Coronation Anecdotes Part 6

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[Footnote 64: Neh. i. 11.]

[Footnote 65: Clarke's Bible, Part ii. Exod.]

[Footnote 66: Hist. Anglo-Saxons, v. ii, p. 79.]

[Footnote 67: Malmsb. lib. iii. p. 80.]



Although the ceremonies of the royal invest.i.ture form a _spectacle_ for the eye of the pa.s.sing age, rather than a subject of historical record, presenting any thing characteristic of our monarchs, traces of the "form and body of the time" have occasionally been left by them on the page of history, which it is now our design to present to the reader.

The chief of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the octarchy at the close of the eighth century was Mercia; and hither we find Pope Adrian, the friend and favourite of Charlemagne, sending two legates to enforce a new code of ecclesiastical laws, as early as A.D. 785. A synod was held in Northumbria, and another in Mercia, to receive them; but while the former kingdom first embraced Christianity[68], in the latter were first exhibited, at this time, the solemn rites of an ecclesiastical consecration in the person of EGFURTH, the son of Offa, who was "hallowed to king," in the presence of his father, then reigning. This phrase of the Saxon Chronicle describes all that is now known of the mode of this early coronation; but prince Egfurth seems, in virtue of it, to have reigned conjointly with his father afterwards. It is remarkable that, although the Archbishop of Canterbury soon obtained the entire ecclesiastical precedence in the coronation of our kings[69], at this same synod of Calcuith, (Chelsey, Bucks,) it was decided that a metropolitan see should be established amongst the Mercians, taking from that of Canterbury all the territory between the Thames and the Humber; and that Adrian accordingly sent the pallium of archiepiscopal dignity to Adulph, Bishop of Lichfield. Charlemagne, who called himself in letters produced at this synod, "the most powerful of the kings of the east," gives to Offa the sounding t.i.tle of "the most powerful of the kings of the west[70]." Egfurth, it would seem, was not again crowned on his accession to the entire regal authority.

There is one instance of a Northumbrian coronation, in the stormy close of that dynasty, _i.e._, that of EARDULF, A.D. 795. This prince had a singular escape from the hands of Ethelred, his predecessor, by whom he was brought to the church door of Rippon, in Yorkshire, and as the monarch and the spectators thought, put to death. The body was carried into the choir by the monks; who, in chanting the funeral service, perceived it to breathe, dressed his wounds, and carefully preserved their future sovereign in their monastery. He was consecrated and a.s.sisted to the throne by aeanbald, Archbishop of York, and two other prelates.

A consecration of ALFRED the Great, which is by many writers regarded as "regal," took place at Rome, A.D. 754, when that prince was but five years of age; and was performed by Pope Leo IV. at the request of his father. Mr. Turner supposes that aethelwulf thus intended to designate him for his heir in preference to his elder brothers: and Mr. Lingard, that it was to secure his succession to the crown _after_ his brothers, to the exclusion of their children; a conjecture that is strongly supported by the subsequent arrangements of the will of aethelwulf, by which the minor kingdom of Kent was left to his second son, Ethelbert; and the kingdom of Wess.e.x to Ethelbald, Ethelred, and Alfred, in order of seniority. "If there be room here for conjecture, I rather think,"

says Selden, "that as the unction used in the baptism of king Clovis was among the French made also by tradition to be an anointing him for king, so here the use of chrisme in confirmation (for it appears that at the same time Pope Leo confirmed king Alured,) was afterward, by mistaking, accounted for the royal unction[71]."

Malmsbury says expressly that the pope gave him "the regal unction _and_ the crown;" and Robert of Gloucester

--Pope Leon h[.y]m blessede e he uder com, And e k[.y]nges crowne of [.y]s lond.--

It is also to be observed that no one of his brothers, Ethelbert, Ethelbald, or Ethelred, seem to have received a regal consecration, and that we do not read of a repet.i.tion of that ceremony when Alfred himself was crowned at Winchester;--and here we leave the solution of the meaning of this ceremony to the reader.

Our next is an instance of female coronation. aethelwulf, devotedly attached to the church, and fitted more for the cowl than the crowns she was now in the habit of bestowing, espoused, on his return from a pilgrimage to Rome, JUDITH, the daughter of Charles the Bold--and at the close of the marriage ceremony caused her to be crowned and anointed by the archbishop of Rheims. A regal seat was prepared for her by his side, and she received the new or disused t.i.tle of Queen. This was in the year 856. To his people the marriage seems to have been as distasteful as it was in itself unnatural; the lady not having reached her 12th year, and the king being advanced in age; but the "royal makings of a queen," with which she was honoured, are said to have excited their particular displeasure. Whether this arose, as is probable, from the consecration of a female to the royal dignity being wholly unprecedented at the court of Wess.e.x, from some apprehension on the part of his subjects that the king designed to transfer their allegiance to a female at his death, or from disgust at the recent conduct of Eadburga, who had poisoned her husband king Brichtric, must at this period be matter of pure conjecture. Clear, however, it is that some of our most respectable historians must be mistaken respecting the crime of Eadburga, causing the honour of a coronation to be "_taken from_[72]" the Saxon queens. We have no instance of a female coronation in England until so late as the year 978, in the reign of Ethelred II.[73]: that of Judith, therefore, was no revival of a discontinued custom. But a degradation of the consorts of the kings of Wess.e.x in regard to the _t.i.tle_ of queen, and the right to sit in equal dignity with the king upon a throne, in consequence of the crime of Eadburga, is, perhaps, sufficiently established. Mr. Lingard, whose accuracy as an historian is ent.i.tled to the highest praise, adverts to this circ.u.mstance in the following summary of the honours of an Anglo-Saxon queen. "The consort of the c[.y]ning was originally known by the appellation of "queen," and shared, in common with her husband, the splendour of royalty. But of this distinction she was deprived by the crime of Eadburga, the daughter of Offa, who had administered poison to her husband Brichtric, the king of Wess.e.x. In the paroxysm of their indignation the witan punished the unoffending wives of their future monarchs by abolishing, with the t.i.tle of queen, all the appendages of female royalty. aethelwulf, in his old age, ventured to despise the prejudices of his subjects. His young consort Judith was crowned in France, and was permitted to seat herself by his side on the throne. But during several subsequent reigns no other king imitated his example: and the latest of the Anglo-Saxon queens, though they had been solemnly crowned, generally contented themselves with the modest appellation of "the lady[74].""

After king "Alfride," saith Peter Langtoft--

Kam EDWARD the olde, Faire man he was and wis, stalworth and bolde.

He was distinguished for those successful inroads on the Danish possessions in Britain which resulted in the entire dominion of England being united under the sceptre of his successors.

On the same authority we learn that he "toke the croun at Saynt Poule's," London: if by this his coronation is intended, Stow and Speed contradict the poet, a.s.signing this honour to the town of Kingston-upon-Thames. But the proclamation of the monarch in London may be the meaning of the old chronicler.

ETHELSTAN, the first monarch of England, was crowned at Kingston, (id est, villa regia, says an early writer), "according to the ancient laws," A.D. 924, by Athelm, archbishop of Canterbury. On this occasion, as we have before noticed, a high scaffolding was erected in the market-place of that borough, for the better exhibition of the prince and of the ceremonies to the people.

The coronations of EDMUND I. and EDRED, his brothers, (both of which took place at Kingston,) present nothing remarkable to our notice.

But that of EDWY, the eldest son of Edmund, was distinguished for a remarkable outrage on the person of the king. The popular account of this affair is, that the young prince had espoused a beautiful young lady of the royal blood, Elgiva, who was p.r.o.nounced by the monks to be within the canonical degrees of affinity. Before his accession, therefore, she had been a source of dispute between the dignified ecclesiastics and the king. On the coronation-day he did not obtrude her claims upon the people; nor, on the contrary, would he forego his private comforts in her society. When the barons were indulging themselves in the pleasures of the feast, Edwy retired to his domestic apartments, and in the company of Elgiva and her mother, laid aside his crown and regal state. Dunstan, the aspiring abbot of Glas...o...b..ry, surmised the cause of his retreat; and taking with him his creature Odo, the nominal primate, penetrated into the interior of the palace, upbraided the prince with this untimely indulgence of his pa.s.sions, and after branding his consort with the most opprobrious name of woman, brought him back with considerable personal violence into the hall[75].

Mr. Turner, our able Anglo-Saxon historian, regards the transaction as a bold attempt of Dunstan to subdue the regal power to his ambition. He represents the n.o.bility as evincing some displeasure at the king's early departure, and the anxiety of Odo to communicate the state of their minds to Edwy. That the persons he first addressed excused themselves from undertaking this errand: and the commission devolved by a sort of general wish on Dunstan and Cynesius, a bishop, his relative. "But with the delivery of the message," he observes, "his commission must have terminated; and on the king's refusal [if he did refuse] it was his duty to have retired. As an ecclesiastic, he should not have compelled him to a scene of inebriety; as a subject, it was treasonable to offer violence to his prince[76]."

The latest, and not least able of our English historians, however, would place these events in a different light. He insists, somewhat in the spirit of the monkish writers, on this amour being highly disgraceful to the king; and while he represents it as "the scandal of the age"

(whose sources, in the king's disputes with the ecclesiastics, Mr.

Lingard in any other instance would have readily traced,) he states it as not altogether incredible that both Ethelgiva, the mother, and her daughter, whom he does not name, had sacrificed their honour to the equivocal ambition of _one_ of them becoming queen. The n.o.bles, he adds, accompanied their demand for the king's return with an injunction in the name of the whole a.s.sembly, for Ethelgiva to leave the court. The rest of his account does not materially differ from that of former historians. But with all the unfeigned respect for his impartiality, with which the perusal of this writer's volumes has inspired us, we cannot hold him successful in this attempt to disengage the character of Dunstan and his a.s.sociates from the imputation of great indecorum.

Were the lady the king's mistress and not his wife, was a dignified ecclesiastic justified in following him into her apartments? and had the amour been ever so unbecoming, was this a species of conduct likely to detach him from it? But the story of the wife and daughter together speculating upon his affections is surely improbable in the highest degree: we know that the monkish writers, who furnish the only account we have of the transaction, would call a wife espoused in opposition to the will of the church, a mistress; and the sufferings of the young monarch from this interference with his affections, should teach us to exercise the judgment of charity on his memory.

EDGAR, the successor of Edwy, surnamed "the Peaceful," his whole reign being exempt from the scourge of war, delayed his coronation for thirteen of the sixteen years to which it extended; a circ.u.mstance for which none of our historians a.s.sign a reason. The royal invest.i.ture was celebrated at last, (A.D. 973,) with great pomp at Bath, Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, presiding.

"There was bliss mickle On that happy day Caused to all"--

says a poem in commemoration of the event, preserved in the Saxon Chronicle,

"Of priests a heap, Of monks much crowd, I understand."--

The monarch, indeed, was as celebrated for his magnificence as for the talents suited to his station. From Bath he proceeded to Chester, to receive the homage of eight tributary princes, _i.e._ Kenneth, king of Scotland, Malcolm of c.u.mberland, M'Orric of Anglesey and the Iles, Jukil of Westmoreland, Iago of Galloway, and Howel, Dyfnwel, and Griffith, princes of Wales. A splendid procession by water introduced the ceremony. Edgar a.s.sumed his seat at the stern of the royal barge, and his tributaries taking the oars, rowed the monarch to the church of St.

John; the bishops and n.o.blemen following in their state barges, and returning the acclamations of the populace who lined the sh.o.r.es. The king is said to have remarked, "When my successors can command the service of the like number of princes, let them consider themselves kings[77]."

A remarkable objection was made, according to the Saxon Chronicle, to the right of EDWARD, the son of Edgar, to the throne, viz. that he was born before the coronation either of his father or mother[78], and the pretensions of his younger brother, Ethelred, were so successfully urged by the Queen dowager, that a convocation of the witan was held to settle the dispute[79]. Here the claim of Edward was fully admitted, and he was crowned and anointed by Dunstan, at Kingston, accordingly, in the year 975--to be sacrificed to the ambition of his cruel stepmother, in less than four years afterwards.

Stained with the blood of its former wearer, even the ambitious prelate Dunstan "hated much to give the crown" to ETHELRED II., as Robert of Gloucester informs us; he a.s.sisted, however, at his coronation, and, according to the most perfect Anglo-Saxon ritual that has come down to us, addressed some admirable counsel to the monarch on the duties of his new station. The following is a translation of the coronation oath of this period. "In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, I promise; First, that the church of G.o.d, and all Christian people, shall enjoy true peace under my government; secondly, that I will prohibit all manner of rapine and injustice to men of every condition; thirdly, that in all judgments, I will cause equity to be united with mercy, that the most clement G.o.d may, through his eternal mercy, forgive us all. Amen[80]."

The ceremony was performed at Kingston, on the festival of Easter, 978.

EDMUND II., surnamed Ironside, was also crowned at Kingston; he struggled n.o.bly for seven months against the overwhelming power of the Danes, who, at the moment of his coronation, had an army of 27,000 men on board their fleet in the Thames; and who, in the fatal field of Ashdown, extirpated almost all the old n.o.bility of the kingdom, ere this unfortunate reign closed. This hero led them, during his short reign, into five pitched battles against the enemy.

CANUTE is said to have been chosen by the unanimous voice of the nation to the vacant throne; and received consecration from Levingius, archbishop of Canterbury, at London, A.D. 1016. He first surrounded the throne with regular guards, called Thing-men, for whose government he compiled a set of rules still extant. The king himself having violated one of them in a transport of pa.s.sion, by slaying a private soldier, a.s.sembled the whole corps, and having referred to the law prohibiting such excesses, acknowledged his crime, descended from the throne, and demanded punishment. The Thing-men were silent, and being urged, on a promise of perfect impunity, to state their sentiments, they left the decision to the king, who adjudged himself to pay 69 talents of gold, more than nine times the ordinary pecuniary mulct in such a case.

The Scots refused homage to this prince, because he had not obtained the crown of hereditary descent; but on his a.s.sembling an army to a.s.sert his claims, they submitted: shortly after which occurred the memorable effort of his courtiers to persuade him, that the monarch of six powerful nations--England, Scotland, and Wales, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden,--could command the ocean tide to retire from his feet. Having convinced them of their folly, by making the experiment, he took the crown from his head, it is said, and placed it on the great cross in the cathedral of Winchester, refusing ever after to wear it, even on occasions of public ceremony.

At the coronation of HAROLD I., who in fact usurped the throne in the absence of the legitimate claimant, Hardicanute, Egilnoth, archbishop of Canterbury, refused the episcopal benediction. He placed the royal insignia on the altar, and addressing the king and his surrounding prelates, said, "There are the crown and sceptre which Canute intrusted to my charge. To you, I neither give nor refuse them, you may take them if you please; but I strictly forbid any of my brother bishops to usurp an office, which is the prerogative of my see[81]."

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR'S name is attached to too much of the Regalia, to allow us to overlook his accession to the throne. He was crowned at Winchester, A.D. 1042, on Easter day; and being a Saxon, was hailed by the people as a native prince. The archbishop, Eadsius, read to him a long exhortation on the duties of a sovereign, and closed by reminding him of the paternal government which England enjoyed under his predecessors in the Saxon line. All our early historians dwell with great zeal on the manner in which he fulfilled these duties. He was "the good king Edward," for whose "laws" the people were always anxious, when under the subsequent despotism of the Normans, they found an opportunity of expressing their desires; and his reign, forming an interval between the Danish and Norman Conquest, was long remembered as an era of deliverance from foreign thraldom. It is princ.i.p.ally from these feelings, that historians account for the crown itself wearing for so many ages the name of St. Edward's--St. Edward's staff, as it is called, being carried before our monarchs at their coronation, &c. The people literally applied to him that celebrated maxim of our const.i.tution, the king can do no wrong; for, although his reign was chequered by many internal commotions, on his ministers and not on himself, was the blame uniformly cast.

This prince, however, seems to have committed a pious fraud on his good people. Being importuned by his council to marry, he espoused the daughter of the powerful Earl G.o.dwin; to whom he privately disclosed a vow of perpetual continence under which he had bound himself: but offered to raise her to the regal seat (and she was accordingly publicly crowned as queen), on condition that he should be allowed without molestation to observe his vow. She is represented by our historians as a very learned lady.

The coronation of the unfortunate HAROLD II. took place on the day of the funeral of his predecessor--a striking proof of the importance attached to this ceremony at that period. But William, Duke of Normandy, having previously extorted from him an oath of fealty, protested from the first against his consecration, and in the memorable battle of Hastings caused him to pay the penalty of his life for the momentary honour.

At this point of our progress through the history of these ceremonies, it will be interesting to review briefly the political character of the Anglo-Saxon _cyning_ or king. The rites in question will always derive the greatest ill.u.s.tration from being considered as the reflected light of ancient opinions respecting the monarchy.

The eorl and ceorl were the great distinctive appellations of n.o.ble and ign.o.ble descent: none were or are admitted, it will be seen, to any important office in the coronation ceremonies but the former cla.s.s. They were said to be "ethel-born," and every member of the royal family was an "etheling," or son of the n.o.ble, emphatically. Ere Christianity dispelled the fables of divine descent, the pedigree of the monarch was always to be traced to Woden, and after the demi-G.o.d was no longer revered, the first of earthly families and "full-born" blood was seen in him.

Yet our Anglo-Saxon ancestors unquestionably _chose_ the identical member of the family whom they would acknowledge as king: the witan regularly a.s.sembled on the death of a monarch, and proceeded to the election of his successor.

"The Saxons could not comprehend," says Mr. Lingard, "how a freeman could become the dependent of another, except by his own consent: but the election rendered the cyning the lord of the princ.i.p.al chieftains, and through them of their respective va.s.sals."

His revenue, derived from the fines and amercements known to the Anglo-Saxon law for crimes of every description--from territory obtained by conquest, or forfeited by treason--and from those gross bargains for obtaining the king's peace, which were only exceeded by those which purchased at this time, what was called "the peace of G.o.d," (both being an exemption for certain days, or in certain places, from the pursuit of every enemy or claimant), was far larger than that of the most powerful of the n.o.bles who were, in fact, _his_ feudal tenants, in whatever portion of lands they possessed. Thrice in the year this proud muster-roll of n.o.ble tenants was examined, _i.e._ at the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide, where they appeared before the monarch in all the pomp of state. A sort of coronation scene was at this time exhibited. The n.o.bles renewed their homage to the monarch, who received them at once as his guests and dependents--seated on his throne, with a crown on his head, and a sceptre in each of his hands.

Public officers were at this time appointed, laws, on some occasions, enacted, while for eight days it was forbidden for any man to slay, maim, or a.s.sault his enemy, or to distrain upon his debtor's lands. The return of these festivals has sometimes been mistaken by our historians for a repet.i.tion of the coronation, strictly so called[82].

The monarch exercised, as at the present time, a supreme command over the national forces. He consulted the witan, but he himself determined on, and proclaimed war or peace. He was also, as now, the supreme judge, and received appeals in person, from all the ordinary courts of judicature: the ealdormen, sheriffs, and other officers of those courts, holding their appointments at his pleasure. The intelligent reader will thus find the substantial duties of the royal office as remarkably similar at this distant period with its present functions, as the pageant of a coronation can be uniform[83].

WILLIAM I. may be said to have been crowned in character as a conqueror.

Christmas-day 1066, being appointed for his coronation, at Westminster, he was surrounded by his Norman barons, and a full attendance of the English n.o.bles and prelates--when Aldred, archbishop of York, put the questions of the Recognition to his new subjects; and the bishop of Constance, who was in his train, to the Normans, The a.s.sent of both nations was given with loud acclaim. So boisterous, indeed, was their loyalty at this part of the ceremony, that the Norman soldiers of William, on the outside of the Abbey church, affected to consider the shouts as the signal of insurrection, and immediately set fire to the houses of the neighbourhood (a singular remedy for riot), and began the congenial work of plunder, to the great mortification of the king. All now became confusion in the interior of the Abbey: the Norman barons prepared for battle; the native n.o.bles regarded themselves as victims selected for slaughter, and the king is said to have been left alone, with the ecclesiastics, to conclude the ceremony. That the shouts were but the pretext for a preconcerted attack and plunder of the people, appears but too clearly from the subsequent remonstrance of the king with the barons, whom he warned against the certain result of oppressing the English; while he strictly prohibited the soldiers from appearing at taverns, or molesting the private abodes of the citizens; and appointed a commission to enforce his regulations.

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Coronation Anecdotes Part 6 summary

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