In the 1040s, King Edward of England (later St. Edward the Confessor) began to enlarge the church of a small Benedictine monastery near his palace. It was referred to as the “west minster,” to distinguish it from the “east minister,” aka St. Paul’s Cathedral. The large stone church was dedicated to St. Peter.
In 1066, William I invaded and conquered England. On Christmas Day, he was crowned in Edward’s church. Every English and British monarch since 1066 has been crowned in Edward’s church. The complex has grown over the tears, especially during the 13thto 16thcenturies. Today, Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular sites in Britain, visited by millions of tourists annually and a center of major worship activities.
It’s also a rather large cemetery. Some 3,300 people are buried here, including Queen Elizabeth I and her sister Queen Mary, King Edward (he was moved a century or so after his death), Henry V, Sir Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Charles Dickens (he didn’t want to be buried in the Abbey, but no one paid attention to his wishes). Poet’s Corner is a veritable who’s who of British literary history, containing both graves and plaques (including a fairly recent one for C.S. Lewis).
The complex is soaked in British history, literature, science, government, and philosophy. The soaring Gothic architecture is overwhelming. The beauty of the Henry VII Lady Chapel is simply astounding. And the complex keeps growing, with a new Abbey museum, the Queen’s Jubilee Galleries, opening on June 11 this year.
A coronation of a monarch is a massive undertaking. The interior of the Abbey has to be remodeled to accommodate viewing stands, seating, platforms, and a number of other structures. Planning can go on for a year or more. The ceremony is plotted out to the smallest detail.
The last coronation in the Abbey was Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953; consider that there had been three in the 36 years after Queen Victoria’s death in 1901.
In addition to quite a few YouTube videos (like this one), the primary resource for the coronation scene in Dancing King was Crown, Orb & Sceptre: The True Story of English Coronations by David Hilliam. It’s actually a fun read, full of odd things that have happened over the years and unusual events, like Richard III being crowned in his bare feet. Hilliam describes the processions to the Abbey and the ceremonies themselves.
The coronation scene in Dancing King follows Hilliam’s description of Queen Elizabeth’s ceremony very closely, with a few major exceptions. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as the lead official in the Church of England, usually crowns the monarch. A different official does it in the novel, largely because of the ongoing conflict between Michael Kent-Hughes and the Archbishop of Canterbury, a major narrative line in the novel that is not resolved by the end of the book. Michael also makes changes in how monarchs-to-be-crowned are usually dressed and adds a segment to the ceremony at the end.
It is a moving ceremony. The coronation follows the near destruction of the royal family in A Light Shining, the second novel in the Dancing Priest series. There almost wasn’t a coronation, or anyone left to crown. Like the real coronation event, that of Michael Kent-Hughes is meant to signify the continuance of family, faith, and tradition, even in the face of constant societal and cultural change, and, in the Dancing King story, near-annihilation.
One element of the coronation that Michael does not change is the singing of “Zadok the Priest” by George Frederic Handel, which has become the traditional coronation anthem.