The Coming Coronation: Part One

On May 6th, 2023, Charles III will be crowned King of Great Britain. To mark the coming event, I’m posting some extracts from an unusual book, passages which go deep into the symbolism of the event, and its ancient origins.

This is the first of the two posts whose main content is taken from Wielding Power by Charles Tetworth. Today’s post introduces the book and its author, and takes us through the tradition of monarchy and the coronation as far as the regalia used and costume donned. The second post, to be published in two weeks’ time, will then describe the rituals of anointing and crowning which fully establish the reign – in this case – of King Charles III.

A note on the text: I have cut out a short section from the chapter, and added comments of my own, but not altered any of the original text. The book itself, subtitled ‘The Essence of Ritual Practice’ can still be purchased, for example via Amazon.

A note on the content: I am assuming that the coming ceremony will be conducted in the way described here, but it’s possible that certain changes to procedure will be implemented. Please take the details here as guidelines to the ritual rather than necessarily exact in every detail.

Wielding Power was written by a late friend of mine, and published under a pseudonym. ‘Charles Tetworth’ was an expert in matters of ritual, and for many years was a mentor and a source of knowledge to me. The book itself focuses primarily on an individual approach to ritual, in a magical sense, and then in the last chapter opens out to explore the meaning of our state rituals. Perhaps one of the book’s main achievements is to show that there is really no division between the practice of ritual in a so-called esoteric context and in those embodying the history and aspirations of our nation. Charles Tetworth shows us how the ‘spirit of the nation’ dwells in the ancient customs of the land. In the case of the coronation, these rituals are based on common law and the people’s choice of a monarch.

The book was published in 2002, well before the death of Queen Elizabeth II. So it’s one of those delightful cosmic jokes that the author’s choice of ‘Charles’ as part of his pseudonym is also that of the King who will be crowned sovereign in 2023. At the time, twenty years ago, no future coronation was in sight. There were also uneasy rumbles about succession, and Mr Tetworth himself thought privately – as he told me himself – that Prince Charles would never come to the throne.

King Charles III and Camilla the future Queen Consort

The publication of the book is a story in itself, and one in which I was involved. The text was first drafted back in the late 1980s. At that time, I was Commissioning Editor for a series of books called ‘The Compass of Mind’, to be published by Batsford as explorations of mind/body/spirit themes. Once the project was agreed, I set about finding suitable authors and topics. Out of this first batch of commissions, we gained ‘Dream-work’ by Lyn Webster-Wilde, ‘Astrology’ by Eve Jackson, ‘Genesis or Nemesis’ by Rev. Martin Palmer, and ‘Meditation’ by Lucy Oliver, ‘Divination‘, which I wrote, plus the first version of my book ‘The Circle of Nine’, about feminine archetypes. After these were launched, we then commissioned a book on ‘Performance’ by early music director Anthony Rooley, ‘Mind, Brain and Human Potential’ by psychologist Brian (Les) Lancaster, plus titles on the inner symbolism of music and – here it comes! – on the underlying meaning of ritual.

However, when the text on ritual came through, it was unacceptable for the series. Although the author was a well-established authority in the history of esoteric movements, in this case he unexpectedly veered away from the agreed synopsis to advocate his own specific religious beliefs. There was now a gap in the publishing schedule, which was well advanced – what should we do? And so I asked ‘Charles Tetworth’ if he could do an emergency job for us, writing a new text in time for the publication schedule. He agreed, and stayed up most nights that summer, scribbling a new version for us, based on his own deep insights after some forty years of esoteric study and practice. We were back on course.

But then disaster struck – Batsford, a long-established publisher, suddenly went out of business in its set-up of the time, taking our list with it. It was one of my worst jobs ever, telling the authors that their commissioned works could no longer be published, even if they had finished their manuscripts. I’m happy to say though that ‘Performance’ and ‘Mind, Brain and Human Potential’ subsequently found other publishers; the rest were simply cast adrift.

Below: some of the books which did make it into print from the ‘Compass of Mind’ series

Tetworth was sanguine and took it in his stride. We assumed that this was the end of the title – it was not an easy one to place with another publisher. However, some ten or fifteen years later, through another contact, he received an offer from Lindisfarne Books in the USA. ‘Another bite of the cherry,’ as Mr Tetworth put it cheerfully. Adapting and editing followed, and in 2002 it was finally published. Another close acquaintance, the well-known Kabbalist Warren Kenton aka Z’ev Ben Shimon Halevi, wrote a foreword:
‘…This work is full of riches clearly drawn from long and intimate experience with and practice of the subject.’

I was asked for a quote for the back cover, and wrote:
‘Tetworth is one of the few practitioners who have gone behind the scenes to ask what ritual is all about. He reveals the mystery of ritual, and proves it to be something basic to human society, a means by which we preserve mystery and promote magical interaction.’

Now, with permission of his family, as Mr Tetworth is no longer alive, and with assistance from his private editor, (a personal contact, rather than the in-house editor), I feel it’s an appropriate time to post the last chapter of his book, which is on the British Coronation. In order to keep it more accessible, especially since I’ve included some asides, I’m splitting my post into two; the second part will follow in two weeks.

Please note: All the details of the coronation, its customs and trappings, are accurate as far as I know, and many can be checked via the excellent Royal Trust Collection website. However, I can take no responsibility for any errors that may occur in the original text.


From ‘Wielding Power’, by Charles Tetworth

Britain has a history of not having been invaded for a thousand years. So it has had the chance to grow in an organic fashion. Even the Normans in the eleventh century really only took over the upper echelons of society; the lower strata remained comparatively untouched. The Normans soon learnt that the force of custom and tradition and regard for common law was so strong that if they contravened it, they would have no one left to rule over. One could say that Britain gained the upper hand and conquered the conquerors. Even the Romans seem to have been content to control only central matters of government rather than interfering at every level. Common law was recognised by nearly everyone and there were still large tracts of common land. According to the Domesday Book, Britain at this time was mainly wooded and it was very easy for the disaffected to disappear into the forests. This is the origin of the Robin Hood stories.

Such common law could not exist except by general agreement. Mechanisms existed already for dealing with problems, so Britain never went the way of France, with its monarchic despotism based on immutable law and the mystique of the Holy Blood. Since the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came to power in about 850 AD, methods had been evolved for handing over the authority to someone acceptable by most of the ruled. Rulership was originally elective, or at least required the acceptance of the tribal leaders; there was less chance, therefore, of familial dynasties becoming entrenched. Kingship was established as the most practical form of rulership and became accepted in common law by the compliance of the populace. Even the Norman William the Conqueror had some claim to the crown (though he was a bit impatient to wear it), and in due course he was anointed and crowned King of England.

At that time there was cooperation between Church and state. The Church had the authority to anoint the king since that was a religious matter, and this anointing is still seen as the central act of coronation. Pagan customs were also assimilated into the process of the coronation, and some of the mystique monarchy still possesses is based on ancient rituals that lie too far back in British history to be traceable.

Coronation means “crowning”. To be crowned is one thing; to be accepted by the people is something else again. So one of the most important aspects of the coronation ritual is the procession through the crowds of ordinary people by the monarch both before and after the ceremony. The procession before the coronation is to confirm that the right person is being crowned. In fact, this was crucial in days when the king was elected and succession was not by right of primogeniture. The election ceremony (a formal acclamation or election by the bishops and nobles) usually took place the day before the actual coronation in Westminster Hall. The monarch would then process from there to Westminster Abbey for the rites. This held real meaning: it was the opportunity for the people to discover who had been chosen and to approve the choice. The new heir is formally acclaimed immediately on the death of the king or queen at St James’ Palace. The coronation ritual itself starts with the formal recognition of the new monarch. But the procession is still the means whereby the people offer their implicit recognition. The procession after the crowning is for the people to see for themselves that the right person has been duly appointed.

The monarch exercises power and authority in both the spiritual and temporal realms. If the people have given their consent to the new monarch before the ceremony, and within the ceremony their worldly and spiritual leaders have also given their consent and have handed over the symbols of authority to the new monarch, then they know who their ruler is and they tacitly accept his or her authority. In earlier times, the anointing of the monarch meant that the person of the monarch had been transformed into something sacred. Perhaps this belief had sprung up from an earlier past when the king was looked upon as magician, priest and god. In Christian times the act of king-making was a sacramental rite and it is interesting to note that it has to this day never been fundamentally altered. Whatever the fashionable climate may be, it is still a fact that England is a Christian state with a religious foundation and the ruler has to be inaugurated with Christian rites.

State ritual is the framework within which power is exercised. From the ritual of the dissolution of parliament to the election of a new government, from the state opening of parliament to the Lord Mayor’s Show, from budget day to the prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons, all is governed by ritual. The ritual of the Coronation is worth studying in some detail as it embodies many of the formal and informal relationships that have evolved among the peoples of Britain….

The Coronation of Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953
Toy coronation coach – very popular, in various versions, in the 1950s! I wonder what happened to mine? And also what souvenirs will be produced on the occasion of King Charles’s coronation.


The coronation robes are worn only on this occasion in the lifetime of a monarch. Both the robes and the regalia reflect the spiritual and temporal authority and power that the monarch is vested with. The robes that represent spiritual authority are very similar to a bishop’s garments, which suggests that their origin lies in the time when anointing was believed to confer priestly status on the monarch.

The Colobium Sindonis is a long white sleeveless linen robe (rather like the alb worn by a bishop when he is celebrating Mass); it is open at the side, edged all round with lace, and gathered in at the waist by a linen girdle. The Dalmatic is made of cloth-of-gold lined with rose-coloured silk; it has short wide sleeves and is decorated with palm leaves, pink roses, green shamrocks and purple thistles. The Stole is again made of cloth- of-gold lined with rose-coloured silk. At either end of its five-foot length is the red cross of St George on a silver background. In the Church it is worn as an emblem of authority and bishops wear it round the neck hanging down in front, uncrossed, whereas priests wear it crossed while celebrating Mass. At the coronation it is worn over the Dalmatic. The Pall or Imperial Mantle, made of cloth-of-gold (with rose-coloured silk lining), is worked in a pattern of silver coronets, fleur- de-lys, green leaves, shamrocks, purple thistles and silver eagles. It is very similar to a bishop’s cope except that it is not rounded at the bottom but has four corners to represent the four corners of empire. It is the final robe to be placed on the newly consecrated monarch.

The Imperial Robe of royal purple is worn after the coronation for the procession out of the Abbey; it is made of purple velvet, lined and edged with miniver and ermine tails; it is hooded and has a long gold embroidered train. The Crimson Robe of State is worn in the procession to the Abbey before the coronation. It is made of crimson velvet embellished with gold lace; it is lined and edged with miniver and has a long train. It is also the robe worn for state openings of Parliament. The Cap of Maintenance (see below for an example) is worn by a male sovereign on his progress to the Abbey, while it is carried before a queen regnant. It is made of crimson velvet lined and edged with miniver. This or another “cap of maintenance” is carried before a monarch by a peer on a short baton at the opening of Parliament.

The Cap of Maintenance for Queen Elizabeth II

Some notes from Cherry

Regalia – macro and microcosm

In the City of Exeter there is also carefully preserved royal regalia. I knew nothing about this until I undertook to train as a Red Coat Guide, and we were given in-depth information about this, plus a chance to be close up and personal with the items themselves. In 1497, King Henry VII came to Exeter to thank the citizens for fighting off an attack by Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne. Exeter has mostly been very loyal to the crown, as its motto of ‘Semper Fidelis’ meaning ‘Always Faithful’ – possibly granted by Queen Elizabeth I – implies. It wavered towards the Parliamentarians in the Civil War but after the Restoration sent a fulsome apology to the Crown in the form of a giant and elaborate salt cellar: The Exeter Salt.

The Exeter Salt, a kind of apology to King Charles II for turning against his father. A very elaborate addition to the dinner table!

Anyway, King Henry thought well enough of Exeter to bestow his battle sword on the city. This is kept proudly in the Exeter Guildhall treasury, and brought out on parade for special occasions. Henry also gave the city his Cap of Maintenance, which likewise resides in the Guildhall or is carried on a cushion in procession. The Cap has had to be replaced after hundreds of years; the Sword is intact, but needs a new sheath every now and then. Both denote recognition of the city’s loyalty to the British monarchy.

The silver maces carried by the Mace Sergeants of Exeter – an ancient office dating back to medieval times – represent the authority of the Mayor and the Monarch. One of these maces must be placed on the bench for a Council Meeting to proceed in the Guildhall. This leads neatly back to the subject of the coming Coronation, since the Proclamation of Charles as King was read out in front of the Cathedral, with the Regalia and Mace Sergeants in attendance. In the photo below, you can see one of the Mace Sergeants, who are in black hats trimmed with green, holding his mace up, while to his right the furthest Mace Sergeant holds the battle sword of Henry VII upright. To his right, the Lady Mayor makes the Proclamation itself.

Now we return to the section from Wielding Power about Royal Regalia:

So much for the robes. The royal regalia consist of those emblems with which the sovereign is actually invested at the coronation. The ring is a sapphire and ruby cross of St George set in fine gold; this signifies the wedding of the monarch with the people and that the monarch is the “Defender of Christ’s Religion”. The Armills are two bracelets representing sincerity and wisdom; each is made of solid gold and together they symbolise the bonds that unite the monarch with the people. The Golden Spurs (also known as St George’s Spurs) are of solid gold with gold-embroidered crimson velvet straps. They represent knighthood and chivalry and in medieval times the bestowal of spurs formed an essential part of the making of a knight. The Jewelled Sword of State is the most magnificent of the swords carried at the coronation; both hilt and scabbard are elaborately decorated with gold tracing and precious stones.

Below: The Armills and the Golden Spurs

St Edward’s Crown, made of solid gold and set with precious stones, is worn only once in the lifetime of a monarch. It has four fleur-de-lys and four crosses around the rim; arches link the four crosses and there is an orb and a cross at the point of intersection. St Edward’s Staff is made of gold but has a steel tip; it is four feet, seven and a half inches long. It is carried before the monarch in the procession to the Abbey to guide his or her steps. The Royal Sceptre with Cross is the ultimate symbol of kingly authority. It is made of gold and has mounted beneath the cross the largest portion of the Cullinan diamond, weighing five hundred carats. The Sceptre or Rod with Dove is also made of gold but is surmounted by a gold and white enamel dove signifying the Holy Spirit. It is delivered as the rod of equity and mercy.

Below: St Edward’s Crown and the Royal Sceptre

The next two symbols – the Orb with Cross and the Second Crown – are highly significant, although strictly speaking they are not part of the actual regalia for the ritual of king-making. The Orb with Cross is a golden ball surmounted by a heavily jewelled metal band from which springs a jewelled arch with a cross at the apex. It became part of the coronation rite comparatively late. It is presented before the delivery of the Royal Sceptres and again for the procession out of the Abbey. The Second Crown was always worn by the monarchs on important occasions and is today worn at the state opening of Parliament. This crown, also called the Imperial State Crown, was made for Queen Victoria’s coronation and, set with many historic gems, is more splendidly jewelled than St Edward’s Crown.

The nobles and officers of the Church also have their own sets of regalia for a coronation. The symbols of coronation associated with the sacramental aspect of the rite are handled by the clergy alone. These include the special chalice and paten without which no Eucharist can be celebrated. Two of the most historically interesting items of the regalia are the Ampulla and the Anointing Spoon, which are thought to be the actual vessels used in medieval coronations. The Ampulla is a hollow vessel of solid gold in the form of an eagle; it holds six ounces of oil which is poured through the beak. The Spoon is of silver gilt and is probably older than the Ampulla. It is used by the archbishop to convey the sacred oil to the various parts of the monarch’s body.

There are four swords which are carried by the nobles and form part of their regalia. The largest of these is the two-handled Sword of State (picture below). It represents the power of the state itself and today is the only one of the four seen outside a coronation, since it is carried before the monarch at the state opening of Parliament. There are two Swords of Justice, one representing spiritual power and the other temporal justice. The fourth sword is called the Curtana because it has a blunted end: it is a symbol of mercy.

To be concluded: see The Coming Coronation part 2 (currently scheduled for release on Feb 26 2023)

Further Resources

The Royal Collection Trust

Sword of State and Cap of Maintenance