The monarch has been the head of the Church since Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Pope in the 16th century. Will Gompertz examines the history of the Monarchy’s changing relationship with religion and faith over the last 900 years through objects in the Royal Collection.

Coronation Pen

The pen was used by The Queen to sign the Coronation oath and was donated by the Scriveners’ Company. It is in the form of an ivory feather, with a representation of the Sword of State – which is borne before the sovereign as she proceeds to the altar to sign the oath – forming the rib of the quill. Over this is placed a jewelled and enamelled crown, supported by two cherubs representing Prince Charles and Princess Anne. The pen is inscribed with the Scriveners’ coat of arms and motto (Litera Scripta Manet). The oath is the only signed bond between the monarch and the people.

From the Order of Service of the Coronation:
Then the Queen arising out of her Chair, supported as before, the Sword of State being carried before her, shall go to the Altar, and make her solemn Oath in the sight of all the people to observe the premisses: laying her right hand upon the Holy Gospel in the great Bible (which was before carried in the procession and is now brought from the Altar by the Archbishop, and tendered to her as she kneels upon the steps), and saying these words:
The things which I have here before promised, I will perform and keep. So help me God.
Then the Queen shall kiss the Book and sign the Oath.

Anointing Spoon and Ampulla

The Spoon is first recorded among St Edward’s Regalia in 1349, in an inventory taken at Westminster Abbey. It is already listed at that date as of ‘antique forme’. It is the only piece of the regalia to survive the melt of the Commonwealth in 1649. Although its original purpose is unclear, it was certainly designed for ceremonial use, and its presence in St Edward’s Regalia indicates that it was connected with coronations from an early date.

The anointing is the central religious act of the ceremony of the Coronation – the monarch is anointed, blessed and consecrated by the Archbishop. The ceremony of Coronation also confirms the monarch as the Head of the Church of England.

The Ampulla is the vessel used to hold the consecrated chrism or holy oil with which a Sovereign is anointed during the coronation ceremony. This example, in the form of an eagle, was created in 1661 for the coronation of Charles II (the previous regalia having been destroyed during the Commonwealth period).  The oil may be poured into the Coronation Spoon through the beak.

Assertio Septem Sacramentorum

Presented by Cardinal William Allen to the English College at Rome about 1590, passing in 1846 to the library of M. Yemenis of Lyons. Acquired for the Royal Library in December 1900.

Henry VIII wrote the 'Defence of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther' in response to the German monk and theologian’s pronouncement that there were only two sacraments (the solemn rites considered to have been instituted by Christ to confer grace) rather than the traditional seven. As such he defended the practices of the Roman Catholic Church against Luther’s Protestant teachings. The book was published in London in 1521, with a dedication to Pope Leo X, who subsequently granted Henry VIII the title 'Fidei Defensor' (Defender of the Faith). The Royal Collection’s copy is signed by Henry and was probably one of those he sent to cardinals in Rome.

In the 1530s the absence of a male heir led Henry to seek an annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and resulted in a contradiction of his earlier ‘Defence’. As Henry was unable to gain consent for the divorce in Rome, he rejected the authority of the papacy, instead asserting the authority of the Scriptures above the pope. This led to his excommunication and his establishment as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Despite this break with Rome, Henry retained the title ‘Defender of the Faith’. It was revoked by Pope Paul III but in 1543 was given by the English Parliament to Henry and his successors in perpetuity. It forms part of The Queen’s style and F.D. still appears on our coins today.

Coronation Service, 1689

On the page after the end of the order of service is the inscription: ‘We do approve of ye / Coronation Office, as / it is contained in this / book / William R. / Marie R.’ This shows that this was the draft of the Coronation Service drawn up early in 1689 for the approval of William and Mary. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 occurred because of distrust of James II’s intentions of re-establishing an absolutist and Roman Catholic monarchy. In June 1688 his son-in-law, William of Orange, was invited by leading peers to come to England to challenge these policies, and after James’s flight to France in December 1688, William and Mary were offered the Crown of England by Parliament, as Joint Sovereigns. This new form of constitutional and specifically Protestant monarchy necessitated a revision of the Coronation service. The greatest change was in the Coronation Oath, which included the phrases ‘according to the Statutes in Parliam’t agreed on’ and ‘true profession of the Gospell, and the Protestant Reform’d Religion Established by Law’. The monarchs were each presented with a Bible, ‘the most Valuable thing that this World affords’, and the main ceremonies were set within the context of a Communion service, which had been cut from the Coronation for the Roman Catholic James.

The Sanctuary

In the ethereal evening light, an exhausted stag reaches safety after escaping from hunters, the arc of its path through the water echoed by the pattern of the disturbed ducks overhead. Although Landseer took part in hunts himself, here all attention is placed in the majestic stag rather than the hunting scene. The stag appears heroic and almost Christ-like in its suffering. The painting may symbolise the struggle of life and the peace of salvation.

This is Landseer’s first ‘symbolic’ picture of a deer. The artist often returned to the theme throughout the rest of his career.

Purchased by Queen Victoria and presented to Prince Albert on his birthday, 1842

Sword and Scabbard

This exceptionally rich sword and scabbard was presented to Edward VII on the occasion of his coronation by Sawai Sir Madho Singh Bahadur (1861-1922), Maharaja of Jaipur. Madha Singh was one of the small group of Indian princes and nobles invited to attend the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in June 1902. For the journey to England he chartered a ship which was fitted with large copper vats containing sufficient Ganges water to sustain him and his retinue of 400 followers throughout both sea passages and whilst in England. At the eleventh hour, after their arrival in London together with large numbers of other foreign royalty and heads of state, the coronation was cancelled due to the King's appendicitis. It did not in fact take place until 9 August, by which time most of the royal guests had departed for home. The Maharaja, however, duly attended the postponed ceremony, having spent the intervening period staying at Kedleston Hall and other country houses, closely attended at all times by his cook and his jeweller.

The importance of the jeweller in the Maharaja's household is clear from this coronation gift, which is set with a total of 719 diamonds. These include a large number of rose-cut and brilliant-cut stones as well as the flat, 'lasque' stones more commonly used in Indian jewellery, and it is possible that many of them were cut in Europe. They are held in 'rub-over' gold settings and backed with silver foil, which makes it impossible to assess their total weight with precision. The largest appear to be the two mixed-cut pale yellow diamonds at the end of the quillons, one of which is estimated at thirty-six carats. The combined weight of all the diamonds is possibly in the region of two thousand carats. The scabbard and hilt are of gold, finely enamelled in dark blue, green and red. The blade is inscribed with the words A TOKEN OF THE LOYALTY OF / SAWAI MADHO SINGH / MAHARAJA OF JAIPUR / 9th AUGUST 1902.

Swords were often used as gifts being symbols of power faith and loyalty, in this case it is the richness of the diamonds rather than the quality of the blade that is conveying the message of the importance of the Maharaja of Jaipur.

This magnificent sword which is now displayed as part of the Indian collection at Buckingham Palace can be seen as perhaps the pinnacle of one such relationship he formed in India.


Learning resources to accompany the series have been developed in partnership with BBC Schools. These can be accessed on the BBC's Famous people website.

To listen to The Art of Monarchy series, please visit the BBC Radio 4 site.


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