Anthony van Dyck, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
His reign would end with the toppling of the monarchy but as Charles I was crowned King of England in 1626, there was little indication that the ancient ceremony heralded a time of tumult that would lead to war and death. However, as the Archbishop of Canterbury lifted St. Edward’s Crown into the hushed air of Westminster Abbey ahead of the Coronation, he heralded a moment in royal history for the very symbol of monarchy that he held would soon be destroyed as the throne fell.
Charles I was crowned on February 2nd 1626, eleven months after he had succeeded to the throne on the death of his father, James I. Since then, Charles had married but his new queen, Henrietta Maria, wouldn’t be crowned alongside him. She was Catholic and didn’t want to take part in an Anglican ceremony. Furthermore, parliament had expressed concerns about the marriage and the possibility it would lead to the lifting of restrictions placed on catholics in England. Charles assured them it would not but his concept of kingship meant that his will remained supreme. The new monarch was already contemplating changes and had no intention of politicians standing in his way.
Charles, like his father before him, believed in his divine right to rule. While the English parliament had already expressed unhappiness with this view that the crown conquered all, the new king had no time for that. He believed he had been sent to govern and his coronation was an affirmation of that.
It followed the ancient pattern, and used the ultimate symbols of royal power, the coronation regalia. Many of the pieces were linked to Edward the Confessor, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England who had been canonised in the 12th century. At the heart of the regalia was St. Edward’s Crown which had been used at the coronation of monarchs in England for four centuries. However, this would be its final outing.
The coronation of King Charles I was the manifestation of the royal power of a new monarch but it was a religious bond between a man who was certain he had been born to rule and the divinity which had invested that power in him. The anointing of the king remained the most important part of the ceremony. Charles emerged wearing the royal crown to enjoy all the usual traditions of the coronation, including the banquet that followed. But he also walked out of the Abbey more certain than ever of his divine right to rule.
It would spell disaster for the crown he wore and for himself. His tendency to rule as he saw fit and to take on parliament was even manifested around his coronation. An old law required anyone who gained a certain amount of money per year through land to present themselves at the crowning of the monarch for knighting. For over a century, that rule had been ignored but Charles revived it so he could fine those who hadn’t attended to raise funds when parliament denied his requests for money.
By 1633, fissures between the king and politicians were evident in England. Until then, Charles had shown little inclination to travel to Edinburgh to be crowned King of Scots. He had wanted that ceremony to take place in London but was finally persuaded that it had to take place in the kingdom whose crown he would wear. On June 18th 1633, in the Abbey next to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Charles was crowned again. However, the celebrations proved costly and the king showed the same attitude to his Scottish parliament as his English one. His reign was moving towards turbulence, war and death.
Charles I ended up in conflict with parliament in England and the civil wars that followed cost lives around the country and ended with the king being declared a traitor and executed. King Charles I was beheaded at the Palace of Whitehall on January 30th 1649. The monarchy fell with him.
The ancient coronation regalia which had been used at Westminster Abbey for centuries was broken up and sold, disappearing forever. However, while the physical crown was lost, the concept of royal power remained. Charles I’s eldest son would revive the monarchy in 1660. The new king was far more conscious of public opinion than his father and grandfather before him and re-established royal rule with a potency it hadn’t known for decades.
However, when Charles II was crowned, in 1661, it was with new regalia made to replace the jewels lost when the monarchy was deposed. The Coronation of King Charles I was the last to use the original St. Edward’s Crown which fell when the final man to wear it failed to understand the nature of the power it bestowed on him.