"The Wonderfull Spectacle" the Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation

“The Wonderfull Spectacle” the Civic Progress of Elizabeth I and the Troublesome Coronation

McCoy, Richard C.

Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual, University of California Press (1990)


Henry VIII won his crown by force on Bosworth field, but when the time came to solemnize its acquisition, the founder of the Tudor line carefully emulated the coronation ordo of his vanquished predecessor. Indeed he simply made it his own. The manuscript of Henry’s “little devise of the coronacion” was originally Richard III’s, but the heralds crossed out the names of the old monarch and inserted those of the new. The sense of ceremonial continuity was preserved and deepened through the more orderly succession of Henry VIII, whose own “device for the maner and order of the Coronation” closely followed his father’s.

Nevertheless, the stability of these rites and their sacramental force was inevitably shaken by the Tudor Reformation. Although the coronation rite could easily accommodate political conflicts and crises, religious controversy struck at its vital heart. Henry’s new status as supreme head of the church prompted him to tamper with the coronation oath, making several corrections in his own hand in order to assert “his dygnite ryall and fredommes of the crowne of Englond in all maner hole w[i]t[h]out any maner of mynyshement.” Henry’s autocratic version of the oath was never officially adopted by his successors, but his conflicted religious settlement and tangled succession dramatically altered the relationship between church and royal authority while disrupting the coronation’s ceremonial continuity. At their accessions, his heirs faced grave liturgical problems, and their solutions varied widely. Edward’s mentors sought to desacralize the event, by affirming a Protestant view of ceremony and kingship, whereas Mary tried to restore the coronation’s sacramental status.

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