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To Crown a Queen: the Coronations of England’s female monarchs

The Coronation of Elizabeth II on June 2nd 1953 is often spoken of as the moment that a new era began. It was a moment of history and just the sixth time a queen regnant had been crowned in England’s history. As Royal Central marks 65 years since the Queen’s Coronation, here’s a look back at the crowning of England’s other female rulers.

Mary I

Mary I became the first woman to be crowned queen regnant of England on October 1st 1553. The ceremony, at Westminster Abbey, was ground breaking in more ways than one. Mary was a staunch Catholic and had had to fight her way to power and this had an impact on her coronation ceremony. She refused to be anointed with the oils used for her Protestant brother, Edward VI, as they had been consecrated by clergymen she considered heretics. Instead, oil was sent from Flanders for the coronation.

And Mary had also crossed paths with Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had supported her Protestant rival for the throne, Lady Jane Grey. As a consequence, Archbishop Cranmer was in the Tower of London on Coronation Day and the ceremony was instead carried out by Mary’s ally, Stephen Gardiner, Archbishop of Winchester.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I’s coronation set out a vision for her reign

Elizabeth I was crowned on January 15th 1559 in a ceremony that gave a clear indication of how her reign would unfold. The new queen was a Protestant and had already made it clear she intended to remove many of the changes her Catholic half sister, Mary I. Her coronation was a starting point – although the ceremony was conducted in Latin, parts were read in English as well as new ways took over old.

Elizabeth, like Mary, had no Archbishop of Canterbury to crown her – the last incumbent had died and not yet been replaced. So the Bishop of Carlisle, Owen Oglethorpe, conducted the ceremony. A Catholic, he elevated the host during the Coronation mass – the queen withdrew and returned once that part of the service was concluded to process out of the Abbey and greet the huge crowds that had come to see her.

Mary II

Mary II was crowned alongside her husband, and joint ruler, William III on April 11th 1689 in a ceremony that proved problematic in more ways than one. The pair had swept to power the previous year by deposing Mary’s father, James II, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, wasn’t happy about the new reign and refused to crown them. Instead, the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, oversaw the ceremony.

Mary ended up sitting in a different seat as the Coronation Chair, traditionally used by the Monarch, was given to her husband. And the new queen didn’t enjoy the event, describing the day as ‘’all vanity’’. A month later, she and William took a simpler coronation oath in London to mark their confirmation as King and Queen of Scotland.

Queen Anne

Anne was crowned on St. George’s Day, 1702

Anne had been the sometimes overlooked younger sister of Mary II but when she became Queen, on the death of William III in 1702, she proved herself to be a shrewder and tougher character than anyone had given her credit for. One of her first masterstrokes was to plan her Coronation for St. George’s Day. However, when April 23rd arrived she wasn’t in the best of health. Anne had an attack of gout and had to be carried to the door of Westminster Abbey in a sedan chair with an open back that allowed her long robes to flow out behind her.

Queen Anne managed to walk into the service where she became the first female regnant to be crowned by an Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Tenison conducted the service using a specially made crown. Anne left the Abbey on foot to a raputurous reception from the crowds, a popular monarch from the very start of her reign.

Queen Victoria

Victoria left a rather fulsome account of her own coronation in her diaries. She described the actual placing of the crown upon her head as ‘’the most beautiful, impressive moment’’ even though she admitted that the day before she had been ‘’very agitated’’ about the prospect of the ceremony.

Queen Victoria in her coronation robes

Victoria was crowned by William Howley, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had presided over the Coronation of King William IV seven years earlier. As she walked out of the ceremony, she was wearing the new Imperial State Crown which had been made for her. Huge crowds lined the streets – hundreds of thousands of people had made their way to London for the event – and they were rewarded with a glimpse of the newly crowned queen whose coronation procession was the longest in centuries.

Photo credit: Elizabeth I, Public Domain, ex Wiki Commons; Anne, By John Closterman – Public Domain, ex Wiki Commons; Victoria, by Henry Pierce Bone – Royal Collection RCIN 422373, Public Domain, ex Wiki Commons

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