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To crown a queen – the Coronations of Britain’s female monarchs

For the first time in seventy years, Britain will see a king crowned. After almost three quarters of a century of female rule, there is a whole generation who, rightly, know nothing of the pointless debate about the validity of female rule. And yet, seven decades ago, as arguably the most important monarch in British history was crowned, discussions continued about whether is was right to crown a queen. Those rows were nothing new. The very notion of a female monarch kept rightful heirs from the throne for centuries. In this week of history, as Charles III prepares for his coronation, Royal Central looks at the majestic moments that crowned a queen.

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 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 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.

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.

Queen Elizabeth II

The longest reigning monarch in British history was crowned on June 2nd 1953. Elizabeth II rode to her Coronation in the Gold State Coach, through huge crowds who stood in the cold and rain to cheer her on this special day.

The Coronation was seen as a moment of hope for a nation still recovering from World War Two. Street parties went ahead even though rationing for some foods still continued. At the heart of the celebrations was a new, young monarch for a new age. But even this second Elizabeth to rule heard questions about whether a woman was up to the job.

Her reign proved to be the most historic of all. For seven decades, Her Late Majesty was a towering example of a queen and a head of state, respected around the world and a pattern for a modern monarch. She took on the role before her and took out all criticisms through example and just getting on with it. Her success was proved in the smooth transition to the new reign of King Charles III who has already won plaudits for his own rule.

And now, ahead of a moment of history, there is a whole generation asking what happens when you have a king, rather than a queen? The six women to wear the crown that will be placed on the head of Charles III changed everything.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.