Spotlight on coronations
Find out how a highly decorated manuscript from the 14th century has guided the understanding of coronation services at Westminster Abbey.
How do we know what a medieval coronation would have looked like? Watch Dr Matthew Payne, Keeper of the Muniments, uncover what we know, and don’t know, about the Liber Regalis.
The significance of The Liber Regalis was highlighted at the start of the Order of Service. The congregation were reminded that the "rite of Coronation in England, which is really a series of ancient rituals, has its roots in the ninth century and was codified" in this book.
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The Liber Regalis, or Royal Book, is a medieval manual which explains how coronations are staged. The manuscript, which is currently on display in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries at Westminster Abbey, provides ceremonial instructions and the order of service for the coronation. Similar to other 14th century manuscripts, it is written on parchment and in Latin.
Along with the informative text, this manuscript contains four beautiful full-page illuminations, three of which relate to coronations. They illustrate the act of crowning monarchs; including a king alone, a queen alone, and a king and queen together. Each monarch is surrounded by religious and secular figures, highlighting the coronation as a ceremony of both church and state.
The Liber Regalis is one of the very few books left at the Abbey after the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII. Its usefulness for people in charge of planning coronations is likely to have ensured its survival.
While there are other sources to help with planning coronations in the present, the Liber Regalis does demonstrate the core parts of the Coronation service which have always been and will continue to be essential. Although over time there have been some substantial changes, such as the shift from the service being in Latin to English, the Liber Regalis is a reminder that this Christian service has largely remained the same for hundreds of years.
It’s a privilege to live and work here – the Abbey really is the heart of the country and its history.