There’s been all kinds of talk about the crown that Queen Camilla will wear for the May 2023 coronation—I offered my views on the subject earlier here—but today, let’s take a closer look at the jewelry that King Charles III will wear during the ceremony.
For a long time, many have speculated that the upcoming coronation of King Charles III will be a less grand affair than that of his mother 70 years ago. The official announcement this week regarding the May 2023 ceremony nodded toward a mixture of past and present. The press release confirmed, “The Ceremony will see His Majesty King Charles III crowned alongside The Queen Consort,” but also added that the event “will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry.” While many peripheral aspects of the ceremony can easily be altered (the attire of the other guests, for example), the crowning of the monarch itself does require the use of the regalia from the crown jewel collection.
With that in mind, let’s look at the jewelry pieces that King Charles III will likely wear before, during, and after the coronation ceremony, using previous coronations of kings (and common sense about our different world today) as our guide.
In August 1902, Charles’s great-great-grandfather, King Edward VII, departed from Buckingham Palace for his coronation wearing the attire shown above: his coronation robes over a purple and gold tunic and white breeches. On his head, he wore the velvet and ermine cap of state.
King George V also wore the cap of state, his robes, and the tunic and breeches for his arrival at Westminster Abbey for his coronation in June 1911.
He’s not pictured wearing the cap of state here—though he did indeed wear it to travel to the ceremony and for the start of the coronation—but here’s King George VI depicted by Sir Gerald Kelly wearing his coronation robes with his tunic and breeches.
All three of the previous crowned kings—Edward VII, George V, and George VI—wore the elaborate collar and badge of the Order of the Garter as their primary accessory as they arrived at the Abbey. There are various Garter collars and badges in the Royal Collection that Charles could use for the occasion. This badge is the Marlborough George, a Great George badge made of enamel and studded with diamonds. (Its name comes from the fact that it was made for George IV in 1828 as a copy of a badge owned by the Duke of Marlborough.) The Queen wore this collar and Great George for her coronation in 1953.
Both George V and George VI wore this diamond-encrusted badge with their Garter collar for their coronations. It’s technically a Lesser George, possibly made for King George II in the eighteenth century, but both V and VI used it as their coronation Great George. Who can blame them? It’s very sparkly indeed.
King Charles III has his own Garter collar and badge, but I have a feeling we may see him use one of the larger examples from the Royal Collection for his coronation.
If he chooses to wear a tunic and breeches like his predecessors, we’d also see him wear the jeweled garter itself, shown here below his left knee at the Diplomatic Reception in 2016. But I’m just not convinced that we’ll see him choose the same attire as previous kings. (I feel like the cap of state will be one of the first parts to be jettisoned.) Part of me wonders whether he might choose to wear a military uniform instead, though that might make the anointing section more complicated. Monarchs divest themselves of their robes for that solemn part of the ceremony. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II’s attendants helped her put on a white anointing gown over her elaborate coronation dress for that section. Really interested to see how they’ll handle the clothing aspect of that part for Charles.
But anyway—back to the jewels. When the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns King Charles III, he will place St. Edward’s Crown on the monarch’s head. This will be the first and only time that Charles will wear this particular crown. It’s exceptionally heavy, but it’s been worn by all monarchs over the past century—George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II—at the moment of their crowning. (Edward VII was supposed to use it in 1902 as well, but he was in the midst of a health crisis at the time of his coronation, and it was decided on medical advice to use the lighter Imperial State Crown for his crowning instead.)
Here’s King George VI wearing St. Edward’s Crown during his coronation ceremony in May 1937.
Before the end of the coronation ceremony, St. Edward’s Crown is swapped out for the lighter and slightly more comfortable Imperial State Crown. That’s the one we’re all more familiar with, as the late Queen wore it for decades at the annual State Opening of Parliament. It’s also the crown that rested on her coffin after her death. (Controversially, I have a feeling that King Charles will not be wearing a crown during future State Openings of Parliament. In fact, I wonder whether his coronation might be the only time we ever see him wearing a crown. Tradition is important, but the times, they are a-changing, and the Brits are among the only royals in the world who still wear crowns at all.)
Here’s Edward VII wearing the Imperial State Crown during his coronation, in a painting done by John Henry Frederick Bacon. (His coronation ceremony was not photographed.) As I mentioned above, Edward VII was actually crowned with this crown, not St. Edward’s Crown, because of issues with his health.
And here’s King Edward VII, with Queen Alexandra, wearing the crown in a photograph taken after the coronation ceremony. (Alexandra is wearing a LOT of jewelry, including the coronation crown that was made specifically for her.)
And here’s King George VI wearing the Imperial State Crown on the balcony at Buckingham Palace following his coronation in 1937.
There are numerous other pieces of regalia that are used and held by the monarch during the coronation ceremony, but there are only a few others that are actually worn. These are the Coronation Armills, made for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 to replace a sixteenth-century pair. The bracelets are part of the coronation text, but a misunderstanding in translation meant that they weren’t properly used for centuries. (We discuss that complicated matter here.) The use of the armills was revived for the 1953 coronation, and you’ll see the late Queen wearing the bracelets in numerous photos from the day. I’d imagine we’ll see Charles wear them during the ceremony, too. He’ll probably use this pair, though they may have to be altered slightly to fit.
One other jewelry tradition has been upheld by all recent monarchs: the use of the Sovereign’s Ring. Sometimes dubbed the “wedding ring of England,” the ring is placed on the monarch’s right hand during the ceremony. The current Sovereign’s ring was made in 1831 for King William IV, and it’s also been used by King Edward VII, King George V, King George VII, and Queen Elizabeth II. (Queen Victoria’s hands were so incredibly small that a separate ring had to be made just for her coronation.) Charles will almost certainly wear the Sovereign’s Ring, though I wonder whether it will have to be resized slightly to fit him comfortably.
You’ll be able to spot the Sovereign’s Ring on King George V’s right hand in this portrait, taken just after his coronation in 1911. I’m so curious to see whether King Charles III looks something like this for his coronation or not—and whether significant changes to the monarch’s attire for the ceremony might be in the works. What do all of you think?