On 6 May Charles III’s coronation took place in Westminster Abbey, where English monarchs have been crowned since at least the 11th century. But Charles is not just king of England, he is king of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as well as fourteen Commonwealth countries and, since 1603, Great Britain has included Scotland. So where does Scotland feature in the coronation ceremony? Helen Wyld, Senior Curator of Historic Textiles, examines the place of Scotland in the coronation of British monarchs from the 17th century to the present through objects in our collections.
Scotland had an official presence at the 2023 coronation - there were Scottish heralds, dignitaries and peers, and representatives of the Church of Scotland and other faiths practiced here. But the ceremony itself is rooted in English, not Scottish tradition, and this has been true since the 17th century. In fact, the changing ways that Scotland has been represented in the coronation of British monarchs has reflected the changing relationship between the two nations over four centuries.
When James VI, King of Scotland, inherited the English throne in 1603, he came to London and was crowned James I of England in Westminster Abbey. The Union of the Crowns was celebrated by James and later his son Charles I – they were proud to have united the island of Great Britain as a single kingdom whose only boundary was the sea.
After becoming king in 1625 Charles I had an English coronation at Westminster Abbey. The Scottish parliament was keen that he come and be crowned in his Northern kingdom as well, and he finally travelled to Edinburgh to be crowned at Holyrood in 1633 - his only visit to Scotland since leaving as a child.
Although the Scottish coronation was different to that in England, both ceremonies were broadly Christian in character: they took place in a church, involved a Mass and prayers, and the king was anointed, invested with robes and crowned by a clergyman, to whom he swore an oath. In 1633 Charles was invested with robes worn by his great-grandfather James V, and the Honours of Scotland, which survive at Edinburgh Castle, were also used.
Surcoat worn by the Earl of Winton, as part of his coronation robes at Charles I’s 1633 Edinburgh coronation. It is made of red silk velvet with gold lace edging and lined with white taffeta. It was originally edged with white ermine fur. (H.NA 1327)
The Earl of Winton’s red velvet breeches, worn at the 1633 Scottish coronation of Charles I.
Shoulder cape with hood worn as part of the Earl of Winton’s coronation robes, worn at the 1633 Scottish coronation of Charles I. Originally lined with ermine, this would be worn over the surcoat but under the mantle, the hood worn outside the mantle.
Full length mantle worn by the Earl of Winton over his surcoat and hood at the 1633 Scottish coronation of Charles I. A circular cloak of red velvet lined with white taffeta, the area over the shoulders was originally covered with white ermine fur and black ermine tails. The fur was probably removed for use on a later robe when the style was updated. (H.NA 1329)
A circle of red velvet used to line the Earl of Winton’s coronet as part of his 1633 coronation robes worn at the 1633 Scottish coronation of Charles I.
Illustration of the coronation robes of an Earl, from John Selden, ‘Titles of Honour’, 1614, giving an idea of how the Earl of Winton’s robes would have been worn worn at the 1633 Scottish coronation of Charles I.
At both Charles I’s English and Scottish coronations, members of the nobility were required attend. Their presence was important as they pledged allegiance to the new monarch, thus demonstrating that he governed by consent. Peers and other office holders were required to wear special robes befitting their rank, as part of a symbolic display of the King’s relationship to his people.
Our collections include robes said to have been worn at the 1633 Edinburgh coronation by the Earl of Winton – these are among the earliest coronation robes to survive anywhere in Europe. In 2023, Charles III has relaxed the directives on dress – peers are allowed to wear their parliamentary robes, or even simple business dress. This reflects the greater diversity of those attending the 2023 coronation.
Charles I was executed in 1649 after a Civil War largely brought about by his ignoring this idea of consent between king and people. Scottish troops had captured Charles I at Newark but when the English parliament voted to execute him, the Scots were not amused. They opposed Charles I’s policies but they were not ready to get rid of the monarchy all together; and they still viewed Charles, a Stuart, as a Scottish king. To make this point, they invited Charles I’s exiled son to Scotland and crowned him Charles II, King of Scots in 1651. This was to be the last ever Scottish coronation.
Charles II had his English coronation in 1661, at the Restoration of the monarchy. The English regalia – the medieval crown, sceptre, robes, ampulla and other accoutrements – had been destroyed after Charles I was executed, and exact replicas were made for Charles II. Some of these replicas, notably the eagle-shaped ampulla, will be used for Charles III’s coronation. Meanwhile the Scottish regalia (or Honours of Scotland) remained in Edinburgh, and for the rest of the 17th century they stood in for the now absent monarch at meetings of the Scottish parliament. They were even paraded around the city in a ceremony known as the ‘Ryding of Parliament’, which bore a curious resemblance to a coronation - a practice that was revived in a reduced form when the Scottish parliament was reinstated in 1999.
Coronations are not immune from political events. Following the ousting of the Catholic king James VII and II In 1688, a new Coronation Oath was drafted, excluding anyone of the Catholic faith from the British throne. In 1707, the Acts of Union joined England and Scotland under a single parliament as well as a single crown, and an additional Scottish Oath was written, where the monarch swore to protect the Church of Scotland (the Church of England was already mentioned in the existing oath). This addressed religious fears, and only indirectly reflected the Union. The Honours of Scotland, meanwhile, were shut up in a chamber at Edinburgh Castle for safekeeping.
A coronation is a compact between a monarch and his or her people. After the Union of 1707 Great Britain had one Parliament and therefore one body representing the people. Whereas there had been no official Scottish presence at the coronations of 1685 (James VII and II), 1689 (William and Mary) or 1702 (Queen Anne), after the Union of 1707 we see a minor Scottish presence: the Scots peers were required to attend and swear allegiance, and the Lord Lyon, Scotland’s chief heraldic officer, was also now present. It is a sign of the continued strife between the two nations that Alexander Erskine of Cambo (1663-1729), Lord Lyon, who attended the coronation of George I in 1714, would take part in the Jacobite Rising of 1715, which sought to remove George from the throne.
Suit worn by Thomas Hamilton, Lord Binning (1780-1858), son of Scottish peer the 8th Earl of Haddington, at the 1821 coronation of George IV at Westminster Abbey. The suit includes blue silk sati doublet and breeches decorated with gold lace, white kid leather gloves with gold fringes, shoes covered with white silk and gold lace garters. The fanciful ‘medieval’ style reflects the fancy dress element of the 1821 celebration which was by far the most expensive coronation staged to date. (K.2002.50
Lord Binning’s mantle of blue silk satin lined with white and edged with gold lace.
‘The Clerk of His Majesty’s Privy Council’, an illustration after Francis Philip Stephanoff to George Nayler’s ‘The Coronation of King George IV’, 1824. © The Trustees of the British Museum. The sitter wears a suit is similar to that of Lord Binning.
Things changed in 1821 when George IV was crowned. All the Scottish heralds were now present (but they wore tabards with the royal arms in the English rather than the Scottish usage), along with other Scottish officials. And in 1822 George IV made his famous trip to Edinburgh – the first visit from a reigning monarch since Charles II’s 1651 coronation, and an event whose pageantry almost gave it the character of a coronation visit.
This reflected a new perception of Scotland, no longer an unruly northern partner but a culturally and militarily important part of the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria’s famous love of Scotland helped cement the nation’s role in future British coronations, and Edward VII, George VI and Elizabeth II all made coronation visits to Edinburgh.
Pastel drawings by Myer Lacome, showing the pageantry surrounding the official return of the Stone of Scone to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. (M.1999.49.1)
Pastel drawings by Myer Lacome, showing the pageantry surrounding the official return of the Stone of Scone to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. (M.1999.49.2)
Pastel drawings by Myer Lacome, showing the pageantry surrounding the official return of the Stone of Scone to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. (M.1999.49.3)
Pastel drawings by Myer Lacome, showing the pageantry surrounding the official return of the Stone of Scone to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. (M.1999.49.4)
There is one other Scottish element to the coronation that cannot be ignored: the Stone of Scone, popularly known as the Stone of Destiny. Its role in the coronations at Westminster Abbey long predates the Union of the Crowns of 1603: it was looted from Scotland, along with now-lost medieval Scottish regalia, by Edward I of England in 1296. In contrast to the Christian rituals of investiture, crowning and anointing, the stone represents a separate and more ancient tradition, where a new monarch would stand or sit on a stone, affirming their connection to the land and their ancestors.
To assert his overlordship of Scotland, Edward I had the Coronation Chair made to house the stone so that all subsequent English coronations would involve the stone of the Scottish kings. In 1950 a group of Scottish students famously retrieved the stone from Westminster Abbey, though they later relinquished it. It was more formally returned to Scotland in 1996, on the understanding that it would be sent back to London for later coronations – as will happen in 2023.
The lack of Scottish representation was felt in some quarters at the time of the 1953 coronation, most notably in a legal challenge to the queen’s use of the title Elizabeth II as there had been no Elizabeth I in Scotland. Subsequently, Scotland’s parliament has been reinstated after nearly 300 years, a constitutional change with implications for the nation’s relationship to the monarchy.
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum raised these issues again, and discussions took place over whether Scotland should regain its own coronation ceremony in the event of independence, as the queen would have remained Head of State. The coronation ceremony is always evolving and expresses the changing relationship between the crown and the people, as well as the changing nature of the United Kingdom.