Why The Long Gap Between Ascension And Coronation of the British Monarch

King Edward VIII was King for 11 months, having never been crowned before he abdicated.
King George VI was King for “only” 6 months before he was crowned.
Queen Elizabeth II was Queen for a solid 16 months before she was crowned.*

Why such long gaps? I get that there should customarily be a period of mourning for the previous monarch - say, six months. But why even beyond the period of mourning for the previous monarch?

Also, I was too lazy to look at the ascensions/coronations of monarchs previous to Edward VIII - does the tradition precede Edward’s lineage?

And a further question: 'twixt being notified of their predecessor’s death and the decision on a regnal name, how long does the monarch have?**

*The Crown suggests that Elizabeth II and Winston Churchill struck a deal in that she would delay her coronation so that he could hold on to power.
**The Crown suggested that it was a matter of hours, if not less. She’s in Africa, being notified of her father’s death; cut to, she’s on the plane home, and she and her adviser are discussing her name.

I imagine that any immediate heir has already chosen their name long before their predecessor dies, and just has to make that decision official.

The coronation is a big formal event, for which world leaders travel to London. So I imagine the delay is to allow time to schedule and plan such an event. (Also, presumably people want to mourn the deceased monarch for a while.)

The coronation is now more of a formality, but (though it seems strange to us moderns) it was a Big Deal in the feudal era, when the actual coronation of one of many claimants to a throne would have signaled hey, maybe this is the guy we should swear fealty to.

Even Napoleon knew the power of an actual coronation in confirming symbolically what his armies accomplished in reality.

For the English monarchs cited, it wasn’t the same thing. No one questioned at the time who would become king (or queen).

Yeah - Henry I died 1 December, 1135. His nephew Stephen heard about it the following week and crossed to England from Boulone on the 8th of December. By the 15th he had taken possesion of the main treasury and had been proclaimed the king of England by the Londoners. By the 22nd( or 26th ) he had his coronation. Took him about two weeks to effect a more or less successful coup.

Meanwhile his potential rivals( Geoffrey and Mathilda, Robert of Gloucester, his older brother Theobald )were still dithering on the continent.

Westminster Abbey doesn’t normally have the seating or additional buildings that were used in (relatively) recent coronations. That takes time to build. I’ve seen suggestions that the next coronation might not need so many seats, since it will most definitely be broadcast on television.

(George VI’s coronation was so quick because he just used his brother’s date.)

The proclamation will be within a day or so, so not very long. But only two have had a remotely surprising regnal name (the two Alberts, who reigned as Edward VII and George VI) so it’s not really a big deal for most of them. It gets made into something like the popes choosing new names, but the norm is very much that they use their primary given name. (Victoria used her second name but that started long before her accession. She was Princess Victoria of Kent, not Princess Alexandrina of Kent.)

It would all depend on what you want the coronation ceremony to be and to symbolise.

If it’s a big public parade with the world and his wife wanting to be involved and acknowledged, it’s a massive planning operation, not quite as huge as the Olympics, but on the way there. Other European monarchies have much simpler ceremonies, more of a swearing-in.

What the UK (if it still exists as such) will do next time without the same sort of symbolic weight of the imperial and WW2 hangover that surrounded the last one, who can say? But the pressures of the TV/internet age and everybody wanting to be part of whatever it will be won’t go away. The last royal weddings weren’t exactly thrown together overnight.


The tradition of a delay started with George III. In his case the main reason was that he first wanted to marry. George IV delayed his coronation because he wanted it to be exceptionally lavish. It was however William IV who set the present pattern. Somewhat ironically, his decision not to have a coronation banquet in Westminster Hall in order to save money had the by-product of requiring the construction of a temporary building at the west end of Westminster Abbey. That was because they needed somewhere to marshal the processions, which had previously been done in Westminster Hall. That temporary building took time to construct. The destruction of much of the Palace of Westminster by fire in 1834 meant that reviving the use of Westminster Hall for Victoria’s coronation in 1838 wasn’t really an option. Then and subsequently similar temporary buildings have been built, In 1953 the building work in and around the Abbey began six months before the coronation, including the construction of the substantial building at the west end.

The idea that at the next coronation the use of Westminster Hall could be revived, so that non-Christian religions could be involved, has previously been floated. That might well change the logistical considerations.

The new regnal name needs to be used for the public proclamation of the accession, which takes place immediately following the Accession Council, which will probably be held the day after the previous monarch’s death. (That the Queen was in Kenya complicated those timings in 1952.) But it’s perfectly possible that there will be a press release before then. Although it might be felt that this would pre-empt the confirmation by the Accession Council that the new monarch was indeed the new monarch,

Previous thread https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=737102

I would like to mention, and be corrected if necessary, the wonderful British “saying” “The King/Queen is dead, long live the King/Queen.”

  1. How old is the written record of that being a phrase? It’s in Shakespeare, I’m almost sure.

  2. In any event, it means what it says, I presume, that a (“the?”) coronation is an affirmation of an already established fact.

But of course, who the new King/Queen is can be a delicate issue when succession rules weren’t so neat and tidy, or someone thought differently and acted on it.

  1. In the US: How is it defined? We all know the swearing in of Johnson on Air Force one, so during that emergency time just before that–the same, I believe, even after Reagan’s assassination attempt, etc., we still had a President, and we didn’t and wouldn’t before/unless a new one was sworn in.

I believe this s the case, except when all hell breaks loose and the Continuity of Government rules kick in.

Does this sound right?


Eh? He had the power of a majority in the House of Commons. The timing of the coronation had nothing to do with that, nor with the substantive relationship between him and the monarch and the normal processes of government

One important factor was that, for a big public show, it was best to fit it into the spring and summer, to get better weather (though that didn’t turn out too well in the event). If memory serves, formal mourning would last nine months anyway, but in any case, Churchill would be only to keen to have a lavish traditional display, in contrast to the previous government’s Festival of Britain only the year before - hence plenty of time to get all the different participants organised, housed and fed.

On the other hand, of course, we do manage to arrange it so that if a general election on a Thursday ejects a government, the new government is usually substantially in place and ready to get down to business on the Monday morning.

It was a big deal because that was how the Church formally endorsed and consecrated the monarch (and still does). And the Church mattered before fairly recent times.

It’s primarily a religious ceremony, conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior clergyman in England. The monarch swears, amongst other things, to uphold the Church. He/she is anointed with holy oil as per Biblical precedent, and the Archbishop ceremonially presents the regalia and crown on behalf of the Church.

Although the phrase ‘The King is dead’ etc. has long been known in Britain and gets used informally, it has never been said there as part of any formal ceremony. It was instead proclaimed at the funerals of Kings of France.

But the principle that a British monarch becomes King or Queen the moment their predecessor dies is well established (‘The King never dies’). Just about the only thing that they can do after the coronation that, if only by tradition, they don’t do before is wear their crown when opening Parliament. Even when they ‘touched for the King’s Evil’, English monarchs were happy to do so before their coronation, whereas French Kings thought that it only worked if they had first been anointed.

It does help that the PM has more-or-less complete autonomy in appointing Ministers, and that the operational arm of Government remains in place regardless of the political side of things. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone involved is massively sleep-deprived, and quite a lot of them nursing a hangover, things could be up-and-running by Friday lunchtime, I reckon :wink:

Under modern constitutional convention, the coronation really is a mere formality. It is well established that the heir assumes the throne ipso facto the moment the predecessor dies. There is, in fact, a formal proclamation of the accession by the Accession Council (for the UK; in the other Commonwealth realms, this proclamation is made by the Governors-General), but that, too, is merely declaratory because the succession already took place before. This proclamation happens quite soon; in the case of Elizabeth, this proclamation by the Accession Council took place on 6 February, the day after George VI’s death, while Elizabeth was still en route to return to London (the Council met again two days later, after her return, at which occasion she took the prescribed oaths).

So I guess the reason for the delay until the coronation took place really was due simply to the preparations which were necessary for the event, as well as to the customary mourning period. Interestingly, in Elizabeth’s case the day of the coronation coincided with the arrival of the news of the first ascent of Mount Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, which was apt because Hillary was a New Zealander and thus also a subject of the Queen; but this timing was coincidental, the two events were not intentionally synchronised with each other.

Ay, by the senior (non-Royal) Duke of France. It was the perquisite of the Dukes of Uzès to say it as the late king’s coffin was lowered into the tomb.

Shouldn’t they have checked before then?:eek:

Did you actually just say/write “ay?”

In that particular respect, the presidency is exactly like the monarchy. There is never any time that the US is without a President. The VP becomes President instantly upon the death of his successor. LBJ was sworn in the way he was for PR reasons, nothing more.