The Recognition

THE great majority of words one hears in the Coronation Service are subject to stark restrictions concerning both who shall utter the words and who shall be the subjects of the words: Archbishop and Choir are nearly always the ones uttering, while God and Sovereign are nearly always the subjects. When reading the bare words of the script, one can therefore be inclined to forget the deeply communal nature of the occasion. One must bear in mind that Westminster Abbey is the site of the coronation not only because it is old and beautiful, but also because it is large enough to house the multitudes of lords, ladies, prelates, and commoners come to see their Sovereign crowned. This host is largely a silent witness, but it does have some lines of its own. Near the end of the service, certain Bishops and Peers will kneel before their liege and make homage with kisses and oaths of fealty. And at the beginning of the service, immediately after the Entrance Anthem and the Sovereign’s brief private devotion, there is another sort of homage – wherein all the guests, of whatever rank or station, show their allegiance with one united cry.

It is natural that men, when about to perform a solemn religious rite, should provide an opportunity for all present to affirm that the rite ought to be done. Two such opportunities are found in the Book of Common Prayer. One is of course the Solemnization of Matrimony,  where the minister asks opponents of the marriage to “now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace,”  and the other is the Ordinal, where the bishop admonishes guests objecting to the prospective priest or deacon to “come forth in the Name of God, and show what the Crime or Impediment is.” In most cases, these assents are meant as pure formality, and so is the assent at the coronation. But while one may dissent to the prayer-book rites with silence, one must dissent to the coronation with speech. (And a loud speech at that, to make one’s voice heard amidst the din.) I would call this fitting, for while a sudden discovery of the wickedness of a marriage or ordination is unlikely,  even less plausible is a sudden discovery that the king is not the king.

The first English coronation order to contain a form for the Recognition, a twelfth-century manuscript allegedly used for Henry I, introduces it with an Anthem (Ps. 89: 14-15 plus Alleluia and Gloria).

Consecrandum regem de conuentu fidelium seniorum duo episcopi per manus producant ad ecclesiam. et chorus decantet hanc Antiphonam.

Firmetur manus tua er exaltetur dextera iustica et iudicium preparatio sedis tue misericordia et ueritas precedant faciem tuam alleluia. ℣. Gloria patri et filio et spiritui sanncto.

Two bishops shall bring the king that is to be consecrated from the assembly of faithful elders to the church; and the choir shall sing this anthem.

Let thy hand be strengthened, and thy right hand be exalted. Let justice and judgement be the preparation of thy seat, and mercy and truth go before thy face. Alleluia. ℣.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

Then follows the king’s oath, to which the people reply with “Amen.” And then the Recognition proper:


His expletis unus episcorum alloquatur populum. si tali principi ac rectori se subicere. et iussionibus eius obtemperare velint. /Tunc a circumstante clero et populo respondeatur. Uolumus et concedimus.

After this, one of the bishops shall address the people and ask them whether they be willing to submit themselves to this man as their prince and ruler, and obey his commands. Then shall the clergy and people standing about reply: We will and grant it so.

The Recognition is found again in the Liber Regalis, which appeared in the reign of Richard II in the late fourteenth century and governed all subsequent English coronations – even those of Protestants Edward VI and Elizabeth I  – until it was Englished and Protestantized for James I.

Ipsoque introducto per merium chori atque in pulpito in sede sibi apta collocato. Metropolitanus siue episcopus regem coronaturus per quatuor partes dicti pulpiti plebem alloquatur ipsorum inquirens uoluntatem et consensum de dicti principis consecracione. Rege interim in sede sua stante atqae ad quatour partes dicti pulpiti dum pontifex plebem alloquitur se uertente. quibus ut moris est consencientibus atque uoce magna et unanimi proclantibus. fiat fiat et uiuat Rex. nomen dicti retis gratissime nominantes. /Tunc a choro decantetur hec antiphona.

Firmetur manus tua et exaltetur dextera iustica et iudicium preparacio sedis tue misericordia et ueritas precedent faciem tuam alleluya. Ps. Misericordias domini in eternum cantabo. Gloria patri. Repetatur antiphona. Firmetur.

[And when he has been brought through the choir and set in his seat on the stage, the Metropolitan or Bishop that is to consecrate the king shall address the people at the four sides of the stage, inquiring their will and consent about the consecration of the said king. The king meanwhile standeth at his seat, and turneth himself to the four sides of the stage as the Bishop addresses the people, who give their consent, as is customary, and with loud and unanimous shouts exclaim, “So be it,” So be it,” and “Long live the king,” uttering with great joy the name of the king. Then shall this anthem be sung by the choir:

Let thy hand be strengthened, and thy right hand be exalted ; let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat, and mercy and truth go before thy face. Alleluia. Psalm : My song shall be always of the lovingkindness of the Lord. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Then shall the anthem be repeated. Let thy hand, etc.]

Three notable developments in the Recognition are apparent in the Liber Regalis. The fourfold repetition of the address and acclamation is now established: When one recalls the Abbey’s traditional cruciform floor plan, with nave, transepts, and chancel all packed with spectators and the main action of the ceremony occurring at the intersection, one will appreciate the helpfulness of this practice for practical purposes, to say nothing of the symbolic value of showing the Sovereign’s authority over all corners of the realm. The order of the Recognition proper and the Anthem Firmetur manus is reversed, making it a kind of continuation of the Acclamation, instead of an early precursor of the Entrance Anthem.  Finally, Firmetur manus is expanded into the typical Introit pattern: a psalm-verse (Ps. 89: 1a) appears between the Alleluia and the Gloria, and after the Gloria the anthem from “Let thy hand” to “Alleluia” is repeated.

While the Liber Regalis does not give a precise formula for the Address to the People, as it does for the people’s Acclamation, we have accounts from the several coronations revealing what was meant to be said at this point. The eight-year-old Henry VI was introduced to his people (6 Nov 1429) on this wise:

Sirs, here comyth Henry, Kyng Henryes sone the vth, on whos sowle God have mercy, amen. He hombyth hym to God and to holy churche, askynge the crowne of this reame by right and defence of herytage. If ye hold pays [peace] with hym, say Ya, and hold up handes.

By the time of the Tudors,  the wording had become fairly regular. The “Little Device” giving instructions for Henry VII’s coronation (30 Oct 1485) has the following form:

Sirs here [is] present Henry rightfull and indoubted inheritor by the Lawes of god and man to the Crowne [and] royall dignitie of Englande wt all thinges therevnto annexid and apperteigning elect chosen and required by all three estates of thissame Lande to take vpon him this said crown and royall dignitie. wherevpon ye shall vnderstande that this daye is ficed and appoynted by all the Peres of this Lande for the consecracion, Invnction and coronacion of the said most excellent prince Henry. Will ye Syrs at this tyme give your willes and assentes to the same consecracion, Invnction and Coronacion.

His grandson Edward VI is introduced (20 Feb 1547) in very similar language, but the reference to “election” potentially a dangerous idea for a monarchy  is removed.

Syrs; here I present King Edwarde, rightfull and undoubted enheritour by the lawes of God and man to the Royal Dignitie and Crowne Imperiall off this realme, whose Consecracion, Enunction and Coronacion is apoincted by all the Nobles and Peres of this lande to be this daye. Wille you serve at this tyme and geve your good willes and assentes to the saide  Consecracion, Enunction and Coronacion as by your dwetyes of allegeance ye be bownde to do?

The coronation of Mary I (1 October 1553) makes explicit what lands were meant by “all thinges therevnto annexid and apperteigning”:

Sirs, here present is Mary, rightful and undoubted inheritrix by the laws of God and man to the crown and royal dignity of this realm of England, France, and Ireland, whereupon you shall understand that this day is appointed by all the Peers of this land for the consecration, inunction, and coronation of the said most excellent Princess Mary ; will you serve at this time, and give your wills and assent to the same consecration, inunction, and coronation?

The response  “Yea, yea, yea. God save Queen Mary”    makes this coronation possibly the first in England to hail the Sovereign with the now-familiar “God save…” formula at the Recognition.

     JAMES I (25 July 1603)

This is the first English Coronation in the vernacular, but as the Address to the People and Acclamation have long been there already, the Recognition sees less change than do other portions of the ceremony. A form of the Tudor Address to the People shows up as the second option below:

The Kinge beeing sett in his Throne, The Archbisshopp going to every of the 4 sides of the Stage, videlicet North South, East and west (The Marshall of England going beefore him to all the said places) asketh the people, if they bee willinge to accept of their King as their Soveraigne, that he maie be Annointed and crowned. His verbis


Sirs, heere I present vnto you King James, the rightfull inheritour of the Crowne of this Realme. Wherefore all you that bee come this daie to doe your homage, service, and bownden dutie, bee yee willing to doe the same?

/Or thus.

Sirs, here present is James rightfull and vndoubted Interitour by the Lawes of god and man to the Crowne and roiall dignitie, Wherevppon you shall vnderstand, that this daie is præfixed and appointed by all the Peeres of the Land, for the Consecration, envnction, and Coronation of the said most excellent Prince James. Will you serve him att this tyme, and giue your wills and Assentes to the same Consecration, envnction, and Coronation?

Or thus.

Will you take this worthie Prince James, Right heire of the Realme, and haue him to your King, and beecome Subiectes to him, and submitt yourselues to his Commaundementes?

/This while, the King standing vpp, turneth himself, to everie of the .4. sides, as the Archbisshopp is at euery of them speaking to the people.

The people signifieng their willingnesse by aunswearing all in one voice Yea yea God saue Kinge James: The Quire singethe the Anthem,


Lett thy hand bee strengthned, and thy right hand bee exalted, Lett iustice and iudgment bee the preparation of thy seate, and mercy and truth goe beefore thy face. Alleluya. Psal. misericordias dej. Glorie bee to the ffather &c.

It is unclear if “Lett thy hand” is to be repeated after the Gloria, and how much of Ps. 89 is to be sung, but one could surmise that the Liber Regalis precedent is followed.

     CHARLES I (2 Feb 1626)

The Order of Service lists the same three forms for the introduction of the king, with some very minor differences of wording in the latter two. But it seems that Archbishop George Abbot was pleased by none of the three options and made a last-minute change: Simonds D’Ewes, (a guest at the ceremony who would side against the King in the Civil War) reports that

The Bishopp said in my articulate hearing to this purpose:“My masters and freinds, I am here come to present unto you your King: King Charles, to whome the crowne of his anncestors and predecessors is now devolved by lineall right, and hee himselfe come hither to be settled on that throne, which God and his birth have appointed for him: and therefore I desire you, by your general acclamations, to testifie your content and willingness thereunto.”

Unfortunately, as D’Ewes continues his account, we see that these “general acclamations” were not all they could have been.

Upon which, whether some expected hee should have spoken moore, others hearing not well what he saied, hinderd those by questioning which might have heard, or that the newnes and greatnes of the action busied men’s thoughts, or the presence of soe deare a king drew admiring silence, so that those which weere nearest doubted what to doe, but not one worde followed till my Lorde of Arundel tolde them, They should cry out, “God save King Charles!” Upon which, as ashamed of their first oversight, a little shouting followed.

Once God had finally been implored to save King Charles, the Quire sang the Anthem, this time containing only Ps. 89: 14-15 and an Alleluia. (Ps. 89: 1-6 plus Gloria follows in one manuscript, but “marked as if for omission.”)

     CHARLES II (23 April 1661)

It seems to use the “Sirs, here I present…” introduction from James I and Charles I, but as my sources paraphrase it, I cannot tell if the wording is identical. The Anthem is the same as for Charles I, except that the Alleluia is removed.

     JAMES II (23 April 1685) 

The Address to the People makes a concession to evolving grammatical usage in “Sirs, here I present…” by changing “be come” and “be ye willing” into “are come” and “are ye willing.” The note explaining how the people express their reply reveals a change of perhaps misplaced optimism : While the previous three coronations had only mentioned the people signifying their “willingness,” now there is “willingness and joy,” hearkening back to the “great joy” in the corresponding rubric from the Liber Regalis. After the cries of “God save King James!” an instrumental interlude is introduced: “the Trumpets sounded, and Drums beat.” The Anthem (Ps. 89: 14-15 with Alleluia, as for Charles I), was composed by Dr. John Blow, Master of the Children of His Majesty’s Chapel;  a recording may be found here.

     WILLIAM III & MARY II (11 April 1689)

The Recognition ran as follows:

¶ The King and Queen being so placed ; the ArchBishop turneth to the East part of the Theater first ; and after, together with the Lord Keeper, Ld great Chamberlain, Ld High Constable and Earl Marshall (Garter King of Armes preceding them) goes to the other three sides of the Theater in this Order, South, West, & North ; and at every of the four sides, with a loud voice speaks to the People : And the King and Queen in the meantime, standing up by their Chairs, turn and show themselves to the People at every of the four sides of the Theater, as the ArchBishop is at every of them, and while he speaks thus to the People.

Sirs I here present unto you King William and Queen Marie ; undoubted King and Queen of this Realm ; Wherefore all you, who are come this day, to do your Homage, & Service ; are you willing to do the same.

The People signify their Willingness, & Joy, by loud, and repeated Acclamations ; All with one voice crying out, God save King William and Queen Marie. And then the Trumpets sound ; and after the Quire sings this Anthem.

Eccl. x. 17. Blessed are thou, O Land, when thy King is the Son of Nobles : And thy Princes eat in due Season. Ps. lxxxix. 16. Blessed is the People, O Lord, that can rejoyce in thee : they shall walk in the light of thy Countenance. Ps. xxxiii. 12. Blessed is the Nation whose God is the Lord Jehovah : and blessed are the Folk whom he hath chosen to him to be his Inheritance. Ps. cxliv. 15. Happy are the People that are in such a Case : yea blessed are the People, which have the Lord for their God. Alleluiah.

“Undoubted King and Queen” is used instead of “rightful inheritors of the crown of this realm”  probably because it would sound odd to call William and Mary inheritors when the person from whom they inherited was still very much alive. The phrase “bounden duty” is removed, despite or because of its place in the Communion Service. “Ye willing” becomes the less-archaic “you willing.”James II’s drums disappear, but his trumpet fanfare remains, and has featured in all subsequent coronations.  The ancient anthem Firmetur manus is discarded in favour of a cento of psalm-verses dealing with national happiness. The “are thou” in Eccles. 10: 17 is of course is a misprint for “art thou.”

     ANNE (23 April 1702)

The Address to the People pluralizes “Homage” to “homages.” The Recognition Anthem is Ps. 21: 1, 3, 5-6 with Alleluia    and a few small changes of gender as well.

Psm. 21, Ver. 1. The Queen shall rejoyce in thy strength, O Lord ; exceeding glad shall she be of thy salvation. Ver. 3. Thou shalt prevent her with the blessings of goodness ; and shall set a crown of pure gold upon her head. Ver. 5. Her honour is great in thy salvation. Glory and great worship shalt thou lay upon her. Ver. 6. Thou shalt give her everlasting felicity, and make her glad with the light of thy countenance. Alleluiah.

“Inclusive language” renderings of Scripture are not as recent an innovation as we might think, though in 1702 it was done for a rather different purpose than the feminist concerns of today.

     GEORGE I (20 October 1714)

The Address to the People turns “I here present” into “I present,” and the next word after “King George” is not “your,” but another “King.” I cannot tell what immediately follows that, for the image of the order of service appearing on Google Books is cropped. I imagine it would have to read “King of Great Britain” or “King of this Realm.”  The image becomes visible again at “wherefore all you who are come this day to.” Then comes another crop, which I assume covers “do your homage,” til finally the end of the Address can be read: “and service are you willing to do the same.”

The text of the Anthem eludes my grasp as well, but for a quite different reason. One record of the ceremony, printed by order of Ulster King of Arms in Dublin, gives Ps. 89: 14-15, the old Firmetur manus. But “An exact account of the form and ceremony of his Majesty’s coronation,” printed in London, gives us “Pſal. 21. to ver. 6.”

Among the ladies in attendance at this mysterious event is one Mary, Countess Cowper. She reports this amusing interaction with Catherine Sedley, Countess of Dorchester, who had been mistress to James II:

One may eaſily conclude this was not a Day of real Joy to the Jacobites. However, they were all there, looking as cheerful as they could, but very peeviſh with Everybody that ſpoke to them. My Lady Dorcheſter ſtood underneath me ; and when the Archbishop went round the Throne, demanding the Conſent of the People, ſhe turned about to me, and ſaid, ‘Does the old Fool think that Anybody here will ſay no to his Queſtion, when there are ſo many drawn Swords?’ 

     GEORGE II (11 Oct 1727) 

The Address to the People brings “Homage” back to the singular again, while “and service” is deleted.  The monarch’s regnal number is included here for the first time, as it is for the Acclamation: “God ſave King GEORGE the Second.”

The Recognition Anthem’s music was composed by king’s favourite George Frideric Handel. Its text, a revival and revision of Anne’s, appears below. Note that the order of service confusingly labels what is actually the psalm’s third verse as the second.

Pſal. xxi. 1. 2. 5. 6.

The King ſhall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord : exceeding glad ſhall He be of thy salvation. Thou ſhalt prevent Him with the blessings of peace : and ſhalt ſet a crown of pure gold upon His head. His Honour is Great in thy Salvation, Glory and Great Worſhip ſhalt thou lay upon Him. Thou ſhalt give Him everlaſting Felicitie, and make Him glad with the Joy of thy Countenance. Hallelujah.

The masculine nouns and pronouns of the biblical original are naturally now used, and Anne’s ungrammatical “shall set” becomes the “shalt set” of the prayer-book psalter, but conversely the “goodness” of the prayer-book translation is now “peace.” Contrast the concluding “hallelujah” with Anne’s “alleluia” perhaps the Hebraized  spelling was the decision of Handel, whose appreciation for the word in other musical contexts is notorious. In any event, a recording of Handel’s “The King shall Rejoice” may be found here.

     GEORGE III  (22 Sep 1761)

The Address to the People and the Acclamation remain as in 1727, besides “Second” becoming “Third.” The Anthem is set to new music by William Boyce, and “goodness” replaces “peace,” bringing it back in line with the prayer-book  translation. A recording of Boyce’s “The King shall Rejoice” may be found here.

     GEORGE IV (19 July 1821)

“Are you willing” becomes “are ye willing,” a construction abandoned since James II. The Address and the Acclamation again use the king’s regnal number. The Anthem is Ps. 89: 14-15, as for George I.

     WILLIAM IV(8 Sep 1831)

George IV’s revival of “ye” proves short-lived; the text again reads “are you willing.” The Address and the Acclamation use the king’s regnal number. Lamentably, the Recognition Anthem is now eliminated, and has not returned in any coronations to date.

     VICTORIA (28 June 1838)

There are no changes besides in the Sovereign’s title.

     EDWARD VII (9 Aug 1902)

As His Majesty’s ill health demands a shortening of the ceremony, the Address to the People and Acclamation are only conducted a single time. (The direction faced is unclear.) The Hanoverian precedent of announcing regnal number is not honoured, perhaps because “God save King Edward the Seventh!” is an unwieldy thing to shout.

     GEORGE V (22 June 1911)

The fourfold Address and Acclamation is restored. Though “George the Fifth” is only one syllable longer than “Edward,” the regnal number is not used.

     GEORGE VI (12 May 1937)

“The undoubted King of this Realm” becomes “your undoubted King,” a style better befitting a man reigning over several recently-independent realms of the British Commonwealth as well as the United Kingdom. The regnal number is not used.

     ELIZABETH II (2 June 1953)

There are no changes besides in the Sovereign’s title. The regnal number is not used.

The Archbishop, together with the Lord Chancellor, Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord High Constable, and Earl Marshal (Garter King of Arms preceding them), shall then go to the East side of the Theatre, and after shall go to the other three sides in this order, South, West, and North, and at every of the four sides the Archbishop shall with a loud voice speak to the People: and the Queen in the mean while, standing up by King Edward’s Chair, shall turn and show herself unto the People at every of the four sides of the Theatre as the Archbishop is at every of them, the Archbishop saying:

Sirs, I here present unto you Queen ELIZABETH, your undoubted Queen: Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, Are you willing to do the same?

The People signify their willingness and joy, by loud and repeated acclamations, all with one voice crying out,


Then the trumpets shall sound.


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