3 September 1189. Richard I's Coronation

After landing at Portsmouth on 13 August 1189, Richard, the younger brother of Henry the Young King, was crowned king of England “on the third of September, being Sunday, the feast of the ordination of Pope St Gregory”. Following the tradition, the ceremony- always an elaborate affair, consisting of prayers and rites- took place in Westminster Abbey on a Sunday*. It was described by Roger of Howden, whose account became the first full and detailed description of a coronation from this period. Thanks to Howden we know that the nineteen archbishops, bishops and bishops-elect, the thirteen abbots (two from France), the eleven earls, the seventeen great barons and officials participated. The elder brother of William Marshal, John was responsible for ‘carrying  in his hands two large and heavy spurs from the king’s treasure’, that Godfrey the Luci was the one who went next to him carrying the royal cope, and that William himself was carrying ‘the royal sceptre, on the top of which was a golden design of the cross’. The canon also mentioned William earl of Salisbury with the royal rod (with  a dove on the top), David, earl of Huntingdon (the younger brother of William I of Scotland), Robert earl of Leicester, and Richard’s younger brother, John, count of Mortain and earl of Gloucester. David, Robert and John were all carrying ‘three swords with splendid golden sheaths from the king’s treasure’. At the time of the ceremony sword-bearing before the monarch was a mark of signal honour. William de Mandeville, count of Aumale and earl of Essex, and one time official to Richard’s father was carrying the golden crown.

                               Richard's coronation (via Wikipedia)

What does the chronicler say about the ritual itself? After Richard assisted by Hugh, bishop of Durham on his right, and Reginald bishop of Bath on his left, had arrived at the altar he made three oaths to the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, clergy and people. He swore on the Gospels and on the holy relics that ‘he would bear peace and honour and reverence towards God and the holy Church and her ministers all the days of his life’. He also swore that ‘he would administer fair justice to the people committed to him [and]… that if there were any bad laws or corrupt customs in his kingdom he would destroy them, and uphold good ones’.

After having been stripped of his clothes and left only in his shirt (unstitched at the shoulder) and breeches, Richard was shod with sandals woven from gold. Then he received the sceptre to hold in his right and the royal rod in his left hand from the Archbishop. Then he was anointed as king by Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury. This was done by pouring holy oil over Richard ‘on three parts of his body, namely on his head, on his shoulders and on his right arm, with the appointed prayers for this act’.

Then a consecrated linen and the cope over it were placed on Richard’s head and he was dressed in the ceremonial robes: a tunic and a dalmatic. Afterwards the archbishop girded him with a sword  “for constraining those who do wrong to the Church” and protect the weak. Then he received the splendid golden spurs and was dressed in the cloak, and promised again that ‘with God’s help everything he had said before would be upheld in good faith’. Finally the crown he picked up himself and handed to the Archbishop was placed on his head  and he was lead to his throne by Hugh bishop of Durham on his right and Reginald bishop of Bath on his left.

The lavish banquet followed and all the participants ‘feasted magnificently’. 1,770 pitchers, 900 cups and 5,050 dishes had been bought for the occasion. It was also an occasion to exchange the gifs. The freshly crowned king, for instance, gave the archbishop of Canterbury a huge ivory horn, that the archbishop chose to dispatch to the shire of St Thomas, Canterbury. To this particular feast we can date back the first piece of music composed especially for the occasion in honour of a monarch. Let me quote the English translation of Professor Gillingham:

The age of gold returns
The world’s reform draws nigh
The rich man new cast down
The pauper raised on high.

Unfortunately the next day opened with Richard receiving a most unwelcome news. At the time of the ceremony the riots occurred. The Jews, who had been barred from attending the coronation, tried to enter with the gifts for the new king, but the Christian participants would not allow them. Some Jews were killed, others wounded. The riots spread to the city of London, where further Jews fell prey to Christians, their houses and properties plundered and burned down. The occurrence infuriated Richard, who had taken Jews under his protective wings, treating them as a source of income. In spite of the king’s effort to prevent further trouble, the anti-Jewish  riots followed at Lynn, Norwich, Lincoln, Stamford, reaching its height at York in March 1190. Richard, next to Stephen (king of England 1135-1154) half-a-century earlier, was the only English monarch of this period, who underwent a kind of  a “re-crowning” ceremony- the could be no question of precipitating the unctions as being too unique- to emphasize his return to full power and his regality. Richard, and Stephen before him, suffered the indignity of being held captive by their opponents. Stephen in early 1141, when he was captured at the battle of Lincoln; Richard in late 1192, on his returning from the Holy Land. Richard, whose capture and imprisonment caused uncertainty in England, took Stephen’s re-crowning of 1141 as a model and was crowned for a second time on 17 April 1194, at Winchester.

* John’s crowning ten years later took place on Ascension Day and was a notable exception.


The Plantagenet Chronicles ed. by Dr.Elizabeth Hallam. Greenwich Editions, 2002.
Coronation. From the 8th to the 21st Century by Roy Strong. Harper Perennial, 2006.
England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225 by Robert Bartlett. Clarendon Press Oxford, 2000.
Richard the Lionheart by John Gillingham. Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
Medieval England 1042-1228 by Toby Purser. Heinemann, 2004.


  1. Very interesting, Kasia. You always inject interesting details. The images from the era fascinate me too......can you imagine what the scene really looked like, with a powerful, incredibly handsome warrior being stripped to the basics, then clothed in the traditional garments. Enough to jolt our senses!! Whereas these images, with the art of the time, & as beautiful as they are, render the hero wimpy & frail. I think we'd be blown completely away to witness such a crowning.


  2. Kasia, it's Joan again. I enjoy browsing through the blogs you follow & had a look at "Once I was a clever fellow". The work of art by Fra Angelico "The Assumption of Our Lady" is magnificent isn't it? When I was in Italy I didn't appreciate medieval art as I do now.....in fact, I needed to get away from so much religious art. I searched for galleries with other subject matter & found an outstanding one in Parma, thanks to my cousins. And to share it with Giovanna & Elda was a highlight of my visit.

  3. Joan, you are being naughty! God, now I'm thinking about a certain young king, the afore-mentioned Richard's brother, stripped to the basics during HIS coronation :-)

  4. As for medieval paintings, the same was with me. When I went to Italy in 1997 I was too young to appreciate the MEDIEVAL, Besides the (in)famous earthquake occured in Assisi (during our trip, I wonder why? :-)) destroying the part of the vault of Basilica of St. Francis, so we weren't allowed inside and thus didn't see Giotto's frescoes. But I did return home with my head full of Michelangelo and other Italian masters and it helped me discover my own passion for painiting.

  5. Oh what an experience Kasia, to be so inspired by the Masters. I had to chuckle too.......the earth moves for you! How profound!!

    PS.....I haven't been naughty in a long time......I was overdue. But, SERIOUSLY (I loved that twist on your recent blog), sometimes all that testosterone in all these books just gets to a girl!! And when a powerful warrior king also has a flair for poetry & music..........is there anything more attractive?!?!?

  6. this is a great way to study for my history project

  7. Were any women present at the banquet? Mike


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