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British RoyalsHistory

The Coronation robes of Britain’s last king, George VI

It’s been nearly 90 years since the United Kingdom crowned its last King, King George VI. And the outfit worn by George on 12 May 1937 might give us an idea of how King Charles III may dress when he is crowned on 6 May, and how he could follow tradition.

As he walked into Westminster Abbey, King George VI wore the Robe of State, also known as the Parliament Robe. The long mantle is worn by the British monarch when they enter The Abbey for the coronation and during the annual State Opening of Parliament. Consisting of an ermine cape, the robe has a long crimson velvet train (about 4.5 m in length) that is also lined with ermine. On top of the train, there are two rows of gold filigree work and gold lace. To give an idea of how elaborate the robe is, it had to be carried by nine pages of honour.

This is not to be confused with the Robe of Estate which is the long, purple velvet mantle worn by the monarch after the actual coronation service is complete. The robe is about 6.5 m in length if you measure from the shoulder to the very tip of the train. The Robe of Estate worn by Elizabeth II was embroidered in goldwork featuring the ciphers of The Queen and a border of wheat ears and olive branches. Making the robe was no easy task as it took 3500 hours with a team of 12 embroiderers and seamstresses working at the Royal School of Needlework. For the Coronation of King Charles III, it is possible we could see new robes as it is normal for new ones to be made for each monarch.

Like any other coronation, the day included the Crown Jewels, also known as one of the nation’s treasures. From the Sovereign’s Orb to the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, some of these items have been used in coronations dating back to the 1600s. Some new ones have been added over the years including the Imperial State Crown which was made for King George VI.

The Imperial State Crown, or Crown of State, is the crown the monarch exchanges for St Edward’s Crown at the end of the coronation ceremony. Made specifically for George, the crown was originally designed for Queen Victoria in 1838 by the crown jewelers at the time, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.

It is set with 2,868 diamonds and includes the Cullinan II diamond, the second largest stone cut from the Cullinan Diamond, the largest diamond ever discovered. It also carries its own royal history as it includes St Edward’s Sapphire which is said to have been worn in a ring by Edward the Confessor. Don’t forget about the 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and 269 pearls within the gold-mounted crown.

St Edward’s Crown is used at the moment of crowing during the ceremony. Weighing 2.07 kg, or nearly 5lb, the crown was made for Charles II in 1661 as a replacement for a melted-down medieval crown in 1649 after the execution of Charles I. This crown was last used in the crowning of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

The palace has confirmed King Charles III will be crowned with St Edward’s Crown as his mother did in 1953. He will then wear the Imperial State Crown as he leaves the Abbey. Queen Camilla will opt for Queen Mary’s Crown which features 2,200 diamonds and was worn by Queen Mary during the coronation of her husband, King George V in 1911.

The coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla is 6 May at Westminster Abbey.

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About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.