David Torrance: “Nothing in the Nature of a Second Coronation”

On 23 April 2023 the Sunday Telegraph carried a striking headline: “Scotland to host its own Coronation for the King with Stone of Destiny at its heart.” During a thanksgiving service at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, the report continued, King Charles III was to be presented with the Honours of Scotland (“the oldest regalia in the British Isles”), after they had been escorted from Edinburgh Castle by “a people’s procession of about 100 representatives from different walks of life across Scotland”. Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said the service “later this year” would be “similar” to that held in June 1953 for Queen Elizabeth II.

That earlier service had been a colourful example of what Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger called “invented tradition” – occasions which “appear or claim to be old” but are in fact “quite recent in origin”, usually associated with nationalism. The Queen’s “Scottish coronation” had served as a reminder that Scotland was an historic nation within a more recent “union state”. This post, which is based on records held at the National Archives and at the Lyon Office, explores the evolution of and constitutional controversy surrounding this invented tradition.

“Some appropriate use”

During 1951, a committee of the Church of Scotland (also known as the “Kirk”) had considered the “place” of its representatives on “occasions of National Importance”. With the death of King George VI in February 1952 creating “a new situation”, not only did the Moderator of the General Assembly attend his State Funeral on 15 February 1952, but the committee began to examine Kirk representation at the last coronation in May 1937. This led, “with the utmost cordiality on both sides”, to an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Moderator to present the Coronation Bible to the Queen at her coronation in June 1953.

The political context also proved conducive to a more prominent role for Scotland’s “national” church. Since the late 1940s, the Scottish Covenant movement had demanded a devolved Scottish Parliament, and hundreds of thousands of Scots appeared to agree. In response, the Conservative government which took office in 1951 established a Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs, to which the Church of Scotland gave evidence.

James Stuart, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, wrote to the Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, on 2 May 1952, just as the Kirk committee was about to present its report to the General Assembly. Stuart suggested:

that if The Queen felt able on Her Coronation visit to Scotland to attend a short national Service of Dedication and Thanksgiving … to which representatives from all parts of the country would be invited, and if, further, some appropriate use could be made at such a Service of the Scottish Regalia, this would give great satisfaction both to the Church of Scotland and to the Scottish people generally.

Stuart added that the use of the Scottish Regalia (the Honours of Scotland) had also been considered in 1936-37 but had been “rejected on the ground that it savoured too much of a second Coronation”. The only precedents were the parading of the Honours during George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 and the Scottish Sword of State having been carried before George V at the dedication of the Thistle Chapel (home to the chivalric Order of the Thistle) in July 1911. George and Queen Mary had earlier “inspected” the Honours of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle, as had King Edward VII during a visit in 1903.

Lascelles quite correctly consulted Jock Colville, Winston Churchill’s Private Secretary, but expressed concern that the idea of the Queen being “recrowned” in other Commonwealth capitals might “instantly be revived” were Stuart’s plans to bear fruit. On the other hand, Sir Alan thought a service “not specifically connected with the Coronation, at which the Scottish Regalia could be paraded” could be arranged, although it seemed to him “a matter of far-reaching State importance”. Colville did not seem to agree, advising Churchill that Stuart’s request was “harmless”. Ahead of an official announcement from Buckingham Palace on 17 November 1952, the Scottish Office once again reassured Lascelles that “every precaution will be taken to avoid any suggestion that this Service would be in any sense a re-coronation”.

The date for the “National Service” was fixed for 24 June 1953, just three weeks after the coronation at Westminster Abbey. The Times reported that it was the Queen’s “desire that the honours of Scotland should be carried to the cathedral on the occasion of the service, and that the congregation should, as far as possible, be representative of all parts of Scotland and of all aspects of Scottish life”. Arrangements were to be under the general supervision of Lord Lyon King of Arms (Scotland’s chief herald) and the Scottish Office, in concert with the Church of Scotland and St Giles’ Cathedral. Like the coronation itself, the ceremony was to be broadcast on television and radio.

“Coronational” considerations

The first difficulty arose when the Dean of the Thistle Chapel approached the Queen’s Private Secretary suggesting that the Queen “publicly hold the Scottish sceptre” during the service. This struck Lascelles as “constitutionally improper” and the matter was referred to Lord Simonds, the Lord Chancellor. He was of the view that Article 24 of the Acts of Union meant the Honours of Scotland “were not intended to be used in connection with the Coronation of Sovereigns of the United Kingdom”:

Anything that would suggest that the Service in St. Giles’s [sic] next summer was in the nature of a second Coronation would be undesirable … If The Queen were to hold the Scottish sceptre, Her Majesty would be repeating, during her Coronation Visit to Scotland, one of the symbolic rites already performed at the Service in Westminster Abbey, and the symbolism might be regarded as implying that Scotland was a separate kingdom.

The Lord Chancellor’s objections appear curious. Although Article 24 provided that “the Crown Scepter [sic] and Sword of State” will “continue to be kept as they are within that part of the United Kingdom now called Scotland”, there was nothing expressly prohibiting their use in situ, as they would be at St Giles’ in June 1953. The symbolism might be politically risky, but it was not against the law.

By the beginning of 1953, the Lord Lyon was observing in one letter that the procession envisaged for the National Service was “abbreviated from the ordinary state progress with The Honours” as “used at the Openings of the Scots Parliament” prior to 1707 (the legal basis being a Scottish Privy Council Act of 1681). It was, wrote Lyon, most important to:

recollect that the Public – and indeed the World … expect to see something consistent with Scottish tradition and of the ceremonial which came down through the ages … A carrying of the Honours by “officials in uniform” instead of Earls in robes, would be an anachronism, and an anti-climax, reminiscent not of Scotland’s History, but of some Balkan kinglets’ parade. It would take only very little deviation to change a most inspiring and evocative progress into a banal fiasco.

Lyon took care to add that “nothing suggested, in any way, savours of a second Coronation”, believing it was only in the “intra-Cathedral service … that ‘coronational’ considerations would emerge”.

This was the preserve of Charles L. Warr, Minister of St Giles’ and Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland. To him it was suggested that the Stone of Destiny be brought to St Giles’ for the service, that the Queen should wear the Scottish Crown and that the Sovereign “should make a vow before the assembled company and that they, by some act, should pledge their loyalty to her”. Warr soon became aware of “uneasiness” in “some official quarters in the south” (England) as to what he intended. A “high personage” in the government even remarked to a “distinguished” Scottish peer: “Look here, is that fellow Charles Warr out to stage a second Coronation?” Eventually, as he recounted in his memoirs, Warr managed to produce an Order of Service “impregnated” with Scottish history but which “satisfied all parties”.

The carrying of the Honours, meanwhile, prompted one “claim” which required careful handling. Sir Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor had written to Lyon on 22 November 1952 to remind him that his clan had escorted the Honours during George IV’s visit in 1822. And as clan chief, he was “most anxious” it “should again exercise this ancient right and privilege”. The Scottish Secretary, however, was opposed, as was the Queen (it is not clear why, although the Clan’s lawlessness had led to its persecution for much of the 17th and 18th centuries). Lyon finally wrote to Sir Malcolm on 6 April 1953, saying tactfully that “it does not appear that modern official sentiment is favourable to allocation of functions such as those performed in 1822”.

The Queen had approved all the other arrangements during a meeting with the Scottish Secretary in mid-February 1953, agreeing that:

the Honours should be carried by those with hereditary claims to do so except that she feels it would not be appropriate that the Sword of State should be carried by a woman. Her Majesty has expressed the wish that the Countess of Erroll may be willing to delegate her responsibility to Lord Home, the Minister of State; in which case the Crown would be carried both to the Cathedral and from the Cathedral back to Holyrood by the Duke of Hamilton.

“Piety and patriotism meet”

On the day itself, The Times laid it on thick:

No royal ceremony in recent Scottish history has so pleased the people of this land or made a greater popular appeal with its deep significance … At St. Giles’, as nowhere else in Scotland, piety and patriotism meet in closest community.

The 1,700 guests inside St Giles’ witnessed much, it has to be said, that “savoured” of a second coronation. Psalms from the coronations of Charles I and II at Holyrood in 1633 and Scone in 1651 were sung, the Dedication was “paraphrased” from the Scottish National Covenant of 1638, while the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were blessed by Charles Warr. Later, and as trumpets sounded, he handed the Honours of Scotland to the Queen who gave them to their bearers as they knelt in turn to receive them. A few weeks later, Lyon passed on the Queen’s congratulations and observed that the “bearing of Honours has evidently been just what the Scottish people wanted to see”, a ceremony “rooted in the history of Scotland and her ancient line of Sovereigns”.

Concluding observations

Following as it did controversies over the theft of the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey in 1950 and the destruction of pillar boxes over regnal numbering, the ceremonial of 1953 had simultaneously to satisfy national sentiment while not appearing to suggest that Scotland was a separate kingdom. It seems to have worked: the Commonwealth Realms did not demand “re-crownings” and by the end of 1953 the Scottish Covenant movement was on the wane.

Despite repeated assurances, however, that nothing on the day would “savour” of a second coronation, this is difficult to square with what actually occurred. Although it was not placed on the Queen’s head, the Crown of Scotland played a central role, as indeed it would at the revived (if not invented) ceremonial that accompanied openings of the devolved Scottish Parliament after 1999. The Crown was also affixed to the late Queen’s coffin as it lay-at-rest in St Giles’ in September 2022. Indeed, it was during her long reign that Scottish State ceremonial reached its fullest extent since 1707.

The reports referenced at the beginning of this article – since confirmed at Holyrood by the First Minister – have thus far attracted little or no comment, let alone controversy. The explanation for this is perhaps twofold: the Scotland of 2023 possesses a devolved parliament which that of 1953 lacked, while its governing party (the SNP) has since 1999 embraced specifically Scottish royal ceremonial as an expression of Scottish distinctiveness, a reminder – as it was seven decades ago – of Scotland’s autonomous place within the United Kingdom.

With thanks to Adam Bruce for his help with this article.

Dr David Torrance, House of Commons Library

(Suggested citation: D. Torrance, ‘“Nothing in the Nature of a Second Coronation”’, U.K. Const. L. Blog (16th May 2023) (available at https://ukconstitutionallaw.org/))