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A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the ritual placement of a crown upon his or her head and the presentation of other items of regalia. The ceremony may include the taking of special vows by the monarch, acts of homage by the new ruler's subjects and the performance of other ritual deeds of special significance to the particular nation. Once a vital ritual among the world's monarchies, coronations have changed over time for a variety of socio-political and religious factors; most modern monarchies have dispensed with them altogether, preferring simpler enthronement, investiture or benediction ceremonies. Coronations are still observed in the United Kingdom, Tonga and several Asian countries. In common usage today coronation normally refers to the official investiture or enthronement of the monarch, whether or not an actual crown is bestowed.
In addition to investing the monarch with symbols of state, Western-style coronations have often traditionally involve anointing with holy oil, or chrism as it is often called. Wherever a ruler is anointed in this way, as in Great Britain and Tonga, this ritual takes on an overtly religious significance, following examples found in the Bible. Some other lands use bathing or cleansing rites, the drinking of a sacred beverage, or other religious practices to achieve a comparable effect. Such acts symbolise the granting of divine favour to the monarch within the relevant spiritual-religious paradigm of the country.
In the past, concepts of royalty, coronation and deity were often inexorably linked. In some ancient cultures, rulers were considered to be divine or partially divine: the Egyptian Pharaoh was believed to be the son of Ra, the sun god, while in Japan, the Emperor was believed to be a descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Rome promulgated the practice of emperor worship; in Medieval Europe, monarchs claimed to have a divine right to rule. Coronations were once a direct visual expression of these alleged connections, but recent centuries have seen the lessening of such beliefs due to increasing secularization and democratization. Thus, coronations (or their religious elements, at least) have often been discarded altogether or altered to reflect the constitutional nature of the states in which they are held. However, some monarchies still choose to retain an overtly religious dimension to their accession rituals. Others have adopted simpler enthronement or inauguration ceremonies, or even no ceremony at all.
The coronation ceremonies in medieval Christendom, both Western and Eastern, are influenced by the practice of the Roman Emperors as it developed during Late Antiquity, indirectly influenced by Biblical accounts of kings being crowned and anointed. The European coronation ceremonies, perhaps best known in the form they have taken in Great Britain (the last of which occurred in 1953), descend from rites initially created in Byzantium, Visigothic Spain, Carolingian France and the Holy Roman Empire and brought to their apogee during the Medieval era.
In non-Christian states, coronation rites evolved from a variety of sources, often related to the religious beliefs of that particular nation. Buddhism, for instance, influenced the coronation rituals of Thailand, Cambodia and Bhutan, while Hindu elements played a significant role in Nepalese rites. The ceremonies used in modern Egypt, Malaysia, Brunei and Iran were shaped by Islam, while Tonga's ritual combines ancient Polynesian influences with more modern Anglican ones.
Coronations, in one form or another, have existed since ancient times. Egyptian records show coronation scenes, such as that of Seti I in 1290 BC.[clarification needed] Judeo-Christian scriptures testify to particular rites associated with the conferring of kingship, the most detailed accounts of which are found in II Kings 11:12 and II Chronicles 23:11.
The corona radiata, the "radiant crown" known best on the Statue of Liberty, and perhaps worn by the Helios that was the Colossus of Rhodes, was worn by Roman emperors as part of the cult of Sol Invictus, part of the imperial cult as it developed during the 3rd century. The origin of the crown is thus religious, comparable to the significance of a halo, marking the sacral nature of kingship, expressing that either the king is himself divine, or ruling by divine right.
The precursor to the crown was the browband called the diadem, which had been worn by the Achaemenid rulers, was adopted by Constantine I, and was worn by all subsequent rulers of the later Roman Empire. Following the assumption of the diadem by Constantine, Roman and Byzantine emperors continued to wear it as the supreme symbol of their authority. Although no specific coronation ceremony was observed at first, one gradually evolved over the following century. The emperor Julian was hoisted upon a shield and crowned with a gold necklace provided by one of his standard-bearers; he later wore a jewel-studded diadem. Later emperors were crowned and acclaimed in a similar manner, until the momentous decision was taken to permit the Patriarch of Constantinople to physically place the crown on the emperor's head. Historians debate when exactly this first took place, but the precedent was clearly established by the reign of Leo II, who was crowned by the Patriarch Acacius in 473. This ritual included recitation of prayers by the Byzantine prelate over the crown, a further—and extremely vital—development in the liturgical ordo of crowning. After this event, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "the ecclesiastical element in the coronation ceremonial rapidly develop[ed]".
In some European Celtic or Germanic countries[clarification needed] prior to the adoption of Christianity, the ruler upon his election was raised on a shield and, while standing upon it, was borne on the shoulders of several chief men of the nation (or tribe) in a procession around his assembled subjects. This was usually performed three times. Following this, the king was given a spear, and a diadem wrought of silk or linen (not to be confused with a crown) was bound around his forehead as a token of regal authority.
In 610, Heraclius arranged a ceremony in Constantinople where he was crowned and acclaimed emperor. In Spain, the Visigothic king Sisenand was crowned in 631, and in 672, Wamba was the first occidental king to be anointed as well, by the archbishop of Toledo. In England, the Anglo-Saxon king Eardwulf of Northumbria was "consecrated and enthroned" in 796, and Æthelstan was crowned and anointed in 925. These practices were nevertheless irregularly used or occurred some considerable time after the rulers had become kings, until their regular adoption by the Carolingian dynasty in France. To legitimate his deposition of the last of the Merovingian kings, Pepin the Short was twice crowned and anointed, at the beginning of his reign in 752, and for the first time by a pope in 754 in Saint-Denis. The anointing served as a reminder of the baptism of Clovis I in Reims in 496, where the ceremony was finally transferred in 816. His son Charlemagne, who was crowned emperor in Rome in 800, passed as well the ceremony to the Holy Roman Empire, and this tradition acquired a newly constitutive function in England too, with the kings Harold Godwinson and William the Conqueror immediately crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1066.
The European coronation ceremonies of the Middle Ages were essentially a combination of the Christian rite of anointing with additional elements. Following Europe's conversion to Christianity, crowning ceremonies became more and more ornate, depending on the country in question, and their Christian elements—especially anointing—became the paramount concern. Crowns and sceptres, used in coronations since ancient times, took on a Christian significance together with the orb as symbols of the purported divine order of things, with the monarch as the divinely ordained overlord and protector of his dominion. During the Middle Ages, this rite was considered so vital in some European kingdoms that it was sometimes referred to as an "eighth sacrament". The anointed ruler was viewed as a mixta persona, part priest and part layman, but never wholly either. This notion persisted into the twentieth century in Imperial Russia, where the Tsar was considered to be "wedded" to his subjects through the Orthodox coronation service.
Crowning ceremonies arose from a worldview in which monarchs were seen as ordained by God[N 1] to serve not merely as political or military leaders, nor as figureheads or historical symbols—a role played by most royals today—but rather to occupy a vital (and very real) spiritual place in their dominions as well. Coronations were created to reflect and enable these alleged connections; however, the belief systems that gave birth to them have been radically altered in recent centuries by secularism, egalitarianism and the rise of constitutionalism and democracy. During the Protestant Reformation, the idea of divinely ordained monarchs began to be challenged.
The Age of Enlightenment and various revolutions of the last three centuries all helped to further this trend, until the religious dimension of the ceremony has become relatively meaningless in all but a few kingdoms (mostly in Asia and Oceania). Hence, many monarchies—especially in Europe—have dispensed with coronations altogether, or transformed them into simpler inauguration or benediction rites that better reflect the secular nature of those states. Of all European monarchies today, only the United Kingdom still retains its medieval coronation rite, though even this ritual has been altered in the last few centuries. Other nations still crowning their rulers include Cambodia, Thailand, Tonga, Bhutan, Lesotho, Brunei, the Toro Kingdom and Swaziland. The Papacy retains the option of a coronation, but no pope has used it since 1963 after Pope John Paul I adopted inauguration in 1978.
In most kingdoms, a monarch succeeding hereditarily does not have to undergo a coronation to ascend the throne or exercise the prerogatives of their office. King Edward VIII of the United Kingdom, for example, did not reign long enough to be crowned before he abdicated, yet he was unquestionably the King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India during his brief reign. This is because in Britain, the law stipulates that the moment one monarch dies, the new one assumes the throne; thus, there is no point at which the throne is vacant. In France, the new king ascended the throne when the coffin of the previous monarch descended into the vault at Saint Denis Basilica, and the Duke of Uzes proclaimed "Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi"![N 2] In Hungary, on the other hand, no ruler was regarded as being truly legitimate until he was physically crowned with St. Stephen's Crown,[N 3] while monarchs of Belgium or Albania were not allowed to succeed or exercise any of their prerogatives until swearing a formal constitutional oath before their respective nations' parliaments. Following their election, the kings of Poland were permitted to perform a variety of political acts prior to their coronation, but were not allowed to exercise any of their judicial powers prior to being crowned.
During the Middle Ages, Capetian Kings of France chose to have their heirs apparent crowned during their own lifetime in order to avoid succession disputes. This practice was later adopted by Angevin Kings of England, Kings of Hungary and other European monarchs. From the moment of their coronation, the heirs were regarded as junior kings (rex iunior), but they exercised little power and were not included in the numbering of monarchs. The nobility disliked this custom, as it reduced their chances to benefit from a possible succession dispute.
The last heir apparent to the French throne to be crowned during his father's lifetime was the future Philip II of France, while the only crowned heir apparent to the English throne was Henry the Young King, who was first crowned alone and then with his wife, Margaret of France. The practice was eventually abandoned by all kingdoms that had adopted it, as the rules of primogeniture became stronger. The last coronation of an heir apparent, with the exception of the coronation of the current Prince of Wales in 1969, was the coronation of the future Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria as junior King of Hungary in 1830.
Specific coronation rituals by country, arranged by continent or region, are described in the following articles:
The term coronation is sometimes used in a semi-ironic sense to refer to uncontested party leadership elections, with all potential party leaders choosing to back a single candidate or to stay silent, rather than stand in an election they are likely to lose. This typically happens where there has been a protracted behind-the-scenes attempt to remove the outgoing leader, leading to a significant amount of time to determine who has the most party support before the election proper.
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Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. ed. Janos M. Bak. University of California Press 1990. ISBN 978-0520066779.
ZUPKA, Dušan: Power of rituals and rituals of power: Religious and secular rituals in the political culture of medieval Kingdom of Hungary. IN: Historiography in Motion. Bratislava - Banská Bystrica, 2010, pp. 29–42. ISBN 978-80-89388-31-8.
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