and others) appear in the notes of the studies printed here—and other writings of our authors—suggests that students of medieval and early modern political ritual are well aware of the possibilities of such an exchange of ideas and procedures.

Interest in coronations and related rituals seems to have passed through a period of baisse on the stock exchange of historical studies. When Reinhard Elze notes that the edition he presents here was kept for many years in his desk drawer because of obvious lack of interest in this type of text, he is articulating something that many of us have experienced. For the past two or three decades new fields, such as popular ideas, social conditions of the lower classes, and the life of women, have, understandably, occupied the minds of many medievalists and of their readers and students. Kingship and the state appeared to have been studied quite enough and, moreover, seemed not so "relevant," anyhow. However, there seems to be new demand for analyses of power, hierarchy, and rulership, at least for inquiries that are subtle and explain more than what traditional political history of great events had to offer.[38] We hope that our volume reflects this transition from a temporary lull to a new flourishing of coronation studies and that it will also enhance it by encouraging further studies and novel departures.

Introduction Coronation Studies—Past, Present, and Future

Preferred Citation: Bak, János M., editor Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.