Kingston: London's Other Place For Coronations

By M@ Last edited 9 months ago

Last Updated 17 October 2023

Kingston: London's Other Place For Coronations

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The Kingston Coronation stone surrounded by blue fencing
Image Matt Brown

With Charles III, Westminster Abbey can boast 40 coronations. But it's not the only place of regal anointment in London...

Since William the Conqueror, almost every English or UK monarch* has received their crown in Westminster Abbey. But the Abbey was only a year old when the Conqueror stepped inside. All preceding monarchs** must have been coronated somewhere else. It's time to take a trip to Kingston-upon-Thames in south-west London***.

Kingston didn't get its name by accident. It is first recorded as early as 838 — much earlier than most London place names — as Cyninges tun, the king's manor or farm. That reference comes from a council in Kingston, when King Egbert of Wessex forged an alliance with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The town, spanning the border of Wessex and Mercia, was clearly an important power centre.

Seven coronations

Indeed, the town seems to have been the site of numerous coronations. The best documented are two of the big guns of Anglo-Saxon England: Æthelstan (925), the first king to unite all of England under one crown; and Æthelred the Unready (978), noted for his record-breaking (double) reign, his trouble with Vikings, and his unforgettable nickname. Both coronations took place in Kingston according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which offer a reasonably reliable record of this time.

Less-reliable documentation points to at least five other coronations in the riverside town. These are the father of Æthelstan, Edward the Elder (902), Edmund I (939), Eadred (946), Eadwig (956), Edgar the Peaceful (circa 960) and Edward the Martyr (975). This was truly the age of vowels and epithets.

The Kingston Stone

The chronicles do not go into any detail regarding the nature of the coronations. In all likelihood, the ceremonies took place in the Anglo-Saxon church of St Mary, whose remains lie next to the present All Saints church. A large sarsen stone was recovered from the site in the 1730s, and people quickly leapt on the idea that this was some kind of 'coronation stone'.

The putatively august rock remained in relative obscurity for the next hundred years or so. In 1850, after some proddings from a visiting antiquarian called Mr Young, the stone was given pride of position in the Market place. Its unusual seven-sided plinth records the names of the seven monarchs who knelt before it, at least in legend. A penny from each of their reigns, provided by the Bank of England, is buried in the stone beneath each name. The stone today stands beside the Guildhall, having been shifted a few hundred metres.

I'll leave you with the following poem, by noted poet Martin F Tupper, which was written to commemorate the 1850 resiting of the stone:

From the Leamington Spa Courier, 28 Sept 1850, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive

*The exceptions were Edward VIII, who copped out before his coronation, and boy-king Edward V, who 'reigned' for just a couple of months before his presumed murder in the Tower. You could also throw in Matilda, Lady Jane Grey and a few other edge-cases of English history if you were so inclined, but this is a breezy web article and not a chapter in the Oxford History of England.

**It's probable that King Harold was also crowned in the Abbey, in the same year as the Conqueror, but no record exists to confirm this.

*** You can argue that Kingston is in Surrey all you like, but we're not having it. Sorry.

**** I can't work out how to do traditional footnote symbols on a Mac keyboard, so you'll have to put up with these multiple asterisks, like I'm swearing at you.