The Coronation of King Charles will see the Monarch wear two crowns and two spectacular velvet robes. While Charles III will begin the ceremony in the Robe of State, he will leave Westminster Abbey as a crowned King and wearing a sumptuous Robe of Estate.
There might be just one letter separating them in the anthology of coronations but there are major differences between these two robes. Both have very distinctive looks and very different symbolism in the ancient Coronation ceremony.
The Robe of Estate will only be seen once King Charles is crowned. Following that solemn moment, His Majesty will retire from the public stage of the Abbey and swap St. Edward’s Crown for the Imperial State Crown. He will also put on the Robe of Estate before appearing again before the congregation for the final exit and The Coronation Procession.
The Robe of Estate is also known as the Imperial Robe and that gives a clue to its colour. It is the colour of emperors and empresses, the most majestic shade of all – a vivid purple.
It is also majestic in size – the Robe of Estate of Queen Elizabeth II was over twenty feet long. The robe is always made of velvet, making it heavy, too – the one worn by Her Late Majesty tipped the scales at around 15 pounds.
The Robe of Estate consists of a long, velvet train covered with an ermine cape at the shoulders. It is trimmed with ermine. However, there is no set pattern for its decoration.
In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II wore a robe that had been embroidered in gold with olive branches and ears of wheat. Her Late Majesty’s cypher sat at the centre of the rounded end of the train, a focal point as she left the Abbey. The embroidery was carried out by 12 seamstresses from the Royal College of Needlework who spent 3,500 hours completing the decorations.
Queen Elizabeth II had considered using the Imperial Robe worn by her father, King George VI, but opted for her own in the end. However, it’s not yet been announced whether King Charles III will have a new Robe of Estate or whether he will reuse that of his grandfather. King George VI’s Robe of Estate was much less heavily decorated than the one worn by Queen Elizabeth II.
Whatever its provenance, the Robe of Estate worn by King Charles as he leaves Westminster Abbey will form a visual part of royal history. His Majesty will be photographed in that and the Imperial State Crown for his Coronation while painted portraits will also show the Monarch in that Robe. It will become one of the most striking images of a reign.