Royal London is like a stage set. Its ceremonial routes are laid out between historic buildings that provide a dramatic background for the momentous milestones of the nation—from events like the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II last fall or her Platinum Jubilee celebration last summer.
On May 6, 2023, London will celebrate a new story as King Charles III journeys to Westminster Abbey for his coronation. A sacred and solemn occasion, the coronation will have a ceremonial cadence marked with pageantry and precision as only Britain can muster.
Here are four locations to inspire your next itinerary and better inform your viewing of the coronation of King Charles III.
On the way to Westminster Abbey, the King’s Procession will leave from Buckingham Palace, the 775-room London home and office of the sovereign. Each summer, visitors can walk in the footsteps of the monarch by exploring the 19 sumptuous state rooms and the palace’s verdant gardens through self-guided audio tours.
With gilded ceilings and glittering chandeliers, the state rooms are home to many famous masterpieces from the Royal Collection and a suite of elegant rooms used for official state functions and entertaining.
Of note, the Throne Room is used for court ceremonies like investitures. A dramatic arch and red canopy over the thrones are the masterpiece of the architect John Nash. The room features thrones used in previous coronations, including that of the king’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his grandfather, King George VI.
After the coronation, the Coronation Procession will depart Westminister Abbey and conclude at Buckingham Palace. The king and select members of the Royal Family will appear on the central balcony overlooking the Mall and the Queen Victoria Monument. A highlight of the moment will be the flypast of the Royal Airforce.
The Royal Mews
Located on the grounds of Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews is responsible for all road travel arrangements for the king and members of the Royal Family, from horse and carriage to car. Visitors can explore behind-the-scenes of these stables steeped in royal history as they get up close to some of the iconic carriages that are part of the pomp and pageantry. A series of interactive exhibits allows visitors to dress the part and think through everything from livery dress to tacking up a team of horses for the big day.
On Coronation Day, King Charles III will ride in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. The coach is adorned with wood from a number of historic palaces such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor as well as wood from Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the HMS Victory.
The king will return from Westminister Abbey via the Gold State Coach. This massive gilded coach is drawn by eight Windsor Grey horses and accompanied by a small army of liveried footmen and grooms as well as a detachment of Yeoman of the Guard. This coach has been used at the coronation of every British monarch since William IV in 1831.
Perhaps no site is more closely associated with the Coronation Ceremony than Westminster Abbey. Since 1066, it has been the location of the coronations of 39 British monarchs. Westminster Abbey is a Royal Peculiar, one of a handful of churches that answers directly to the crown.
King Charles will enter via the Great West Door to musical fanfare. Inside the Abbey, he will be greeted by 2,000 guests. The king will pass the marker of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and proceed down the aisle to Hubert Parry’s 1902 setting to Psalm 122 “I was glad.” As the king enters, the King’s Scholars of Westminster School in the choir will acclaim “Vivat Rex,” as has been a tradition since 1685.
King Charles will process to the area in front of the High Altar, which is known as the Coronation Theatre. Balcony seating will be installed here to accommodate the various peers and dignitaries who will take part in the ceremony.
Closer to the altar and placed on the Cosmati Pavement is the Coronation Chair. This chair, normally on display in the abbey as one enters the Great West Door, was made by the order of King Edward I in 1296. This medieval chair is used exclusively in the Coronation Ceremony. Edward commissioned the chair to enclose the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, which he brought from Scotland.
The coronation will follow a scripted Order of Service. First, will be the Recognition in which King Charles is presented to the people and is proclaimed as “the undoubted king.” Next, in the Oath, the king will make a promise to his subjects of how he will govern.
Thirdly is the Anointing. This is the most important and sacred moment of the ceremony. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the principal celebrant of the coronation, will anoint the king with holy oil. The gold Ampulla, a vessel in the shape of an eagle, will hold the oil, and it will be poured onto the gold coronation spoon, the only object of coronation regalia that survives from the 12th century, before being placed on the King’s head, heart, and hands.
The Investiture and Crowning is the most visual part of the ceremony as the king receives the instruments of office like his orb and scepter, and the crown is placed on his head. Finally, having taken possession of his kingdom, the king will receive Homage from the peers of the realm.
Tower of London
Dominating the River Thames is the medieval fortress of the Tower of London. In times past, the monarch processed to Westminster Abbey from here with the Knights of the Order of the Bath.
Today, the Tower of London is perhaps most famously known for being the home of the Crown Jewels, the regalia used in the coronation. Queuing to view the instruments used in the Investiture and be dazzled by the ornate crowns used in the coronation is time well-spent for any visitor to London.
Rich with symbolism, a series of ornamental objects are presented to the king during the coronation. These include a set of spurs to represent the chivalric aspects of kingship, a set of bracelets representing sincerity and wisdom, and swords like the jeweled Sword of Offering, representing the charge to protect good and punish evil.
A highlight of the regalia is the Sovereign’s Sceptre with the Cross, symbolizing the king’s power. It has been used at every coronation since Charles II. The Sceptre was transformed in 1910 for George V when he added the Cullinan I Diamond, the First Star of Africa. At 530.2 carats, it still remains the largest colorless cut diamond in the world.
The crown is the ultimate symbol of royal authority, and the moment the Archbishop of Canterbury places the crown on the monarch’s head is the climax of the Coronation Ceremony. Cue the sound of trumpet fanfare, bells peeling out their carillon call, and a gun salute booming from the Tower of London!
The centerpiece of the Crown Jewels is the St. Edward’s Crown. At 4 pounds, 12 ounces, and made of solid gold, this crown is used for the moment of the coronation itself.
The King will then exchange the St. Edward’s Crown for the Imperial State Crown. Included in this crown are 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls, and four rubies. It includes the Black Prince’s Ruby, St. Edwards’ Sapphire, the Stuart Sapphire, and the Cullinan II, the 317.4-carat Second Star of Africa.
Other Inspired Sites to Explore
Arundel Castle: The most senior peer in the real is the Duke of Norfolk who will act as the Earl Marshal, a role that his family has had since 1672. This role is responsible for major ceremonial state occasions, notably coronations. Edward Fitzalan-Howard is the current duke. His ancestral seat and home, Arundel Castle, boasts a beautiful ornamental garden and a medieval keep that towers over the town of Arundel.
Canterbury Cathedral: The Archbishop of Canterbury will be the principal celebrant of the Coronation Ceremony and will, most noticeably, be the one who will place the St. Edward’s Crown on the king at the moment of the coronation. While at Canterbury Cathedral, explore the miracle windows associated with St. Thomas Beckett and keep an eye out for the stained glass windows commemorating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and of George VI.
Windsor Castle: Like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle traces back to the reign of William the Conqueror. Home to the Order of the Garter, this massive complex will feature as the backdrop of the celebratory Coronation Concert on May 7.
Written by Michael McLaughlin
Author’s note: Over the past decade, I’ve traveled to the United Kingdom to lead student programs and conduct research for my writing and teaching. I look forward to being a witness to the momentous coronation of King Charles III and being able to utilize the events of May 6, 2023, to explore a new, yet strikingly familiar, story about modern, royal London with my students.
As you plan your next adventure to legendary London, consider allowing the coronation to guide your stroll through the storied streets. Equipped with an understanding of the highlights of the day and the architecture of the Coronation Ceremony will empower you and your fellow travelers to experience a bit of the magic of monarchy.
Featured Image: Buckingham Palace, London, England; Credit: VisitBritain/Tom Weightman