We saw the crowns placed on the King and Queen: heads of Oxford houses in key role at the Coronation
While tens of thousands of people flocked to central London for the Coronation, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new king, two heads of Oxford houses, Baroness Valerie Amos and Lady Elish Angiolini took part in the ancient ceremony in Westminster Abbey and saw the crown placed on the King’s head.
Baroness Amos, the former politician, diplomat and Master of University College, and Lady Angiolini, the former Lord Advocate of Scotland and Principal of St Hugh’s College, were chosen to be among the party to introduce the King to those assembled in the Abbey, so he could be recognised as monarch.
Baroness Amos, who was appointed a Lady of the Garter last year by the late Queen Elizabeth, says of the day, ‘It was a huge privilege to be there. There was such a sense of history. And the Abbey looked stunning, the music was wonderful and there was such diversity and inclusivity.’
It was a huge privilege to be there. There was such a sense of history
Lady Angiolini, who was appointed to the Scottish Order of the Thistle last year, says, ‘It was very special. The music was just incredible inside the Abbey, just mesmerizing. It was an enormous honour and it just came out of the blue.’
She adds, ‘The pageantry and the colours were wonderful and it was really diverse and had such a community feel. I wasn’t expecting that.’
Both heads of house were full of admiration for Penny Mordaunt MP, who famously held aloft a large sword for the two-hour ceremony. Sitting by the altar, directly opposite the King and Queen on their thrones, they had an unrivalled view of the first coronation in 70 years.
The pageantry and the colours were wonderful and it was really diverse and had such a community feel
‘We saw the crowns being placed on the King’s and Queen’s heads,’ says Lady Angiolini. ‘But I was glad not to hold that sword. I am a notorious butter fingers.’
And Baroness Amos was relieved no longer to be Lord President of the Privy Council – the role fulfilled by Penny Mordaunt.
‘I kept thinking, I don’t think I could have done it,’ she laughs. ‘But there is so much to remember…there was solemnity, but also celebration.’
Lady Angiolini says, ‘It was very formal but there was a feeling of informality. There were a number of children there, so there was a real family feel.’
Their roles in the proceedings took place early on. After processing into the Abbey, the coronation ‘ordo’ dictates, Charles III should be formally recognised by the thousands in each direction, including monarchs, heads of state and government as well as community champions. This ensures those assembled know and approve of the new monarch. Lady Angiolini introduced the King to the South and Baroness Amos to the North.
Baroness Amos was relieved no longer to be Lord President of the Privy Council – the sword-wielding role fulfilled by Penny Mordaunt: I kept thinking, I don’t think I could have done it
According to Lady Angiolini, ‘I spoke first. I was so glad to be there with Val [Baroness Amos], two heads of Oxford houses.’
Baroness Amos adds, ‘It was such a relief when I got my lines right…Oxford was very well represented. Lord (Robin) Butler [the former Cabinet Secretary and a former Master of University College] also took part.’
To ensure all went smoothly, everything had been practiced previously, in the dress rehearsal on Thursday afternoon, attended by all taking part. Lady Angiolini recalls, ‘It was very special being part of it, even the day of the rehearsals.’
There were some lighter moments. She remembers, many of the participants sitting in the café ‘in all their grandeur, eating croissants’ on the day of the dress rehearsal.
But on Saturday, 8 May, Baroness Amos says, they started early. They were at the Palace of Westminster, to dress in formal robes soon after 7am and then walked on the processional route to the Abbey, through a Parliament Square deserted apart from police officers and the armed forces.
I wanted to skip down the aisle afterwards – but that wouldn’t have been dignified
Arriving at around 8:20am, they found the Abbey already busy with some of the 2,000 invited guests. The doors had opened at 7:30am and many people had arrived promptly, in order to secure a front row seat. Much seating was not designated, and early arrivals secured places along the aisle.
‘We were lucky enough to have designated seats,’ says Baroness Amos. ‘The atmosphere was lovely. Lots of people were talking.’
At the end of the service, Baroness Amos returned to Parliament to de-robe and slipped away from the crowds on the Underground to attend a Coronation tea at Fortnum & Masons on Piccadilly.
‘It was really special,’ she says. ‘Lionel Ritchie and Katy Perry were there, and the Gospel choir from the Abbey….and the tea [presumably much needed] was absolutely delicious.’
Once she removed her robes 'backstage', Lady Angiolini says walking among the crowds, observing and enjoying the moment ‘was just lovely’.
Both were left with happy memories of the historic day. Lady Angiolini laughs, ‘I wanted to skip down the aisle afterwards – but that wouldn’t have been dignified.’