|James VI and I|
Monday July 25, 1603—the day appointed for the coronation of King James VI of Scotland and his wife, Anne of Denmark as James I of England and Queen Anne—dawned drab and wet. It was not an auspicious omen. Indeed it was a somber day in more ways than one. Thirty-six years and one day before, his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, had been forced to abdicate in favor of her year-old son and the date, possibly chosen to commemorate privately his mother, had to bring back thoughts of her long imprisonment and her execution. James would, within a few years, remove his mother’s remains from their original grave in Peterborough Cathedral and re-inter them among England’s Kings in Westminster Abbey. James could not possibly have been close to his mother—or even to have had any memories of her—as they had been separated from his infancy, but she represented to him his royal patrimony and the legitimacy of his wearing the Crowns of Scotland and England. Just as with the Tudors, the Stuarts too valued family over Creed or any other thing.
The day before—that fateful anniversary of his mother’s abdication—the new King of England and his wife travelled in the traditional procession from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster. They were accompanied by a retinue of guards as well as the leading members of the court and had been greeted along the way by speeches, tableaux, and decorations in their honor at such key places as the Guildhall and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The procession, part of all English coronations at the time, would have been an almost-all-day event. The Palace of Westminster, today the seat of Parliament, had been a chief royal residence in London until the reign of Henry VIII and the monarch traditionally spent the night before the coronation in the palce so as to be near the Abbey where the coronation service began early the next morning.
Indeed workers in the Abbey had been busy all through the night putting the final touches on the “theatre” for the coronation—the area beneath the central tower where the transepts met the nave. Outside the Abbey workers were laying a carpet of blue cloth from the throne in the Great Hall of the Palace down through the Hall and along the street to the great West Door of the Abbey Church. About dawn the Abbey vergers began preparing the Church for the service. This was a tricky matter as never before had the Protestant service found in the Book of Common Prayer been used for the Coronation. Even the Protestant monarchs, Edward VI and Elizabeth, had been crowned with full Catholic Ritual and the Sarum Rite. But now, gone was the altar with its jeweled cross and candles and in its place stood a plain wooden table covered with “a faire linen clothe” for the Holy Communion. Gone were the snow-white albs and rich brocaded chasubles and tunicles of the clergy. In their place the bishops wore their rochets of fine white lawn beneath their black silk chimeres. In place of the miters of previous days, they wore the plain square black caps of their university days. The lower clergy wore their black gowns. The Church had been stripped of its glory, but not the peerage. The peers gathered in their robes of red velvet trimmed with furs, coronets in their hands to be donned at the moment the Archbishop placed the crown on the head of King James.
Around eight in the morning, James and Anne processed with their court from the Palace of Westminster to the nearby Abbey where, resplendent in their royal robes, they were greeted by the Dean and Chapter of Westminster in somber clerical black. The Dean, the canons, and principal bishops of the realm carrying the Crown, the Chalice and Paten, and the Bible were accompanied by noblemen carrying the scepters, Sword of State, and the orb. This procession led James and Anne through the Abbey into the choir as the royal choristers sang psalm 112, I Was Glad When They Said Unto Me. Archbishop Whitgift led the King to the four corners of the coronation theatre, facing East, South, West, and North to present him for “recognition” and the customary shouts of “Long Live the King” by those assembled. He then administered the Coronation Oath to govern justly and by law. The oath administered, all settled in for the drab Protestant Service with its multiple collects and turgid readings unbroken by any chants or whiffs of incense, or other bits of more sensual popery.
It would be another two-hundred and thirty years before a romantic interest in things medieval would encourage the Church of England to root around in its dusty armoires and cubbyholes to find the silk vestments and brocaded hangings of a more vibrant era. And while Tallis and Byrd had written beautiful music for the Anglican Service (both composers were Catholics and also wrote music for the Catholic Church), and while such music would most likely have been used in the coronation service, for the most part in sixteenth century Anglicanism there was no singing except for psalms, and organs were being allowed to fall into disrepair for lack of use. In place of ritual and music, there was a preponderance of turgid verbosity and even Cranmer’s elegant English of the Prayer Book was just droned out without any passion. But when the Gospel had been jumped like a hurdle and the Nicene Creed run through in rote repetition, the service came alive again. It was time for the anointing.
It is most curious that the anointing survived the Reformation. All things Catholic had been done away with unless there could be a direct scriptural command such as “do this in remembrance of me,” or “go baptize all nations.” For many English Protestants with a Puritan bent, even the ring at a wedding was too “popish” for their delicate Christian consciences. But anointing the king—that was retained. Granted there was a scriptural precedent for it—Saul had been anointed in his day and David in his. But all other anointings had been done away with in the revised rites of 1552 and 1559. There was no long an anointing of the candidate for baptism or a chrismation after the baptism. There was no anointing in the confirmation service. There was no anointing of the hands in the ordination of a priest or the anointing of the head of a bishop at his consecration. Even the anointing of the sick—for which the Epistle of Saint James gave a command—had been done away with. But a king was still anointed.
And it wasn’t just the anointing. Before the anointing the king was divested of his Robe of State and his outer garments, he was vested in the columbium sidonis, a white gown that opened at the neck (to allow for the anointing) and which corresponds to the alb. Over this, after the anointing, he is vested with the supertunica which corresponds to the Dalmatic. Over this he is robed with a stole and the cope-like pallium regale. In other words he is dressed similar to a bishop in his pontificals to show the link between kingship and priesthood.
This link between priesthood and kingship was also displayed in the coronation service of other nations. The King of France at his coronation received Holy Communion from the chalice, a practice at the time reserved to the priest-celebrant of the Mass. The Russian Czar also received Holy Communion at his coronation in the manner of a priest—entering the altar through the Royal Doors, the entry into the sanctuary reserved for bishops and priests, and then taking the particle of the Lamb (the consecrated bread) in his hands before drinking from the chalice. (The normal way the laity receive Holy Communion in the Russian Church is that the priest drops the particle which has been soaked in the consecrated wine, into the mouth of the communicant from a spoon.)
It is ironic that while the Church of England had all but dropped the concept of priesthood for the clergy, it retained it for the Sovereign. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that the Monarch becomes “ordained” in the coronation rite or that he or she in any way is authorized for priestly ministry, but the symbols of priesthood are retained and conferred on the Sovereign as a symbol of his (or her) being “The Lord’s Anointed.” It is a political gesture that draws on religious symbolism.
After James was anointed, he was then invested with the various swords, scepters, and orb that symbolized his rights and duties as protector of the people, administrator to them of Justice and Mercy, and their Ruler. Queen Anne was then brought forward to the same spot, and anointed like James (though not vested in the priestly garments) and crowned. They were then led to their thrones and the colorless Anglican Service continued. Anne caused quite a stir, however, when she refused Holy Communion as this confirmed for many the rumors that she was secretly a Roman Catholic.
The service over, the priestly vesture exchanged again for the Robe of State, the King and Queen were led from the Abbey back to the Palace of Westminster where the coronation banquet awaited them. The service lasted about seven hours and it was mid-afternoon before they got to eat. There was no shortage of food, however, with which to sate the royal appetite.