Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Coronation of King Henry V

Rather like many modern journalists on such occasions the chroniclers who recorded the coronation of King Henry V on April 9th 1413, six centuries ago, tended to remark on the less important if more obvious features. There were two in 1413 - the weather and the food. A snow storm swept across the country. A century and a half later John Foxe the Protestant martyrologist wrote of "the ninth day of April,  called then Passion Sunday, which was an exceeding stormy day, and so tempestuous, that many did wonder at the portent thereof." The contemporary chronicler Adam of Usk wrote that the day was  "...marked by unprecedented storms, with driving snow which covered the country's mountains, burying men and animals and houses and, astonishingly, even inundating the valleys and fenlands, creating great danger and much loss of life."

According to Thomas Walsingham, the monk-chronicler of St Albans, abbey people were undecided as to whether it was a good or bad omen. Some took it to be a sign of impending austerity, but others, in his view more sensibly, saw it as a positive sign, the cold and snowwould bring an end to difficult times and usher in a new era of hope and prosperity, and citing the Song of Songs, with the concept of winter now being past and the rain over and gone. To them this was the beginning of a spring.

The Coronation was held on Passion Sunday, and as a result the banquet afterwards in Westminster Hall was one with Lenten fare, so all the dishes were of fish rather than meat.

In fact we know rather less about this  coronation than about some others of the period, but the saliant features are clear.

File:King Henry V from NPG.jpg

King Henry V


The King had arrived in London two days earlier, on April 7th, was met by many lords and knights as well as clergy and citizens in procession and took up residence at the Tower. There he was met by fifty or so candidates for knighthood who waited upon him at table at a feast that evening. The following day, having attended Mass, they rode in splendid array to the royal lodgings where they waited upon the King who dubbed them and as Knights of the Bath, escorted him through the city that day to Westminster ready for the coronation. There he was received in procession and escorted to his palace to prepare in prayer for his anointing.

The officiant at the coronation was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, who had crowned the king's father in 1399.

  Thomas Arundel (1353–1414) illuminated initial

Archbishop Thomas Arundel

Image: oxforddnb.com

It is possible, indeed probable, that the oil used to anoint the King was the same as usedfor his father and his son, that supply believed to have been delivered by the Virgin Mary to St Thomas Becket, left by him in France, rediscovered and brought back in its ampulla by Edward Prince of Wales, and treasured by his son King Richard II.

Early fifteenth centuries ceremonies did not always go with the smoothness one would expect of such an occasion today - Adam of Usk recorded that during the Mass the King dropped one of his obligatory noble son the floor, and both he himself and those who were present had to search carefully to find it before it could be offered up.

Within weeks Henry was to return to the abbey when he attended divine service in the church on Ascension Day and Whitsunday of 1413, and resumed funding of the rebuilding of the nave of the church that summer.

The closest contemporary depictions of the coronation are from the King's chantry which was built from 1438 onwards and completed about 1450. Its sculpture is an important record of contemporary ceremonial dress for the peers who are also represented. The scheme includes two Coronation groups, perhaps representing the acclamation and the homage:


The Coronation of King Henry V from his chantry chapel at Westminster

Image: Project Gutenburg text of E.H. Pearce William de Colchester Abbot of Westmisnter SPCK 1915

 In each of which the Abbot of Westminster, William Colchester, is represented as standing, in cope and mitre, on the King's left hand, Thomas Arundel, the Archbishop of Canterbury, being on the King's right hand. The other carving has the King holding the orb and flanked by the Archbishop and Abbot:

Coronation of Henry V 

The other carving of the Coronation
Above the canopy can be seen the King's badges of the antelope and the swan

Image:Corbis images

In the carving of the coronation the King is shown wearing an arched crown. This is significant. When in 1399 his father had been crowned with St Edward's crown Froissart noted that it was arched - something he clearly saw as noteworthy. The sttae crown worn by the effigy of King Henry IV at Canterbury looks to be identical, allowing that is for artistic licence between a sculptor and a painter, to that worn by King Richard II circa 1390 ;


King Henry IV

The head of the effigy on his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral

Image: anglophile.ru

King Richard II

The Westminster portrait of circa 1390

 Image: Wikuipedia

This appears very similar to the crown dated to 1370-80 and which was part of the dowry of King Henry IV's daughter Blanche when she married the future Elector Palatine Louis III, son of King Rupert I,  in 1402, and which can now be seen in the Munich schatzkammer. It was on display in London in 1987-8 at the Age of Chivalry exhibition.

File:Schatzkammer Residenz Muenchen crown of an english queen 1370.jpg

The crown of Blanche of Lancaster

Image: Wikipedia

However from the reign of King Henry V it appears to have become usual to depict  him and his successors wearing a crown with arches, and indeed that the actual crown did have arches long before Tudor assertions that England was an Empire, and hence the current designation of the Imperial State Crown.


King Henry V

St Cuthbert Window York Minster circa 1440

Image: Gordon Plumb on Flickr


King Henry V - an illumination of 1451-80

Image: Luminarium

The crown destroyed in 1649 and known as the King's Imperial Crown or the ' Harry Crown' has recently been reconstructed by the Historic Royal Palaces Agency and is on display at Hampton Court. Like Sir Roy Strong in his  piece about the crown in his book Lost Treasures of Britain, the HRPA attribute the crown to the reign of King Henry VII, but with no certain date. I have long thought it possible, if not probable, that the 'Harry Crown' was made for King Henry V, if not actually for his coronation, but at least during his reign. In style it has some resemblance to the Crown of St Wenceslaus in Bohemia, which dates from the mid to later fourteenth century and the reign of the Emperor Charles IV (1346-1378). That does not, of course, preclude the possibility that it may have been modified under subsequent monarchs

There is an online article from the HRPA about the making of the reproduction here, and there is more about it in this post, Henry VIII's Crown.

The reconstructed Harry Crown
Image:Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland blog 

The crown as depicted on the important but sadly damaged statue of King Henry VI from All Souls in Oxford, and probably of 1437-43, appears remarkably similar, as may be seen from this, the only image I can find on the internet:


King Henry VI - statue at All Souls Oxford 

Image; Amazon

The portrait of  King Edward IV in the Royal window at Canterbury cathedral - for which see the following post - also looks to show a very similar crown.

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