Christopher Smith


I was recently amused by an irascible email from a friend about the ‘official’ coronation dish. ‘Coronation quiche!’, he exclaimed; ‘I might have known it would be vegetarian.’ The controversy (which might better be described as a storm in a tea cup) was over a recipe on the royal website offered by someone described as the ‘royal chef’. ‘The reason it was chosen as the coronation dish is because it is good for sharing, can be eaten both hot and cold, suits a number of dietary requirements, can be adapted if others want to do it differently and it is not complicated or costly to make.’ Personally, I’d have added a bit of bacon if I’d had the inclination to make it, but I suspect I will be able to get through life without ever making a quiche of any description. If you want to have a go, you might find it helpful to know that coronation quiche immediately acquired a Wikipedia entry. ‘See also—Victoria sponge.’

It had never occurred to me to wonder about the origins of what we call coronation chicken, but now, thanks to the quiche drama, I have learnt that it was originally called ‘Poulet Reine Elizabeth’ and was created by Constance Spry in 1953. The coronation of the late Queen was, of course, a long time ago, and we found ourselves in a similar situation in 1902 when Edward VII was crowned, given that, when she died in 1901, Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 62 years.

A few months ago, as we were beginning to wonder what the new King’s coronation was going to look like, I came across an article by Peter Hinchliff called ‘Frederick Temple, Randall Davidson and the Coronation of Edward VII’, which was published posthumously in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History in 1997. I was pleased to see it partly because I had been taught Nineteenth Century Church History by Professor Hinchliff when I was reading theology. He was a don at Christ Church and a canon of the cathedral, and he had recently become Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History. He was born in South Africa to English parents, and had studied at Trinity College Oxford under Austin Farrer, and I was sad to hear of his death soon after I was ordained in 1995.

In 2023, we can look back at the footage recorded for television and see most of what happened at the 1953 coronation. But, as Hinchliff said, when Queen Victoria died ‘there can have been very few people indeed who had even the vaguest memory of what her coronation had been like’. He went on, ‘From 1689 to 1838 the rite used had been substantially that designed for William and Mary and had come to be adorned with much of Handel’s music, not all of it in any way appropriate to the occasion. The coronation of Edward VII was the point at which a more traditional pattern began to be re-established.’

It has been interesting to follow the speculation about the liturgy for the 2023 coronation as it has unfolded in recent months. There has inevitably been a tension between a desire to keep it traditional, and the wish to include more modern elements, and perhaps get through the liturgy in less than the three hours of 1953. But what becomes clear from the article is that it is impossible to describe anything as the coronation rite. That’s partly because it isn’t really possible to say what a coronation does. The King has been the King since the moment his mother died on 8 September last year, so no-one is creating a liturgy to make him King.

As Hinchliff put it, ‘It is impossible to say what the service itself, or any of its parts, is intended to effect, and so no one can be certain whether any form of the service is more or less “valid” than any other. Nor would the position of the sovereign be in any way different—legally or in some quasi-sacramental sense—if the ceremony were omitted altogether.’ And the liturgy has been so different at different times that hardly anything, other than the actual crowning itself, seems to have been always present. Have there been several different rites, or ‘one rite in various recensions’? Not even the sermon seems to have been an invariable part of the service.

But, of course, what we will regard as the importance of the rite will be that it places the role of the King and Queen firmly in a Christian context. Even as I write in mid-April, I know that they will both be anointed, given that much was made of the consecration of the Chrism by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The royal couple will come up smelling of rose, jasmine, cinnamon and orange blossom, apparently. But there can be no doubt that this is an explicitly Christian act. And so we pray for the King, the Queen, and for our nation as we celebrate—whatever its exact meaning—this latest coronation of a Christian monarch and his consort.