England has held coronations for hundreds of years and despite the country’s vast history, one might be surprised to learn that the oldest part of the Crown Jewels, is a spoon.
The silver-gilt spoon is first recorded in 1349 as being preserved among St Edward’s Regalia in Westminster Abbey. At this date in time, the spoon is described as already in its “antique forme.” Stylistically, its design relates back to the 12th century and is known to be the only piece of royal goldsmiths’ work to survive from that century. It’s believed it was either given to Henry II or Richard I.
The spoon features an oval bowl divided into two lobes and features engraved acanthus scrolls. It’s joined at the stem by a stylised monster’s head and behind, the stem flattens into a roundel flanked by four pearls, another monster head, and a band of interlacing scrolling. At the end of the stem, it is spirally twisted and comes to an end with a flattened knop.
It’s unclear if in 1349 whether the spoon was a secular object or the part of a chapel plate. Historians do know it was never intended for eating or stirring. Based on its divided bowl and length, historians are certain the spoon always had a ceremonial purpose and its presence amid the regalia means it’s always been associated with coronations. It may have been used for mixing wine and water in a chalice but it was certainly used for appointing the monarch during the coronation of James I in 1603. One suggestion is the divided bowl was designed in this fashion so the archbishop might dip two fingertips into the holy oil.
The anointing is the most sacred part of the coronation ceremony and happens before the investiture and crowning. During this part of the ceremony, The Archbishop pours holy oil from the Ampulla (or vessel) into the spoon and anoints the monarch on the hands, breast, and head. The tradition dates back to the Old Testament where the anointing of Solomon by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet is described. This action is one of the medieval holy sacraments and helps to emphasise the spiritual status of the monarch. Until the 17th century, the monarch was considered to be appointed directly by God and was confirmed into the role with a ceremony of anointing. While the monarch is no longer considered “divine” in the same fashion, the coronation ceremony also confirms the monarch as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The spoon stayed with regalia until 1649 when it was sold off or as The Royal Collection Trust describes, “melted down like other items.” Mr Kynnersley, Yeoman of Charles I’s Wardrobe purchased the spoon for 16 shillings. It was later returned to Charles II for his coronation in 1661. This is when the small pearls were added to its decoration. Since 1661, it has remained in use ever since.
When not in use for a coronation, one can view the spoon along with other regalia at the Jewel House at The Tower of London. Although if you plan to visit closer to the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, it is possible it has already been removed for the ceremony itself or the rehearsals.