Women make history at coronation of King Charles III


While the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, might have been the producer, director, set advisor and best supporting actor at the weekend coronation of King Charles’ III, there was a clear ascension of women into the cast with a series of notable female firsts.


Having been in London in July 2014 when General Synod gave approval for Women Bishops the (she has the tea towel and the badge), WOB co-founder Claire Braund, said it was a significant moment for both Church and State in the UK and heralded a recognition of the role and contribution of women across society. “There were quite a few firsts, but my top three are Penny Mordaunt, Princess Anne and the women Bishops,” Claire said.

Penny Mordaunt MP

The Conservative MP and Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt played a starring role at the Coronation - holding ceremonial swords for more than an hour. Resplendent in a specially commissioned teal dress and coat with fern motif (instead of the traditional black-and-gold court dress of the privy council), she carried the 3.6kg Sword of State into the abbey as Lord President of the Privy Council, the first time a woman has performed that role in a coronation. Later she and exchanged it for the Jewelled Sword of Offering, which she delivered to the archbishop then carried for the rest of the service and walked with it in front of the King as he left the abbey. 

Princess Anne

Complete with her triangle shaped hat with cocky red, The Princess Royal was the first female Gold Stick in Waiting, a rather odd title dating back to the 15th century, but essentially ‘'personal aide-de-camp' to His Majesty. This is why she dashed from the service, had a quick costume change and jumped on horseback to accompany the King and Queen Consort from Westminster Abbey.

The Women Bishops

This was the first-time women bishops were involved in a coronation with The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullaly, Bishop of London playing a leading role in the service. She was one of three of the UK’s highest-ranking clerics who played integral parts in the ceremony.

Dame Sarah Elisabeth Mullally, DBE is British Anglican bishop, Lord Spiritual, and former nurse and was sworn as a member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 2018. She also sits as a Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords and became the first female Dean of the Chapel Royal in July 2019. Sarah was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2005 in recognition of her outstanding contribution to nursing and midwifery.

Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover and Bishop in Canterbury presented Queen Camilla with The Queen Consort’s Rod while Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani administered the Chalice to The King and Queen during the Eucharist.

At the last Coronation, women still weren’t permitted to seek ordination in the Church of England. They were first allowed to become priests in 1994 and the first female bishops were ordained in 2015.

Other historic ‘firsts’

  • For the first time in history, girl choristers sang alongside the boy choristers of Westminster Abbey for the coronation of a British Monarch.
  • The Welsh language was sung at a coronation for the first time in history. Sir Bryn Terfel sang Paul Mealor’s ‘Coronation Kyrie’ alongside the choir. The service also included languages other than English associated with the British Isles – with a prayer in Welsh and a hymn (Veni Creator) sung in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic. 
  • The Ascension Choir also became the first ever Gospel Choir to perform at a coronation. The specially formed ensemble performed the second part of Debbie Wiseman’s piece, ‘Alleluia (O Sing Praises)’.
  • At the start of the service, The King was greeted by one of the youngest members of the congregation – Samuel Strachan, a 14-year Chapel Royal chorister – to whom The King replied: 'In His name and after His example, I come not to be served but to serve.'
  • For the first time at a coronation, The King prayed aloud in the Abbey, saying, ‘Grant that I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and belief’. 
  • The traditional Homage of Peers was replaced with a Homage of the People. 
  • The Presentation of the Regalia was made by Members of the House of Lords and Senior Bishops in the Church of England. Those items without a Christian meaning or symbolism were presented by peers who belong to different faith traditions: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism.
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