On the coronation and anointing of French monarchs

Titled women of the French nobility (duchesses and countesses) could inherit land and titles from their fathers if they had no surviving male issue to succeed them, but from antiquity the throne and crown of France adhered to Salic Law, which permitted succession to the throne only through the male line and excluded all females. A central theological and ceremonial reason for why the French monarchy did not permit female succession was the highly sacramental nature of the coronation rites, in which the king exercised a quasi-sacerdotal role and held certain sacred instruments which, it was believed, women could not touch. While queens of France were customarily crowned and anointed at their husband’s accession, this was often done in a separate ceremony. While French kings were most often crowned at the Reims Cathedral. French queens were crowned most often at the St Denis Basilica.

Thus, due to the strict enforcement of Salic Law, France has never had a female monarch. Reflecting their crucial importance in dynastic marriages, however, several queens of France were the daughters of previous French kings or reigning provincial dukes whose fathers, lacking any surviving male issue, married them to the men who ultimately succeeded to the French throne as king. Numerous French queen mothers also governed as regents on behalf of their underage sons until they reached their majority.

Three examples of French queens who were themselves the daughters of French kings or powerful dukes were 1) Queen Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), consort to King Charles VIII from 1491-98 and then after Charles’ death consort to King Louis XII from 1499 to her own death, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488; Anne’s daughter Queen Claude (1499-1524), consort to Francois I (1515-24) and daughter of King Louis XII, reigned as Duchess of Brittany in her own right after her mother’s death in 1514; and Queen Marguerite (1553-1615), consort to France’s first Bourbon King Henri III de Navarre/ IV de France (1572-1599), sister to French kings Francois II, Charles IX, and Henri III, who was the daughter of King Henri II and (from 1559-89) the powerful Queen Mother and regent Catherine de Medicis.

BNF - Latin 9474 - Jean Bourdichon - Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne - f. 3r - Anne de Bretagne entre trois saintes (détail).jpg

Jean Bourdichon – Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne, painted between 1503 to 1508 while Anne of Brittany was Sovereign Duchess of Brittany and Queen consort of France.

Treaty with the Kingdom of England which Anne of Brittany, Queen of France, signed and sealed in her capacity as the reigning Duchess of Brittany.

Claude of France, Duchess of Brittany.jpg

Claude de Bretagne, fille de France, daughter of King Louis XII and Queen Anne, Duchess of Brittany in her own right from 1488 to her death. Claude succeeded her mother as Duchess in 1514 and became Queen of France in 1515, dying in 1524.

Portrait of Henri III, King of Navarre (he himself succeeded his mother Jeanne d’Albret, who reigned as Jeanne III from 1555-1572) and from 1589 King of France, and his consort Queen Marguerite, fille de France, daughter of King Henri II of France and Catherine de Medicis. Marguerite’s mother Catherine de Medicis, infamous as a poisoner, allegedly had Henri’s Calvinist mother Queen Jeanne III of Navarre poisoned, and the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre (Catholics killing Huguenots) which followed Henri and Marguerite’s wedding seems to have taken place with Catherine’s foreknowledge, if not her explicit permission. Henri narrowly escaped the massacre with his life.

An overview of the French Sacre from 1364 to 1825 (from King Charles V de Valois to Charles X de Bourbon):

Like the English coronation ritual, the French ritual after being subject to considerable influence from the Roman ritual in the 12th and 13th centuries reverted to earlier French forms in the 14th century. The Roman text and ritual, however, were not completely abandoned but combined with the earlier texts and ritual so that this fourth and final recension was nearly twice the length of the earlier recension.[5]

The king spends the night before his Sacre at the Palace of Tau and is awakened in the morning by the clergy and officials involved in the coronation ritual. They assist in dressing the king for the Sacre and the king then chooses which of his nobles will serve as the Hostages for the Sainte Ampoule and the clergy, as well, also swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to the Abbey of St. Remi after the Sacre.

The king enters Reims Cathedral after the singing of the canonical hour of Prime. At the king’s entrance into the cathedral a prayer is said and, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the hymn ‘Veni Creator Spiritus’ is sung. Upon his entrance into the choir the prayer, “God, the Ruler of heaven and earth, etc.” is said and Terce is sung as the abbot and monks of the Abbey of Saint-Remi come in procession bringing the Sainte Ampoule in its reliquary hanging by it chain around the abbot’s neck while four monks in alb bear a silk canopy over him. Upon arriving at the entrance of the cathedral the Archbishop of Reims and the other archbishops and bishops present solemnly swear to return the Sainte Ampoule to them after the Sacre. Then the abbot and monks enter the cathedral and proceed to the altar, everyone bowing reverently as they pass before them.

The coronation proper begins with the bishops’ petition that the traditional rights of the Church be maintained and the king’s reply, followed by the king’s taking of the coronation oath[6] in the Bourbon era on the Reims Gospel. Then the Recognition takes place followed by the singing of the Te Deum. Then the prayer, “Inscrutable God, etc.” is and then the buskins and spurs are placed upon the king’s feet and his invested and gird with the Coronation Sword, Joyeuse, with the formula “Accept this sword from our hands, etc.” Then the antiphon: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). The king removes his coat and other outerwear and the special silver lachets on his silk shirt are opened to expose his chest, upper back and the joints of his arms. While special versicle and response and a collect (unique to the French rite) are said, a paten with Chrism on it is place on the altar, the Abbot of St. Remi presents the Saint Ampoule to the Archbishop, who with a small golden stylus removes a small particle from the contents of the Sainte Ampoule and carefully mixes it with the Chrism on the paten.

The king kneels while the Litany of the Saints is chanted by two archbishops or bishops, concluding with two prayers. The Archbishop then says the formal prayer of consecration:

God eternal, All powerful, Creator and Governor of the Heavens and the Earth, Maker and Disposer of angels and of men, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Thou who madest Abraham Thy faithful servant to triumph over his enemies, who hast raised to the highest in the Kingdom David, Thy humble servant, and hast delivered him out of the mouth of the lion, and out of the paw of the beast, and likewise from Goliath, and from the malicious sword of Saul, land from all his enemies, and has enriched Solomon with the wondrous gift of wisdom and of peace, forgive and accept our humble prayers, and multiply the gifts of Thy blessings on this Thy servant, who with all humble devotion, we, with one accord, choose for King, and we beseech Thee encompass him evermore, and in all places with the right hand of Thy power, so that strengthened by the fidelity of Abraham, possessed of the patience of Joshua, inspired with the humility of David, adorned with the wisdom of Solomon, he may be to Thee ever pleasing, and walk evermore without offence in the way of justice, and henceforth in such wise succour, direct, guard and uplift the church of the whole kingdom, and the people belonging thereto, may he administer with puissance and right royally the rule of Thy power against all enemies visible and invisible, may he not abandon his rights over the kingdoms of the Franks, the Burgundians, and of Aquitania, but aided by Thee inspire them with their sometime loyalty so that made glad by the fidelity of all his people, and provided with the helmet of Thy protection, and ever guarded with the invincible buckler, and compassed about with the celestial armies, he may happily triumph over his enemies, cause the infidel to fear his power, and with joy bring peace to those who fight under Thy banner. Adorn him by many a gracious blessing, with the virtues with the which Thou hast enriched Thy faithful ones aforesaid, counsel him richly in the government of the kingdom, and anoint him plenteously with the grace of the Holy Spirit.[7]

The Archbishop, sitting, then anoints the king with the Chrism in the form of a cross on the top of the head, on the breast, between the shoulders, on both shoulders and on the joints of both arms, each time saying:

I anoint thee with the holy oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[7]

And all, within the sound of his voice, each time respond: “Amen”. While this anointing was taking place the choir sang the Antiphon:

Zadok the priest and the prophet Nathan anointed Solomon King in Jerusalem, and did proclaim this right joyfully, saying, May the king live forver.[7]

The Archbishop then said these prayers:

God Almighty anoint Thou this king to the government, as Thou hast anointed those priests, and kings and prophets and martyrs, who by faith have subdued kingdoms, exercised justice, and obtained the promises. May this Thy most holy unction fall upon his head, descend within, and penetrate even unto his very heart, and may he by Thy grace be made worthy of the promises, the which the most famous kings have obtained, so that in all happiness he may reign in this present life, and may be one with them in Thy heavenly kingdom, for the sake of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who was anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows, and by virtue of the cross has triumphed over the powers of the air, and has destroyed Hell, and vanquished the kingdom of the Evil One, and is ascended into Heaven as conqueror, to whom belongs all victory and glory and power, and who lives with Thee, and reigns in unity with Thee and the Holy Spirit to all eternity.

O God, the Strength of the Elect, and the uplifter of the humble,who in the beginning didst punish the world with a flood of waters, and didst make known by the dove carrying the bough of olive, that peace was yet anew restored to the earth, and hast with the holy anointing oil consecrate as priest Aaron Thy servant, and by the infusion of this unction hast appointed the priests and kings and prophets to govern the people of Israel, and hast by the prophetic voice of Thy Servant David foretold that with oil should the face of the church be made to shine, so we pray Thee, all-powerful Father, that Thy good pleasure may be sanctified in the blessing of this Thy servant with the oil of this heavenly dove, so that he may bring as did the dove of old, peace to the people committed to his charge. May he follow with diligence the example of Aaron in the service of God, and may he ever attain in his judgments to all that is most excellent in wisdom and equity and with Thy aid, and by the oil of this unction, make him to bring joy to all his people through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May Jesus Christ our Lord and God, and Son of God, who by the Father was anointed with the oil of gladness above all others who are one with Him, by this present infusion of the sacred unction pour upon thy head the blessing of the Holy Spirit, and make it go even unto the innermost recesses of thy heart, so that thou canst by this visible and material gift, perceive the things invisible, and after having with right moderation accomplished the temporal kingdom, mayest thou reign with Him eternally for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.[7]

Then the Archbishop and the assisting priests and deacons the close the silver lachets of the king’s shirt which opened for the anointing.
After this, the king, standing up, was vested in the tunicle, dalmatic and royal mantle, all of ‘azure blue'[7] velvet sprinkled with fleurs-de-lys of gold, representing the three Catholic orders of subdeacon, deacon and priest.[8] by the Grand Chamberlain of France. Kneeling again, the king was anointed in the palms of both hands by the Archbishop with the formula:

Let these hands be anointed with holy oil, as kings and prophets have been anointed and as Samuel did anoint David to be king, that thou mayst be blessed and established as king over this people, whom the Lord, thy God, hath given thee to rule and govern, which he has vouchsafed to grant, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit, three in person and one in unity, be blessed and praised, now and for evermore. Amen.[9]

After this the royal gloves are blessed with two prayers (adapted from those used to bless those of a bishop) and are placed upon the king’s hands. Then the ring is blessed with the prayer “Bless, O Lord, and sanctify this ring, etc.” and placed upon the king’s hand with the original French formula, “Receive the ring, etc.” and the prayer “God to whom belongs all power, etc.” Then the scepter is placed into his right hand with the formula “Receive the scepter, the sign of kingly power, etc.” and the prayer “Lord, the fount of all good things, etc.” and the Hand of Justice in his left hand with the form “Receive the Rod of virtue and equity, etc.” Then the peers[10] were summoned by name to come near and assist. The Archbishop of Reims took the Crown of Charlemagne from the altar and says the forms “God crown thee with a crown of glory, etc.”, “Receive this crown, etc.” (a conflation of the old French and the Roman forms) and the prayer, “God of eternity, the Commander of all powers, etc.” set it on the king’s head, while the other eleven peers touched it with their right hands. The Archbishop then says a number of blessings (all of them also found in other coronation rites). After this, the king was lifted up into his throne on the rood screen by the lay peers, as the Archbishop said the words “Stand fast and hold firm the place, etc.” and as the choir sings the antiphon:

Let thy hand be strengthened and your right hand exalted. Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy Seat and mercy and truth go before thy face.

The Archbishop says the prayer “God, who gave to Moses victory, etc.” and kisses the king with the words “May the king live forever” and his cry is taken up by the peers and all the people present as they acknowledged him as their duly anointed, crowned and enthroned king.

Mass is then said, with the collect “God, who didst visit those who are humble, etc.”, the Epistle is Lev. 26:6-9 and the Gospel is Matthew 22:15-22, the king receiving Holy Communion under both species (bread and wine).[3][11] At the conclusion of the Mass the Oriflamme is blessed.

The king’s return to Paris and his Joyous Entry into the capital through the gate facing the Abbey of St. Denis (i.e., the same exit by which his corpse would later be brought for burial in the same abbey church) completed the inauguration of the French king

Sources:

3. “Coronation — LoveToKnow 1911”. 1911encyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

5. The following account is based on that given in Coronation Rites by Reginald D. Maxwell Woolley, B.D. Cambridge University Press, 1915 and from “Pertinent Extracts from the Ceremony of the Sacre” in The Legend of the Ste. Ampoule by Sir Francis Oppenheimer, K.C., M.G., London: Faber & Faber Limited, 24 Russell Square.

6. From 1364 to 1484, this contained a clause in which the king promised to main the rights of the French Crown (i.e., against English claims to the throne of France)

7. Oppenheimer. Translation by Mrs. Kemp-Welsh.

8. Oppenheimer only mentions the dalmatic and royal mantle.

9. Text not given in either Woolley or Oppenheimer. The text quoted is translation of Archbishop Laud for the Coronation of Charles I of England.

10. Francois Velde (2005-10-11). “French Peerage”. Heraldica.org.Retrieved 2009-06-20.

11. Le Goff, Jacques (1990). “A Coronation Program for the Age of Saint Louis: The Ordo of 1250”. In Bak, János M. Coronations: Medieval and Early Modern Monarchic Ritual. Berkeley: University of California Press. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

Further Reading:

  • Menin, Nicolas. A Description of the Coronation of the Kings and Queens of France, Printed for S. Hooper, 1775.
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One thought on “On the coronation and anointing of French monarchs

  1. Pingback: The The French Revolution: Violent from its inception | Orthodox in the District

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