“Please outline your claim to perform a role at His Majesty King Charles III’s Coronation.” Before you ask, “because I fancy doing a turn” is not a valid reason, nor is “because I’ve always wanted to wear one of those ermine robes”, nor “I reckon I could do a good line in ‘looking solemn while holding a sceptre’”. On first glance, the application form to apply to be part of the King’s Coronation appears to be an open invitation – just like The Queue last year. Read the small print and you’ll see you need to provide evidence that an ancestor of yours performed a role at previous coronations. You’ll also need to “show your connection” to that ancestor.
The Coronation Claims Office has a downloadable form now available for anyone wishing to make a claim that they have a right to perform a ceremonial role on May 6. Claimants have until 5.30pm on February 3 to return their form by post or email, at which point officials will begin to examine applications, consulting with “ecclesiastical experts from Lambeth Palace and ceremonial experts from the Royal Household”.
That gives you just over a week to turn sleuth. It’s time to dig out your old family tree, head to ancestry.com and order a copy of Burke’s Peerage (the 107th edition is currently on sale at oxfam.org.uk for a modest £350) and see if you can prove your great-great-great grandfather performed a terribly important role at George V’s Coronation. Who knows what you might find. After all, actor Danny Dyer discovered he was unwittingly related to every English king right back to William the Conqueror.
In reality, the Cabinet Office stresses anyone with a legitimate claim to make will likely already know about it; the people who have historically performed roles at coronations have been members of the nobility and their descendants will have inherited their titles. But if this were as straightforward as hereditary peers simply stepping into roles their forebears have performed for generations, you’d think there would be no need for a public application form.
Perhaps the outside chance that someone out there has an ancestor who they can prove once clutched an orb at Henry V’s Coronation is too good to miss. Wouldn’t it be wonderful (and fitting for a coronation straining to be “modern”) if Joe Bloggs from Derby had a claim to holding King Charles’s towel? Though it’s worth noting that in 1953, the Court in fact turned down an application from Mrs Mary Long of Heydon Hall in Norfolk to carry Her Majesty’s towel. Her services were deemed surplus to requirements as there was to be no coronation banquet.
“What is clear about the new coronation is it has to draw in a wider reflection of the structure of present-day society,” says Sir Roy Strong, historian and author of Coronation. Oliver Dowden, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has said the new Coronation Claims Office will ensure the King’s wish that the ceremony “embraces the future” will be fulfilled.
If you think there’s an outside chance one of your relations may have had a connection to a past coronation, you’ll need to prove you are a direct relation with a copy of your family tree. To carry out your own detective work you might like to pay a visit to the National Archives at Kew, or have a scan of Burke’s Peerage. But family stories are flimsy things, shapeshifting from generation to generation – the ancestor your mother always said was a prominent member of the Church of England and played an important role at the Queen’s coronation might very well have been nothing of the sort. It’s part of my own family folklore that my great grandfather wrote the coronation song, In Her Golden Coach – a schmaltzy sort of ballad that made its way into the charts in 1953. Not that the song, I suspect, grants me the right to attend the next coronation – my ancestors were very much in the pub that day, more likely to be nursing pints of London Pride than guarding regalia.
In the past, proving precedent to the Court of Claims has been a source of conflict. Since it was first established in the 14th century there have been “terrible punch-ups over who did what,” says Sir Roy. “They were always having a punch-up over who got this and who carried the glove and who rode in on horseback.”
When the late Queen was crowned in 1953, 21 people claimed the right to perform roles at her coronation. Only 16 were accepted. “The Duke of Newcastle, as Lord of the Manor of Worksop, traditionally presented the glove to protect the Sovereign’s hand while holding the sceptre,” writes Hugo Vickers in his book Coronation. “Unfortunately for him, the Duke had recently placed the Manor of Worksop into a limited company – the London and Fort George Land Company Ltds – to oversee his estates.
“This company claimed the right to present the glove but the Committee decided that they were not going to grant limited companies any rights over coronation regalia. The claim was rejected.”
Proving precedent was a high stakes affair, writes Sir Roy. “For those who won there was not only the glamour of the occasion and the opportunity to be in proximity to the king, but perks to be had, ranging from pieces of plate to cloths of estate.”
Of course if your claim is successful you also need to consider whether you’d be up to the job. You might be called upon to perform tasks like carrying “a silver baton or staff of 12 ounces weight tipped with gold at each end”. Think you can manage that? When the Queen was crowned, Lord Woolton, who was supposed to perform the official duty of holding the sword of state, was too frail to hold the sword as he’d just been treated for a perforated appendix. The Queen asked if he’d like to hold her glove instead. He was assigned a seat behind Prince Philip so he didn’t have far to walk far on the day.
Now, cancel your plans and get yourself a membership to ancestry.com. It’s time to carry out your very own Who Do You Think You Are?
If you don’t have an ancestor tucked away in your family tree that can get you into Westminster Abbey, let us know what you’ll be doing instead...