Probably the most spectacular and mystical ceremony connected with monarchy, this is the solemn rite whereby a sovereign is anointed, crowned and consecrated king or queen.
The earliest inaugurations of kings throughout Europe took the form of the presentation of the ruler elect to a gathering of his people, who signified their consent to his coronation by acclamation. This done, he was raised shoulder high on a shield so that all might see him and know him.
These two elements, now known as the recognition and the enthronement, still form part of the coronation rite performed today. Other integral parts of the rite are the administration of the oath, the anointing with consecrated oil, the vesting with the coronation vestments, and the delivery of the regalia, culminating with the actual crowning, and closed by the reception of Holy Communion.
The coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 in Westminster Abbey is well described in the diaries of the American-born socialite Sir Henry 'Chips' Channon. In his account of the event he says 'I tried to remember the great moments of the ceremony: I think the shaft of sunlight, catching the King's golden tunic as he sat for the crowning; the kneeling Bishops drawn up like a flight of geese in deploy position; and then the loveliest moment of all, the swirl when the peeresses put on their coronets: a thousand white gloved arms, sparkling with jewels, lifting their tiny coronets'.
Channon was also impressed by the homage of the peers to the King, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with all the other Bishops kneeling in a row, 'looking like a Gentile Bellini'.
Queen Elizabeth was crowned on 2 June 1953, some 16 months after she acceded to the throne. The ceremony was performed, as is customary, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior cleric of the Church of England.
The organisation of the Coronation is the responsibility of the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk.