Welcome, as always, dear readers.
Last Saturday morning, I was up very early to view pageantry.
If I had written that c.1400AD, you would have understood it to mean one of the plays in a cycle of medieval mystery plays,
like the “Towneley Cycle”, of which this is a manuscript page, c.1500.
(This is from the collections of the Huntingdon Library, one of the many great treasures of the LA area. To see more, go to: https://hdl.huntington.org/digital/collection/p15150coll7/id/52959/ )
And certainly what I was up to see had elements both of drama and religion, besides being some centuries older than that collection of ancient plays.
The main part of the ceremonies took place in a religious building, Westminster Abbey,
along with a certain amount of parading back and forth
and some final waving from Buckingham Palace at the end.
I have to say at the outset that I am neither monarchist nor anti-monarchist. As I come from a country with a somewhat different governmental system (although directly descended from the British one), I can only be an interested—a very interested—spectator, taking pleasure in seeing such a grand spectacle: this is a bright bit of ancient history reconstituted in a modern context and it can only help those of us interested in the drama of the past to better recreate in our own minds what that past might have been like, even if only in a small way.
It therefore also reminded me of an earlier ceremony, not quite so religious as this, but definitely ancient—
“…A hush fell upon all as out from the host stepped the Dunedain in silver and grey; and before them came walking slow the Lord Aragorn. He was clad in black mail girt with silver, and he wore a long mantle of pure white clasped at the throat with a great jewel of green that shone from afar; but his head was bare save for a star upon his forehead bound by a slender fillet of silver. With him were Eomer of Rohan, and the Prince Imrahil, and Gandalf robed all in white, and four small figures that many men marvelled to see…
Then Frodo came forward and took the crown from Faramir and bore it to Gandalf; and Aragorn knelt, and Gandalf set the White Crown upon his head, and said:
‘Now come the days of the King, and may they be blessed while the thrones of the Valar endure!’
But when Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence, for it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of manhood; and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him. And then Faramir cried:
‘Behold the King!’ “ (The Return of the King, Book Six, Chapter 5, “The Steward and the King”)
Tolkien was born in the late years of Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
and therefore could only have heard or read about her coronation in 1838.
In his own lifetime, however, he could have witnessed (or at least read about—and even seen images of) the coronations of Edward VII (1902)
George V (1911)
Edward VIII (1937—which never happened, as he abdicated before the crowning)
George VI (1937)
and Elizabeth II (1953)
In the case of Elizabeth II, he could even have watched her crowned on television and seen color photographs of everything in magazines of the period.
So, as I followed the elaborate ceremony which finally confirmed that Prince Charles was now King Charles III, I kept wondering, when Tolkien heard the Archbishop of Canterbury declare, “God save the King/Queen!”, was he also hearing Faramir shout out, “Behold the King!”?
As ever, thanks for reading.
Imagine what Minas Tirith looked like, even after the brutal attack by Sauron, when Aragorn was crowned and the King returned,
And remember that, as always, there’s