The Crowning of Richard III
Coronations are always Highly Important Events. The coronations of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII were, however, particularly significant. None of these kings, each of whom succeeded the other, had a clear and uncontested right to the English throne. There had been other monarchs whose claims were wobbly at best, but three in a row was a record!
We have little information about Edward IV’s coronation. We know a great deal, however, about those of Richard III and Henry VII. The two men both understood the huge psychological impact that a coronation had (or should have had) on their status. A king was well and good. An anointed and crowned king, raised to this height by an impressive and very visible ceremony, was even better!
The information we have about Richard III’s coronation, as voluminous as it seems, is not complete. The coronation was not a one-day event. It began on 4 July 1483 when the King and Queen moved from their residence at Baynard Palace to the Tower of London, the usual “stepping-off point” for English coronations. The new monarch’s procession to the Tower was usually replete with pageants and showmanship. No account remains of that event in 1483. We do not even know if the journey was made on horseback or by barges on the River Thames.
Instead, the first ceremony of Richard III and Anne Neville’s coronation for which we have details was the procession, held on the afternoon of 5 July, when the King and Queen travelled from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster.
The glittering cavalcade was a sea of blues and crimsons and gold – led by trumpeters, heralds, and the king’s sheriffs, followed by officials of the City of London, lords and barons, knights, members of the King’s household carrying colorful banners, and members of the clergy. It wound its way through streets lined with crowds, cheering from the pavement and huzzahing from the windows of the homes along the way – themselves hung with vibrant cloths and tapestries.
And in its midst – the King!
Richard was dressed in a patterned blue cloth of gold doublet, under a long riding gown of purple velvet furred with ermine. He absolutely sparkled, from his gilt spurs, to the Order of the Garter tied around his leg, to his great jeweled collar. His horse sparkled as well, trapped in purple cloth of gold bordered with ermine, and with a saddle of crimson cloth of gold. Over his head, a canopy of red and green interwoven with golden thread, shimmering with golden fringe and silver gilt bells, was held, supported by four very tall gilt staves. The four knights who had the honor (and heavy duty) of carrying the canopy regularly changed over to allow many to participate.
Preceded by the Mayor of London and the Garter King of Arms, and the Earl of Surrey bearing the great sword of state, Richard rode with a great lord on each side. To his left rode the Great Chamberlain, Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. To his right rode the Earl Marshal, John Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Immediately behind them came seven noble boys, wearing white cloth of gold gowns over crimson satin doublets, mounted on horses trapped in velvet of various colors, with crimson velvet saddles fringed in gold.
And then – the Queen!
Anne Neville also rode, but in a litter. The Queen, her litter, even the horses that moved it along were visions in white cloth of gold and white damask, garnished with gold ribband and gold fringe. Anne, her hair down, clad in a white cloth of gold gown and mantle, embellished with ermine, and wearing a gold circlet set with pearls and precious jewels, rested on a pile of white cushions that glittered with gold threads. She also was covered by a canopy. Thanks to the litter, it was considerably longer than Richard’s. It required twelve knights to hold the canopy high on its staves.
Anne also was followed by noble youths, five, dressed in crimson satin doublets beneath blue velvet gowns. They were followed by three sumptuous horse-drawn four-wheeled carts, carts and horses alike covered in crimson cloth of gold, velvet and damask, with gold fringes. Each cart contained four high-ranking noblewomen, twelve in total, all wearing gowns specially given to them by the king.
The Duchess of Suffolk and the younger Dowager Duchess of Norfolk wore gowns of blue velvet bordered with crimson cloth of gold. The older Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and the current Duchess of Norfolk (yes, there were three Duchesses of Norfolk at the time!) wore blue velvet bordered in white cloth of gold. The Countesses (Richmond, Surrey and Nottingham) and the Ladies (Lovell, FitzHugh the elder, Fitzhugh the younger, Mountjoy, and Scrope of Upsale) had gowns of blue velvet of a slightly less extravagant cut, bordered with crimson cloth of gold or crimson satin.
Then came seven of the Queen’s gentlewomen, also dressed in blue velvet, riding matching palfreys with crimson cloth of gold saddles.
Finally arriving at Westminster Palace, the King and Queen alighted. After a public refreshment, they were able to retire and prepare for the next day and the actual Coronation.
Coronation day began early and ended late. This was, however, the culmination, the day on which Richard would become the one and only crowned and anointed King of England.
The King and Queen would have arisen early, to dress and be prepared to begin the ceremony at 7:00 am.
Richard was all in crimson, sparkling with gold ribband trim, and silver and gilt laces. He dressed in multiple layers. Over an “under” shirt of lawn, came one of crimson sarcenet, with laced openings to facilitate anointing; then crimson breeches held up by a crimson velvet belt; and crimson hose.
Over the shirts, went a crimson satin coat, also with laced openings down the front and back and along the shoulder and arm seams. Over all this went a surcoat of crimson satin furred with miniver. And then, over everything, a long mantel of crimson satin with a hood, furred with miniver and ermine. On his head, Richard wore a cap of crimson satin with an ermine border.
Anne’s costume was equally splendid – and equally crimson. Over a smock of white lawn, she wore a crimson velvet kirtle laced down the front and sleeves, a crimson velvet surcoat furred with miniver, and a mantel of crimson velvet, furred with miniver, with a train. As in her earlier ride through London, Anne’s hair was worn loose and down, topped with a jeweled golden circlet.
Once dressed, the King and Queen left their chambers and entered the palace hall. They were then escorted by a procession of clerics to Westminster Abbey. The entire way was covered with a long red woolen carpet, on which the monarchs walked without shoes.
The procession began with trumpets and heralds. Then, a cross on a staff followed by priests in vestments, then Abbots and Bishops wearing their mitres and holding their croziers, and finally the officiating Archbishop of Canterbury.
After the clerics came the Earls (Northumberland, Kent, Lincoln and Surrey) and Lords (Stanley and Lovell), each bearing one of the king’s various symbolic swords or another piece of royal regalia.
The Duke of Suffolk carried the king’s scepter, and the Duke of Norfolk his crown. Then came “our Soveraigne Lorde KINGE RYCHd the iij,” under a canopy, with the Bishop of Bath on one side and the Bishop of Durham on the other. Following the King was the Great Chamberlain, the Duke of Buckingham, “bering the king’s trayne wt a whyt staff in his hande.”
The Queen’s noble entourage followed, with the Earl of Huntingdon carrying her scepter, the Viscount Lyle her rod topped by the dove, and the Earl of Wiltshire her crown. Then came Anne Neville,
“or Soveraigne Lady the Quene & over her hed a clothe of estate and of every comer of the cloth a bell of golde & on her hed a cyrklet of golde wth many presyous stones sett therein.”
She also was flanked by two bishops, the Bishop of Exeter and the Bishop of Norwich. Her train was born by Margaret Beaufort, “me Lady of Rychemond,” whose son Henry Tudor would (only two years later) topple Richard from his throne. After the Countess of Richmond came Richard’s sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, as a mark of special honor
“going in her estate by her selffe a lone, and on her hed a cyrklet of golde.”
After the Duchess of Suffolk followed another twenty noble ladies. One notable omission, for which there is no explanation – Richard’s mother, Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, did not attend her son’s coronation.
The King and Queen, coming finally to Westminster Abbey, ascended onto a specially built platform, carpeted with red wool and covered with a silk canopy. Two thrones were situated there. Richard’s throne was the Coronation Chair, still in use today, which can be seen in Westminster Abbey. Anne’s throne was to the left of Richard’s and placed lower.
The Queen sat. The King stood, facing the four sides of the platform in turn as the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the audience on each side for their agreement to the coronation of Richard. They answered with “King Richard, King Richard, King Richard!”
The King, followed by the Queen, then descended to the level of the main altar (behind the platform). Prayers and yet more prayers were offered, a sermon was given, the King prostrated himself (on brightly-colored embroidered pillows).
Finally, Richard took the coronation oath. In what was (probably) a first, he took his oath in English, not in French as had been previously done. He promised to keep the laws and do justice, and to support and defend the church.
After more prayers, the anointing followed. This was done fairly privately, close to the altar. His garments were unloosed and the Archbishop anointed him (with prayers) with the holy oil of St. Thomas on the hands, breast, back, shoulders, elbows and the crown of his head. His hands were then covered with linen gloves and his head by a linen coif, and his clothing again fastened.
Richard was then vested with special garments and the royal regalia, before being crowned, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the “Crown of St. Edward.” This crown was kept at Westminster Abbey.
Richard, having now been anointed, vested and crowned, and carrying his sceptre in one hand and his orb in the other, returned to his throne on the stage. The bishops and nobles then approached one by one to pay homage. During this lengthy process, the Bishops of Bath and Durham helped support the weight of the crown, and the Dukes of Buckingham and Norfolk helped support the regalia.
It was only after the King’s coronation was complete that the Queen’s ceremony began. She also prostrated herself on cushions and was prayed over, before being anointed on her forehead and on her breast. She then received a special ring, which she wore on the fourth finger of her right hand. She also was given a coif to wear, and over it her crown was placed. Her regalia consisted of a gilt sceptre and an ivory rod topped with a dove.
A lengthy Mass, filled with symbolic ritual, was then celebrated. The King’s crown was still supported by the two bishops, and he had the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, and the Earl of Surrey by his side. The Queen was also flanked by two bishops, with the Duchess of Suffolk and Countess of Richmond, with other ladies, around her.
The Mass ended, the King and Queen descended from their thrones and, preceded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, went behind the high altar to the Shrine of St. Edward. There, the Archbishop removed their crowns and placed them on the shrine’s altar. Both the King and Queen retired to temporarily-built private chambers where, after some refreshment (they had been fasting until this point), they put off their coronation garments and were redressed in robes of state.
Richard’s new robes were purple velvet, all furred with miniver or ermine and garnished with gold damask ribbands. They consisted of a kirtle, tabard, and surcoat, and over all a hooded mantle with a train made of fifteen yards of purple velvet. Over his linen coif, he wore a purple velvet cap of estate furred with ermine, with a lighter more comfortable crown over it.
Anne was redressed in a suite of robes made of 56 yards of purple velvet, all furred with miniver or ermine, and garnished with gold ribbands and aglets of silver and gilt. She wore a kirtle, a sleeveless surcoat and a mantle with a train.
The ceremony now concluded, the coronation proper was at an end. As the chronicle says:
“That done, the Lords set his owne crowne on his hed, and anon the Kyng and the Lords depted homewards.”
Except that homewards they decidedly did NOT go. Instead, it was on to the banquet! After a respite at Westminster Palace, the King and Queen once more greeted their public at 4:00 pm, hosting a feast that lasted until darkness – on a summer’s eve, perhaps 9:00 pm.
This was a coronation that no one who witnessed would ever forget! Unfortunately, it did not firmly tie Richard III to the throne of England.
The first rebellion was actually led by Henry Stafford, the same Duke of Buckingham who had, at that 6 July 1485 coronation, served as Lord Great Chamberlain, bearing the king’s train, leading all the lords in kneeling before Richard and paying homage, and taking his place at the king’s right hand. That rebellion was unsuccessful. Henry Stafford was executed, on Richard’s order, 2 November 1483.
A year and a half later, on 22 August 1485, Richard himself was defeated, losing his crown to Henry Tudor.
NOTE: Sources of information for Richard III’s coronation can be found in Excerpta Historica: or, Illustrations of English History, edited by Samuel Bentley (London: 1831); English Coronation Records, by Leopold G. Wickham Legg (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co., 1901); and The Coronation of Richard III: The Extant Documents, edited by Anne F. Sutton & P. W. Hammond (Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 1983).