Elizabeth I in her coronation robes
Elizabeth I in her coronation robes

Elizabeth I’s Coronation was a grand spectacle intimately involving her subjects where she combined grandeur with the common touch. It was also a personal success.

Mary I died from influenza on 17 November 1558, ending her dream to restore Catholicism to England. Elizabeth faced serious allegations of treason, even death, during her sister’s reign.

Elizabeth had difficulty finding a bishop willing to preside, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Reginald Pole, died a few hours after Mary I. Owen Oglethorpe of Carlisle was finally chosen.

The nobles vied for the most important positions, as many saw this occasion as an opportunity to flaunt their wealth or influence. It was also a chance to gain royal favour.

London endured bad weather for days with heavy rain and snow which turned into slush and mud. The worst puddles and trenches were filled in, and covered with sand and gravel to prevent the Queen’s procession becoming bogged.

Mary I, painted in 1544
Mary I, painted in 1544

It still snowed on 14 January 1559. Crowds gathered in the streets to witness Elizabeth’s state entry that afternoon. (Some even reserved their places the night before.)

The Queen’s litter appeared, escorted by red-coated footmen whose uniforms bore the royal arms and intertwined letters ER.

Elizabeth was twenty-five years old, “slight and somewhat delicate, her long red hair flowing unbound and maidenly (a symbol of virginity) below the circlet of a princess.” She was greeted with tumultuous cheers from well-wishers.

She inherited her father’s gift of making everyone within the sound of her voice believe she was speaking to each individual alone.

A pageant, brief concert or a recitation occurred at stopping points along the route. These displays represented Elizabeth’s genealogical descent, the virtues of good government and the triumph of Time which brought the realm out of darkness and idolatry into the light of divine truth. (Mary I’s favourite motto, “Truth, the daughter of time,” was used in her coronation pageant.)

Credit: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk
Credit: Historic Royal Palaces/newsteam.co.uk

Elizabeth responded so theatrically and sincerely that she became an integral part of the show.

She followed tradition with an overnight stay in the Tower of London.

The courtiers assembled at the Tower took their places, all of them “so sparkling with jewels and gold collars that they cleared the air”. Snow continued falling as they travelled to Westminster Hall.

Elizabeth and her court walked in procession to Westminster Abbey on a purple carpet which disappeared once she passed by. (Crowds cut off parts of the carpet as souvenirs.) Church bells rang upon her arrival at the Abbey.

The crowd roared their approval of Elizabeth as their Queen after she mounted the high platform raised in front of the altar.

Westminster Abbey (west front), London, England. Arpingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Westminster Abbey (west front), London, England. Arpingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Coronation Mass continued its centuries-old tradition of prayer and elaborate ritual lasting several hours. Elizabeth withdrew in protest during the Elevation of the Host. She returned to her throne once this offending ritual had finished. Elizabeth also complained the special anointing oil was “grease and smelled ill”.

Elizabeth left the Abbey, wearing her heavy robe of cloth of gold, and carried her orb and sceptre in each hand. The crowds greeted their Queen enthusiastically, as music played and church bells rang.

Elizabeth changed into a violet velvet dress for her coronation banquet in Westminster Hall. The Queen’s Champion, Sir Edward Dymoke, rode into the Hall, fully armed, to throw down the gauntlet and challenge anyone who disputed Elizabeth’s claim to the throne.

Elizabeth’s coronation ring symbolised marriage to her kingdom.

The celebrations at court continued for another ten days.

Elizabeth re-established the Protestant faith within her 45-year reign. England was a world power when she died at 3.00 am on 24 March 1603, aged 70.


Crofton, Ian, The Kings and Queens of England, Quercus, London, 2006

Dunn, Jane, Elizabeth & Mary Cousins Rivals Queens, Harper Perennial (An imprint of HarperCollins), Hammersmith, 2003

Erickson, Carolly, The First Elizabeth, Robson Books, London, 2001

Roy Strong, Coronation A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy, HarperCollins Publishers, Hammersmith, 2005

Williams, Neville, The Life and Times of Elizabeth I, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1972

Williamson, David, Kings and Queens of Britain, Webb & Bower (Publishers) Limited, London (1986), Elizabeth I

© 2009 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 29 March 2009.

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