A King & His People: The Controversial Coronation of Edward II, 1308

The Coronation, marks an important moment in kingship. For in that ancient service, the monarch is set above his people spiritually through the act of unction – the application of Holy Oil imbuing the sovereign with quasi-spiritual power. In the medieval mind, the coronation confirmed the king’s status as ruler: it bequeathed him the right to sit above them, and in the main, govern his kingdom legitimately. Yet by the dawn of the fourteenth century, the magnates of England had, since 1215, sought to apply checks and limitations on the crown in order to avoid over-mighty monarchy, which had crippled the subjects of the kingdom during times like the reign of King John.

The accession of Edward II on 7 July 1307 marked a turning point in this ancient ceremony. For during the last twenty years of the reign of his father Edward I, had the late king done much to avoid enacting baronial reform, holding back his frustrated nobles, building internal hostility and resentment as a consequence. The country was heavily taxed and the rise of the mercantile class was also chomping at the bit for change. By 1307, it looked increasingly like the monarchy had returned to the days before Magna Carta had placed limitations on the power of the crown. 1308, was about to change all that.

The coronation service itself is steeped in ancient tradition; often complex and made harder to understand today, as the records and various inventories since 973 are fragmentary, contradictory or in part, intelligible. As with all great events such as this, while the order of service – the Ordo – is passed down and is the backbone of the ceremony, the service itself is open to some interpretation, so what was written may have actually been embellished, tweaked or altered on the day as events required it. That said, we can be comfortable enough to say that these events outlined below were most likely the order of things in the fourteenth century and beyond, and they were both highly hierarchical and imbued with religious symbolism. The coronation of Edward II would have been a magnificent affair. As you read along, be sure to check out the links to the medieval music sung at the ceremony.

Magna Carta imposed checks & limitations on a monarch’s power

Much of the service used at Edward II’s coronation most likely was taken from an embellished version created by his grandfather, Henry III (r.1216-72) whose personal project had been the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey in the Gothic style. Henry, whose devotion to the cult of St Edward the Confessor, focussed his energies on rebuilding the Confessor’s church and place of burial and shrine. To match the abbey, Henry III, heavily influenced by French culture, had not only remodelled his church on the French style, but appears to have adopted elements of the French Coronation service into the English one. This new Ordo, called the Fourth Recension was used for certain by Edward II on 25 February 1308. We have no evidence that it was used before however.

The order of service is magical as indeed was intended. The best surviving copies of the detailed ceremony are in the Lytlington Missal (1362-86) and the Liber Regalis (1390’s), whose accounts are virtually identical. Sir Roy Strong in his book ‘Coronation’, best summed up these medieval accounts which are detailed below (1);

The Coronation – the Fourth Recension (How to do it, as outlined by contemporaries)


1. ‘A stage is to be erected at the crossing in Westminster Abbey with a flight of steps from the west side for the king to ascend and a further flight on the eastern side for him to descend and approach the high altar.

2. On the stage a “lofty throne” is to be sited so that the king may “be clearly seen by all the people”.

3. If the Archbishop of Canterbury be incapacitated he shall choose one of his suffragans to perform the ceremony. [In 1308, the Archbishop, Robert Winchelsey, was returning from exile, having been recently recalled by the new king, but suffering ill health appointed bishop Woodlock of Winchester to administer on his behalf, with the support of the bishops of Salisbury and Chichester(2)].

4. On the day before the coronation the king is to ride bare-headed to the Palace of Westminster “to be seen by the people”.

5. The Coronation is to be on a Sunday or a holy day. [Edward’s was on the Feast of St Matthias the Apostle. Originally the intended date was the 18th February, the Feast of the translation of St Edward the Confessor (the Plantagenet royal saint), which had been designed to heighten yet further the sanctity of the ceremony. The delay occurred due to political tensions and is noted below].

6. The king is to spend the night before in prayer and contemplation, seeking the virtues needful of a ruler.

7. The Abbot of Westminster is to instruct the king about the Coronation. If he for some reason is unavailable, the prior and convent shall chose another.

The ‘Election’

8. On the day of the Coronation the prelates and nobles of the realm should assemble at the palace “to consider about the consecreation and election of the new king, and also about confirming and surely establishing the laws and customs of the realm”. [It is at this moment, that the nobility by tradition accept the heir as king. It is also important to note that this proved controversial for Edward II and may be when his magnates threatened to postpone his coronation if long overdue reforms were not enacted. The position of Piers Gaveston, the king’s lover, had also become a bone of contention during these discussions, which the Annalist of St Paul’s noted. Edward responded by promising to hear their noble grievances at the next parliament in a few days, but only if the coronation could proceed (3)].

The Trappings of Monarchy

9.The king is bathed “as is the custom” and attired in “spotless apparel”, not wearing shoes but socks only. The effect must be that his body “glistens by the actual washing and the beauty of his vestments”. In the great hall he is lifted “with all gentleness and reverence” on to a throne covered with cloth of gold.

The king is bathed so as to ‘glisten’

10. From the Abbey a clerical procession consisting of members of the episcopacy and the convent shall make its way to the great hall. [Edward II’s coronation was so spectacular, like with his father’s Edward I in 1274, a second wooden great hall was built as a temporary structure and was approximately 500 feet long]. They return in procession with the king to the Abbey chanting and singing anthems.

11. The royal almoner supervises a path laid with ray (striped) cloth from the palace to the Abbey. After the event the cloth within the Abbey is the perquisite of the sacrist and that outside is distributed by the almoner to the poor.

12. The stage and steps within the Abbey are to be covered with carpets by the royal ushers and cloth of gold is to be hung around the top of the stage.

13. Royal chamberlains must see that the throne is adorned “with silken and most precious coverings”.

The First Procession

14. The king is to be proceeded by the prelates and monks and himself led by the hand by the bishops of Durham and Bath “in accordance with ancient custom”. Immediately before the king the chancellor, if he be a bishop, with the chalice of St Edward. Before him also the treasurer, again if he be a bishop or abbot, bearing the paten. Both are to be in pontificalibus (in their attire of office). After the chalice and paten follow the earls, “especially who by kingship are nearly related to the king”, who bear the sceptre with the cross and the golden rod with the dove. [This was done by the earl of Hereford, brother-in-law to Edward II. The earl of Arundel carried the vestments along with Hugh Despenser the Elder and Roger Mortimer of Wigmore]. All of these items of regalia should be delivered from the Abbey to the palace by the abbot. After the regalia come three earls bearings swords, Curtana…and two others. [In 1308, the earl of Lancaster, Edward’s cousin, carried Curtana, while the earls of Lincoln and Warwick carried the two other swords].  Then follows a noble appointed by the king to carry the spurs. The king and queen are each under canopies of purple silk carried on four silver lances topped with silver-gilt bells. Each canopy is carried by sixteen Barons of the Cinque Ports, four to a lance, supporting it in rota. The fabric afterwards is a perquisite of the barons, the lances and bells of the Abbey, as, in addition, are all the carpets, silken cloths and cushions placed in the church. This was “in accordance with ancient custom”. [Gaveston was also granted the highest honour of carrying the crown of St Edward the Confessor into the Abbey, immediately before the king, which gave him precedence over all other nobles in the ceremony. The St Paul’s Annalist scorned, writing that the crown was carried ‘in the filthy hands of Piers Gaveston'(4)].

Inside the Abbey – Mass, Offerings, Prayers

15. When the king is seated on the stage the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is to consecrate him, addresses the assembled people at each of the four sides, “inquiring their will and consent”. As he does this the king stands and turns to face each side in turn. The people give their assent shouting “So be it” and “Long live the king” and “uttering with great joy” his name.

16. The choir sings the anthem Firmetur manus tua (Click here to listen to a snippet)

17. The archbishop who is to celebrate Mass revests himself at the altar “on account of the crowd that is come together, lest he should be hindered by it”. [The crowds were so immense during Edward II’s coronation that the king had to leave the Palace through a side door to enter the Abbey, and during the ceremony, a temporary wall collapsed due to the press of people, killing John Bakewell, a former seneschal of Ponthieu].

Mass is an important part of the Coronation service

18. The bishops of Durham and Bath shall support the king on either side and together with the other bishops shall lead him down the steps to the high altar. The abbot is always to be in attendance acting as a prompt to the king “so that everything may be done right”.

19. The king makes an offering of a pound of gold and then prostrates himself upon the carpets and cushions which have been laid by the ushers. The archbishop says a prayer over him.

20. One of the bishops makes a short sermon to the people while the archbishop sits in a chair before the altar, the king sitting opposite him.

The Coronation Oath

21. Then the archbishop administers the Coronation oath followed by an admonition on behalf of the bishops, to which the king also responds. He then confirms all that he has agreed to by swearing at the altar.

[Edward II’s coronation oath was a very novel invention. Until 1308, the Kings of England  had sworn to only three clauses; namely to –

  • Uphold the laws, customs and liberties granted by their ancestors
  • Preserve and protect the Holy Church
  • Render justice to the people of the kingdom.

Edward II was forced to accept a fourth clause, binding Edward to ‘uphold the rightful laws and customs which the community of the realm have chosen.

If anything this curious addition built on the agreement that the king, unlike his father before him, would uphold decisions made between the king and his nobles. Only three years earlier, Edward I had secured agreement from Pope Clement V to release him from concessions made to the nobles in the Confirmation of the Charters of 1297 and the Articuli Super Cartas of 1300. There was always a risk that Edward II would adopt a similar policy and this additional fourth clause of the coronation oath became an insurance policy against a repeat action of the previous reign.(4)

So successful was the application of this fourth clause, that the oath has remained unchanged to this present day].

22. The king prostrates himself again before the altar while the archbishop kneels and intones the Veni creator spiritus. (Click here to hear sung) A prayer follows and then two bishops or singers intone the litany. While this is sung the archbishops and all the other bishops prostrate themselves alongside the king and privately recite the seven penitential psalms. (4a)

The Anointing set the king above his people spiritually

The Anointing

23. More prayers and responses follow, after which the king sits again in his chair and then goes to the altar and divests himself of his robes, except his tunic and shirt “which are open at the breast, and between the shoulders, and on the shoulders, and also at the elbow…”. The silver loops sealing the openings are undone by the archbishop, the king kneeling beneath a canopy. The archbishop anoints the king with holy oil on his hands, breast, between the shoulders, on the shoulders, on both elbows and on the head in the form of a cross. The head is anointed a second time with chrism. The holy oil is to be in a silver phial and the chrism in one of gilt. After this the silver loops are fastened. During this the anthem Unxerunt Salamonem is sung. [This echoes the Coronation of King Solomon from the Old Testament].


24. The first phase of vesting then follows, opening with a linen coif for the head, then the colobium sindonis [tunic] cut like a dalmatic. The coif the king is to wear for seven days and on the eighth a bishop is to say Mass of the Trinity in the Chapel Royal, after which he is to wash the king’s hair in hot water, dry it and “reverently arrange it” and put on it a golden circlet which the king shall wear the whole day.

25. The archbishop blesses the royal ornaments and the king is vested in them by the abbot; first a long tunic reaching to his feet “wrought with golden figures before and behind”, then buskins, sandals and spurs. [Three people were given this role of attaching the sandals and spurs at Edward’s coronation. Charles of Valois, Edward’s brother-in-law put the boot and spur on the king’s right foot. Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke placed the boot on Edward’s left foot, leaving Piers Gaveston to fasten the spur. (5) This placed Gaveston as an equal to the future King of France and was another affront that many of the nobility took from the earl of Cornwall’s role in this exalted act. For Edward he had simply rewarded his close follower but it bucked tradition. It was too much too soon for Gaveston’s new found position at court for many to stomach].

The sword is blessed and delivered by the bishops. The king is girded with it and then vested with the armils which “shall hang like a stole around his neck, for both shoulders to elbows, and shall be bound to the elbows by silken knots…”. Then comes the mantle, “which is square and worked all over with golden eagles”. The crown is blessed and placed on the king’s head, after which follows a blessing and the delivery of the ring [of St John the Evangelist]. The king takes off the sword and offers it at the altar, from which it is redeemed by the earl “who is the greatest of those present” [Edward II gave this role to his lover Piers Gaveston, recently made earl of Cornwall only seven months earlier. This action at the coronation caused much anger in particular]. Gloves are put on the king’s hands and then the sceptre with the cross put into his right hand and the gold rod with the dove in his left. All of these actions are accompanied by prayers. The regalia, it stipulates, must be laid ready on the altar by the sacrist from the outset, “that everything may be done without hindrance from the very great course of people”.

Edward II enthroned at his Coronation

Enthronement – offers of fealty

26. The king then kisses the bishops and, together with “the nobles of the realm”, he is led back up the steps to the throne on the stage while the Te Deum is sung. (Click here to hear sung) When ended, the archbishop says the prayer Sta et retine and the king is enthroned, and “the peers of the realm shall stand around the king and stretch forth their hands as a sign of fealty, and offer themselves to support the king and the crown”. [The nobles throughout the troubled reign of Edward II often cited this moment as their justification for their opposition to the king by upholding the traditional rights of the crown against perceived abuses, either by Edward or through Edward’s favourites, especially Hugh Despenser the Younger].

The Mass

27. The Mass then follows. The gospel is carried to the king to kiss and he then descends to present to the archbishop the bread and wine and also an offering of a mark of gold. When the archbishop has given the kiss of peace to the bishop who took the gospel to the king, the same bishop takes the pax to him. When the peace has been given the king descends and receives communion in both kinds.

The Final Procession

28. The Mass ended, the king descends to the high altar and a procession of clergy and nobles forms to the shrine of St Edward the Confessor. The Great Chamberlain divests the king of his regalia and vestments, which are laid on the altar by the abbot. The Great Chamberlain then revests the king in robes of state and the archbishop puts on him another crown but returns to him the regalia sceptres. Then follows a procession back through the Abbey “with great glory”. [Edward II and this procession would have then left the Abbey and walked over a path of ray (striped cloth) to the great hall and feasted for three days.

End of the Ceremony

29. The Abbey of Westminster is to receive on the day a hundred bushels of corn and a “modius” [measure] of wine and fish.

30. The sceptres are to be returned to the Abbey immediately after the feast to join the rest of the regalia there, “the repository of the royal ensigns for ever, by papal bulls, king’s charters, and old custom always observed”.’ [Edward II had another set he kept in the the royal wardrobe. In total Edward had ten different crowns].

The Feast

The feasting that followed the Coronation was set to last for three days. In 1308, as Edward II and his procession left the Abbey and entered Westminster Hall, hanging on the walls were tapestries emblazoned with the arms of Edward and Piers Gaveston, which had been commissioned on 6 October 1307 at a cost of £5 from London upholsterers, John Engine and John le Tapyter.(6) The queen’s coat of arms were not commented on so it may be that they were most likely present but not as prominently displayed or that contemporaries were so shocked to see Gaveston’s, they then failed to report the obvious – that Isabella’s were there. Gaveston to, marshal of the feast, arrived dressed in purple, a colour reserved for the monarch only. He should have been wearing cloth of gold. As the meal got underway the food was apparently cold when served, possibly on account of the numbers to feed, and it was noted by chroniclers that Edward spent much of his time with Gaveston in deep conversation and did not speak to others. All this poured fuel on to the fire, which spilled over in the following weeks into demands for Gaveston’s exile.

The Coronation of Edward II on 25 February 1308, was therefore by all accounts, something of a controversial affair. The initial date set for the ceremony was postponed as the nobles demanded reforms and expressed their concerns over the ongoing elevation at court of Edward’s lover Piers Gaveston. During the ancient ceremony, full of pomp and precedence, Edward gave Gaveston principal roles that traditionally were offered to more established earls, such as carrying the crown of St Edward the Confessor, to redeeming Curtana in particular, to the lesser but no less noticeable actions wearing purple, a colour reserved only for the sovereign and his consort at the feast. Beyond Gaveston, the king had been tied down by his toxic inheritance, and was forced to agree to a fourth clause in his coronation oath, binding him to yet further limitations on his crown. As the nobles of England swore fealty to the king as the ceremony drew to a close, their own oaths – made to uphold the rights of the crown – were taken literally, and used through the following twenty years, to hold Edward to account. From this day forth, the Coronation had changed, and that fourth clause remains part of the Oath taken by Elizabeth II in 1953.


(1) Strong, Roy. Coronation: A History of Kingship & British Monarchy, 84-88. See also Foedera, II, i, 33-6. CCR, 1307-13, 53

(2) Annales Londonienses, 1195-1330, 261

(3) Annales Paulini, 1307-1340, 260

(4) Ibid, 260

(4a) Psalms: Psalm 6: Domine, ne in furore; Psalm 32: Beati quorum; Psalm 38: Domine, ne in furore; Psalm 51: Miserere; Psalm 102: Domine, exaudi; Psalm 130: De profundis; Psalm 143, 1-11: Domine, exaudi

(5) Spinks, Stephen. Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance, 75

(6) Ibid, 76



Header & Five: Coronation of Edward II. CCCC Ms 20, f68r

One: Magna Carta. British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106

Two: A king is bathed

Three: Celebration of Mass in Initial D, Psalter-Hours, Belgium, Liège

Four: Coronation of Richard I, 1189

Stephen Spinks is author of ‘Edward II the Man: A Doomed Inheritance‘ available here at Waterstones  Amazon  Foyles  Amberley Publishing


Twitter: @Spinkstephen

Facebook: Fourteenthcenturyfiend


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