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Date of Award

9-1989

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Supervisor

Paul S. Fritz

Language

English

Abstract

The English coronation ceremony is an archaic and feudal remnant from the distant past that nevertheless holds the power to captivate and enthral citizens of the modem British state. Sociologists and anthropologists have examined this, and other forms of royal ceremonial, in the attempt to determine the nature of the relationship between the internal structure and symbolic meaning of ceremony, and the public's enthusiastic acceptance of both the medium and the message. The coronation has received little interest from the historical profession, however, and so there is a pressing need to examine the ceremony in relation to the historical context in which it was created. In this thesis, the coronation ceremony is examined in relation to the context of the 1660-1821 period of British history, a time of change, conflict and crisis. It is demonstrated how the coronation was an important instrument of elite hegemony and reflected the nature and distribution of power in early modem English society. The form or structure of the coronation ceremony is explained in relation to the political and constitutional developments defining the relationship between the aristocracy and the monarchy in this period. Although this relationship was transformed due to shifts in the preponderance of power shared by these institutions, the coronation never ceased to be a conservative form of ceremonial which was resilient to change and continually celebrated the status, traditional authority and leadership of the rulers of a hierarchical society. The preparation and performance of the ceremony also served the needs of the ruling oligarchy: the coronation was an elite and private ceremony that helped define the solidarity of the rulers and, in all probability, contained little of significance for the middle and lower orders. The celebration of the coronation in English provincial centres also reveals the manner in which the coronation expressed the ideology of the civic elite and was meant to secure the acquiescence of the governed to the realities of elite hegemony. By the mid to late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, however, it appears that the nature and orientation of the coronation ceremony was being questioned by the middle and lower orders. The political, economic, and cultural transformation England underwent in this period undermined the traditional social relations between the rulers and the ruled, and the accompanying social tensions came to be expressed on Coronation Day. By the Reform Act, the coronation was an instrument of elite hegemony which increasingly came to be challenged by the elements of society seeking a share of political power.

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