Head to toe: the history of King Charles’s coronation outfits

Monarch may favour ‘toned down’ dress code but traditional robes still expected to be on show

King Charles with crown
Recent reports have claimed that the King will wear his military uniform for the coronation
(Image credit: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

King Charles III has been advised by the government to tone down his and his guests’ outfits for the coronation but ceremonial robes will still be on display.

Although monarchs have worn silk stockings and breeches in previous ceremonies, recent reports have claimed that Charles will opt to wear his military uniform instead for the big day on 6 May, said The Sun.

However, insisted Tatler, the traditional coronation robes “carry potent symbolic meaning” and will still be worn by the monarch for certain parts of the investiture at Westminster Abbey.

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A ‘sumptuous’ robe

The King is expected to enter the abbey in the robe of state, which is also known as the parliamentary robe. “This could well be made anew,” Dr George Gross, a visiting research fellow in theology at King’s College London and a co-founder of the British Coronations Project, told The Telegraph. “If so, one would expect as per the coronation emblem, for there to be a nod to sustainability and the environment.”

For the anointing, King Charles will wear what is known as the colobium sindonis, said Grazia, which, “in stark contrast to the Robe of State” is “austere and plain, without detail or lace”.

The supertunica and the robe royal, which date back to the 1821 coronation of King George IV, are worn during the investiture, with the robe royal worn at the moment of crowning, “taking on a priestly role: one of the divine nature of kingship”, said Historic UK.

The sequence of all this is rather set in stone – or parchment. A “highly decorated” 14th-century manuscript called Liber Regalis, or Royal Book, “acts as an instruction book for the running order of the ceremony”, said The Telegraph.

However, speculated Tatler, it has been suggested that this year’s coronation will be “shorter than its forebears”, meaning the King “may reduce the number of robe changes”.

Nevertheless, a coronation would not be complete without a crown, and King Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort, will “don crowns pulled from the Tower of London, where they have been guarded since the 17th century”, said Harper’s Bazaar. King Charles III will be crowned with St Edward’s crown, which was made for King Charles II in 1661.

Once he is crowned, he will wear the imperial robe, otherwise known as the robe of estate, and the imperial state crown, which is set with 2,868 diamonds. The “sumptuous” robe of estate is “vivid purple”, said Royal Central.

A ‘great shame’

While the King’s choice of outfits has provoked much discussion, there has also been further controversy and upset over the dress code for guests, with robes set to be banned, according to the Mirror.

The new monarch has decided to “jettison the tradition” by telling peers to leave their “lavish coronation robes and coronets at home” and come dressed in “what amounts to a business suit”, said the tabloid.

The robes and coronets denote rankings in the British peerage and date back to the 15th century, but the Mirror claims that Charles, with advice from the government, wants a “toned-down dress code” amid the “cost of living crisis currently gripping the country”.

The news has not gone down well with everyone. A hereditary peer told The Telegraph that he’s “very sorry about the decision that has been made” as “our robes go back to the 19th century and I would have been the fifth generation to wear them”.

Viscount Torrington, joint chairman of the Hereditary Peerage Association, who has not been invited to the coronation, also felt the reported banning of robes is “a great shame”.

The coronation of King Charles III will take place on Saturday 6 May 2023. The coronation procession will take the King and Queen Consort from Buckingham Palace down The Mall, past Trafalgar Square and along Whitehall before arriving at Westminster Abbey, where the service will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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