Elizabeth I Coronation 15 January 1559

Why was the date of 15 January 1559 chosen as the coronation date?
One of Elizabeth's first appointments as Queen was to assign the radical Protestant Robert Dudley to be chief organiser of her coronation. Dudley immediately called upon the assistance of astrologer John Dee. Choosing the date of the coronation was extremely important. England could not afford another difficult reign like the last two. Elizabeth's right to the ascension of the throne was challenged for a number of reasons. Not only was she officially still illegitimate, she was also considered a heretic. A woman ascending the throne was seen as going against the political and cosmic order, as had been proved by Mary's less than successful reign. It was important to find a time that would forgo the disaster that had been foretold. Dee wrote a long and detailed analysis of the astrological augurs for her reign and after much consideration of her natal chart and the current influences, he chose 12pm on the 15th January 1559 for the commencement of celebrations. Details of this election are now lost but history has shown that it was a fortuitous time.[John Frawley, The Real Astrologer, Apprentice Books, UK. 2000, pp.109-111 for an interesting discussion on John Dee's coronation chart).

Coronation Procession
Mary I was buried on 14 December 1558 after a deliberately long delay, which allowed Elizabeth to ease herself into her new role. The date choosen for Elizabeth' s coronation was 15 January 1559, and the festivities kicked off on 14 January with a coronation procession through London. The day long spectacle saw the Queen taken through the crowd-lined streets carried on a golden litter. The procession was punctuated with a series of five pageants staged by various London bodies in honour of the new queen.

The first pageant laid out Elizabeth's genealogy, stressing her 'Englishness', and her descent from Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, whose marriage had put an end to years of civil war. The pageant made clear the implication that the granddaughter of those who ended the War of Roses would herself reunify England and bring peace to it. The second pageant showed Elizabeth's government characterized by the four virtues of True Religion, Love of Subjects, Wisdom and Justice trampling their opposite vices, including Superstition and Ignorance. During the third pageant the Lord Mayor presented Elizabeth with a gift of gold, symbolically demonstrating the interdependence of the City and the Crown.

In the fourth pageant, a decaying commonwealth (Mary's) was contrasted with a thriving one (Elizabeth's). It featured the figure of Truth, who was carrying a Bible written in English and entitled the Word of Truth. Truth presented the Bible to the Queen, who kissed it and laid it on her breast to the cheers of the crowd. The task ahead of her was presented in the final pageant, with Elizabeth portrayed as Deborah, the Old Testament prophet, who rescued the House of Israel and then went on to rule for 40 years.

For her part, Elizabeth committed herself wholly to the Lord Mayor and the people of London during the day's activities, pledging:

And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and be Queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever Queen was unto her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall there lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all I will not spare if need be to spend my blood. God thank you all.

Elizabeth excelled in the starring role in such spectacles, managing gracefully to combine the dignity and grandeur of her position with a common touch that allowed the public to warm to her. The procession was basically a popularity contest and it was a resounding public relations success for the new queen.

Elizabeth's Coronation
The actual coronation took place the following day, Sunday 15 January 1559, in Westminster Abbey. The ritual itself was a clever compromise between the Catholic practices that existed and the Protestant ones that she intended to introduce. She was crowned in Latin by a Catholic bishop but parts of the service that followed were read twice – in Latin and English. The changes in the service were a portent of the religious settlement to come and symbolic of her 'make-haste-slowly' approach to introducing change. She emerged from the ceremony to greet her adoring fans wearing a big smile, her crown and carrying the orb and sceptre of her new office.

Thank you for stopping by. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments!


Robert Parry said…
Well put! What a great day that must have been - and we are all still feeling the effects of it. Such an important moment for the English language, too - because the bible could now be read in English translation by everyone without fear (or at least by those who could read, anyway) and nothing would ever be quite the same again.
Kimberly Eve said…
Oh, to be a face in the crowd! Yes, good point! Having an English translation of the bible certainly changed everything. However, I wonder if fear every truly dissipates?