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An ancient spectacle for a modern world: which traditions will we see at the coronation?

In a magnificent procession last week, the Stone of Scone – or the Stone of Destiny – arrived at Westminster Abbey from Edinburgh castle, one of the oldest fortified castles in Europe. 

Over seven hundred years ago, the stone was synonymous with the Kings of Scotland, but it was seized in 1296 by Edward I of England, who commissioned an oak coronation chair to hold the stone, symbolising English sovereignty over Scotland.  

On Saturday 6 May, it will play a ceremonial role in the coronation of Charles III, as he becomes part of seven hundred years of tradition that is the tapestry of English monarchy.  

From 1066 to the present day, thirty-nine monarchs of England have sat beneath the vaulted ceilings and gothic rose stained glass windows of Westminster Abbey, and from 1300, they have sat in that same coronation chair, above the same stone.  

For the coronations of English Queens and Kings is history in the making, from ancient times to the present, in a ritual that embodies seemingly timeless traditions.    

Which traditions will remain, and which will change? 

The coronation is a royal spectacle that few will see more than once in a lifetime, and it would be inconceivable to a modern audience that such an event was throughout history utterly inaccessible to the public. But prior to the reign of Elizabeth II, only the nobility of the realm and esteemed guests could glimpse the lavish ceremony with its sacred traditions, which have survived the centuries.  

The role of the nobility – once an integral part of the proceedings – has much diminished over the centuries, but they have always played an important part in ushering in a new monarch, a tradition Charles III will uphold. The title of the Duke of Norfolk, one of the premier nobles of the realm, has been held by the Howard family since 1483, with each duke having served as Earl Marshal for coronations, weddings, and funerals for over five hundred years – another tradition Charles III will continue.   

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