Are you still a thoroughly top-notch, summit-of-the-heap king without a coronation….?

Edward V

Does anyone know what would happen if a newly succeeding medieval king were too unwell to undergo the rigours of a coronation? Would such a ceremony merely be postponed in the hope of his recovery? What would happen if he didn’t recover, but eventually died still without having had a coronation? Did the omission somehow diminish him?

I know Edward V didn’t have a coronation, although one was certainly planned. Even so he is still referred to as Edward V. But was he king, in every meaning of the word? He was judged to be baseborn and therefore barred from the throne. Then he “disappeared” anyway. So legally, if he’d been king from the moment of the death of his father, Edward IV, he certainly ceased to be when his illegitimacy was revealed.

Edward IV

Which brings me back to my first question. What if Edward V had remained legitimate but had been too frail and ill to undertake the toil of a coronation? If he’d then died…would he still have been regarded as the true, beyond-all-shadow-of-doubt king? If he would be so regarded, then it would seem coronations weren’t essential. So why were they apparently so important to every monarch? Simply to have the blessing of the Church? To be anointed with holy oil etc.? To have all the aristocracy present and on its knees? Or to make a show of it all and impress subjects of every persuasion, rich and poor? All of these?

And if Edward V had died childless, presumably we would still have had a King Richard III, just not the same one known to history. Edward’s brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, would be next in line.

Arguments in favour of coronation are that it was to anoint the new king, thus placing him way above everyone else. The holy oil imbued him with powers, including the King’s of Royal Touch, by which he was able to cure sufferers of diseases, including scrofula, which was known as the King’s Evil. A coronation also acknowledged the king as the rightful leader.

Richard II – another boy king

So, once the holy oil had been administered and the archbishop had placed the crown upon the new monarch’s head there was no denying anything. This was the rightful king. Well, unless you were someone like Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV) or Henry Tudor (Henry VII) who thought it was still OK to kill the king. Clearly the fact of coronations and holy oil didn’t make much difference to them. Well, until it was their own coronation, of course. Oh, that was different. Suddenly they acquired very, very, very traditional views of the sacredness of such ceremony. And both of them spent their reigns on guard for someone to do unto them what they had done unto their predecessors.

Henry IV – the usurper Bolingbroke

Bolingbroke tried to claim he had the bloodline right to be king, but the fact was that he’d invaded England fully intending to topple Richard II. Which he did. And Richard died mysteriously at Pontefract. Of natural causes? Oh, of course. Perish any other thought. The actual rightful bloodline after Richard’s death was that of the Mortimer Earls of March, who were descended from Lionel of Clarence, the second eldest son of Edward III. Bolingbroke was descended from John of Gaunt, the third eldest and therefore a junior line.

Of course, Tudor tried to get around his crime by pretending his reign dated from the day before Bosworth, thus de-kinging (?) Richard III. He didn’t get away with it. He had to acknowledge that Richard had indeed been the true and anointed king. But Tudor was then recognised as king by Parliamentary statute. Bingo. Job done. Of course, Richard III had also been recognised this way, but shhh. We won’t mention that.

Henry VII

Anyway, all that aside, it would seem that Kings of England (I can’t speak for anywhere else) wanted to be crowned at a proper coronation. They wanted the holy oil drizzled upon them, then be given the orb and sceptre, and have the services of an archbishop to say the ritual words and place the crown on their heads.

So a king who hadn’t had all this was surely not an absolutely beyond-all-shadow-of-doubt monarch? But in Edward V’s case, it would seem he was. Or so history decrees. I fear I cannot agree. I think the omission of the coronation made him less than a king. The same for Edward VIII centuries later. He was going to be king but vacated his position before a coronation. Arguably, so did Edward V. So they weren’t proper kings. Not in my eyes anyway.

 

6 comments

  1. But what about Henry VI, who succeeded as an infant, and was ‘consecrated’ when he was still much too young to understand the meaning of the ceremony? Asking for a friend….

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  2. Seems to me the regnal names and numbers are more about tradition and what is customary than any strict logic. Jane the Nine Days Queen has about the same right to be considered among the recognized monarchs as Edward V I think–but of course the Tudors had to consider EV legit and so all the subsequent Edwards are numbered from him, no changing that now! If there had ever been another Jane R it might be different, or maybe it’s just another case of a female getting the short end of the stick. I’ve seen the Duke of Windsor occasionally referred to as EVIII, which I suppose would be technically correct if we are being consistent. But it’s not customary.

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  3. But E 8 was not a Medieval monarch, nor even a Tudor one, ad he also never went through a Coronation ceremony.

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  4. Do not have the book available to me but the historian Marc Morris in “A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain” made note that Edward, who was returning from Crusade and did not learn of his father’s death until he reached Sicily in 1272, was proclaimed king at his father’s death, rather than his coronation, which had previously been the norm. Edward did not even return to England until 1274, but the government was maintained in his name.

    Made this point previously when this was discussed before: When Edward VII noted that the Royal Standard was being flown at half mast on the vessel he was on which was trailing the vessel which carried his mother’s body from the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth he asked why. “The Queen is dead” he was told. “The King lives” he replied and the Standard was raised to its full height. There was no question in his mind when his reign began. (Realize it was 400 plus years later than the events in question but how long do you think someone would have kept their heads if they had questioned the legitimacy of the reigns of Henry V and Henry VIII from the moments their fathers died)?

    For every rule there is an exception and the one here is Lady Jane Grey.

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