Thursday 7 March 2024

The Coronation Claims Office, Part 1 - Preliminaries, Brevities, and Processes


For reasons that defy any sort of mortal explanation, I am writing this blog from Universal in Orlando. Which is about as far removed from matters relating to Kings and Coronations and Grand Serjeantry as possible, really.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter [1] will know I have been battling the Cabinet Office to release the details of the Coronation Claims process via the Freedom of Information Act 2000 for months now [2]. Anyway, I have had a partial victory, and have the claim forms, and reply letters for successful applicants. And I thought we might like to explore these a bit [5].


In Coronations of old, the process of recognising claims to perform services at the Solemnity [6] of a Coronation was via a Court of Claims. Others have written about this fantastic process in much greater detail, so I shall defer to them. Today we are wholly concerned with what process was used in 2023.

Befitting our more informal era, an entirely administrative process was deployed. This was called the "Coronation Claims Office", but since no attempt to give that a legal personality, it really was just the administrative name for a group of civil servants in the Cabinet Office. This office adopted, rather than the pleadings by petition used in the Court of Claims, a gloriously modern single page word processor form. As we shall see, a single page was sometimes an ambitious goal, and in any case a petition in the style of yore snuck in.

This office would then adjudicate the claim and make a decision. Broadly, the metric was "had it been performed in the past". If so, then the claim would be accepted, and if it was intended to dispense with the actual service itself, the person or persons involved simply invited to attend the Coronation as guests. This broadly followed how the Court of Claims worked, in that it never created new duties but merely recognised existing ones [7]; the invitations were in a sense new, but in the past almost everyone submitting a claim would have been attending in some capacity anyway so is less of an innovation that it first appears.

[The form itself, for the curious]

What I think will be interesting, is to look at some examples in this blog and some more. This will not be the full set, some are either very similar or simply uninteresting. What I do have though, and have gone through in detail, are the claim forms for 
  • The Lord Bishop of Durham [8], to be a Bishop Assistant to His Majesty
  • The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells [9], ditto
  • The Barons of the Cinque Ports, to carry a canopy in the procession and to have honours at Court
  • The Right Honourable the Lord Hastings [10], to carry a spur in the procession
  • The Right Honourable the Earl of Loudon [11], ditto (spurs come in pairs, after all!)
  • The Right Honourable the Earl of Erroll [12], to carry a white staff as Lord High Constable of Scotland [13]
  • The Dean and Chapter of the Collegiate Church of St Peter [14], to actually hold the ceremony in their church, and instruct the King on the forms and rites
  • The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London [15], to bear the Crystal Mace
  • The Earl of Dundee [16], to carry the Quartering of the Royal Arms for Scotland
  • The Lord Lyon King of Arms [17] and the other Heralds in Scotland, to be part of the procession
  • The Walker Trust [18], to be Usher of the White Rod
  • The Lord Great Chamberlain [19], to present the spurs (but not carry them in the procession)
  • The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery [20], to record the proceedings and have five yards of cloth [21]

The Fantastically Brief

The Clerk of the Crown in Chancery's application is simply (I'm not even going to screenshot it, a direct quote is enough to do it justice) 

Please outline your claim to perform a role at His Majesty King Charles III’s

To record the proceedings as Clerk of The Crown and to have five yards of cloth.

What Romeo is likely relying on here is the (at the time) unannounced but really quite obvious fact that the Office were going to use the record of the 1953 Court of Claims to decide matters. Since the Clerk of the Crown had established this right in 1953, a mere assertion was likely enough.

Ultimately, the yards of cloth were waived (though exactly how is not clear) but the decision letter does confirm that the 1953 records were consulted.

We have consulted the record of the Court of Claims established in 1952 in advance of the Coronation of Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953 and can see that on that occasion, the Court of Claims concluded that the entitlement to record the proceedings of the Coronation and to have five yards of cloth is vested in the office of the Clerk of the Crown.

The Slightly Less Brief

The Lord Bishops of Durham and of Bath and Wells went for a similar level of simplicity, though both also included as evidence a list of past Bishops Assistant. In addition, Bath and Wells provided this historical context
The Bishop of Bath & Wells supported King Edgar of All England in 973 at his Coronation. While that may not always have been so, Edgar’s coronation became a model for all future Coronations, and it seems to have been established by Plantagenets times for the office I hold and The Bishop of Bath & Wells to be the Bishops Assistant to the Sovereign.

There is actually a reasonable argument that the service of being a Bishop Assistant is the oldest of the various Coronation duties, since it's the only one to clearly and unarguably predate the Conquest. In a way, this is quite sufficient as evidence for the two bishops, their rights are clearly wholly by prescription alone, not any sort of historical royal grant or decision.

The Complete Process

The benefit of focussing on the "simple" (i.e. short) cases first is that they mean we can discuss the process the Office used without having fun pouring over a petition signed by Winston Churchill (you have that to come). 

We will use the Earl of Erroll, who was successful, as an example of what the entire procedure looked like. Unlike in 1953, there are no proceedings of an actual Court here, just an anodyne exchange of letters.

[Lord Erroll's application, redacted by the Cabinet Office [22]]

[The Office's reply]

A few things to note here. These letters did not include details of the rehearsals if that was not pertinent (for example, for the Clerk of the Crown). I also find it interesting how tightly the Office summarised the claim (the underlined text, which is as original). 

But what of unsuccessful applicants? The Cabinet Office, much earlier in this whole saga, provided me with two template letters for this. The first covers what the Office termed an "out of scope" claim (a term which seems to be their modern invention)
The interesting thing here is the actually correct, and detailed, summary of the three ways a right to perform a duty at a Coronation could be established, viz. hereditary and essentially by prescription, attached to an office, or which inures in a parcel of land as Grand Serjeanty.

Grand Serjeanty is something I have mentioned in blogs before, and was historically the source for a great many duties, some gloriously obscure (the duty to produce a dish of dillie-ground [23]), some obsolete but of historical import (providing the expensive, as it was historically, table linen for the King, which inures in the Manor of Ashele, which is somewhere up in Norfolk). 

Finally, the other letter, for "in scope" but refused applications:
[Yellow highlights as original]

The value in this one would come from seeing some examples of the Cabinet Office's reasons. These, alas, they still jealously guard. But one is trying.


There's a few things we can conclude from this first part. One is that constant perseverance with FOI requests does work, it is just very tedious. 

The second, though, is perhaps more subtle. The Office is a modern, administrative, approach to something that used to be at least a para-judicial process. However, it seemingly has followed the same legal approach to deciding matters. As far as I can deduce, and I have been limited by what the Office disclosed, there were no legal innovations per se here. The switch to invites for those who's duty was eliminated but which had been proved is perhaps more pragmatism than innovation.

The third, as we shall see in subsequent parts, is perhaps that when making these claims in the future, less is more on the application form!

In the next part, we will turn to the City of which I am actually legally a citizen, and its Crystal Mace.

[1] Or whatever we now call it...
[2] During which, inter multos alia, there has been the original FOI request; an Internal Review of that, which was essentially ignored by the Cabinet Office for months; a meta-request about that review, which was unlawfully ignored for months [3] (and which then turned up nothing useful); and a Subject Access Request which they attempted to wriggle out of on cost grounds, and which also failed to actually unjam things. Eventually after some threatening from the Commissioner, it seems that they decided after all that compliance with the law isn't optional [4].
[3] Resulting in decision notice IC-255959-N5R8 being issued.
[4] For reasons that I am not willing to disclose right now, the formal decision notice for this hasn't been issued yet.
[5] Email or DM me if you want to see all the PDFs in totality. They're not exactly secret, I will add you to the Google Drive folder.
[6] Historically, Coronations were always described as a Solemnity, see for example The London Gazette, issue 39566, page 3165; and, perhaps surprisingly issue 63873, page 21638.
[7] This has implications for footnote [4], as an unsubtle hint.
[8] The Right Reverend Paul Butler (who has since retired)
[9] The Right Reverend Michael Beasley
[10] Delaval Thomas Harold Astley, the 23rd Baron Hastings
[11] Simon Michael Abney-Hastings, 15th Earl of Loudoun, 17th Lord Campbell of Loudon, and 15th Lord Tarrinzean and Mauchline; presently resident in Australia.
[12] Merlin Sereld Victor Gilbert Hay, 24th Earl of Erroll, 24th Lord Slains, and 24th Lord Hay
[13] Not to be confused by the office held, for the day of the Coronation, by Admiral Tony Radakin, KCB, ADC, of Lord High Constable of England
[14] Westminster Abbey
[15] Michael Mainelli is the 695th Lord Mayor
[16] Alexander Henry Scrymgeour, 12th Earl of Dundee, 14th Viscount of Dudhope, 14th Lord Scrymgeour, 12th Lord Innerkeithing, and 2nd Baron Glassary of Glassary; the latter title being created to allow the 11th Earl to sit in the Lords without being a representative peer, it being within the Peerage of the United Kingdom yet clearly referring to Glassary in Argyll.
[17] The Reverend Canon Joseph Morrow, CVO, CBE, KC, DL, FRSE
[18] This will at some point get its own blog post, it is quite the complex story
[19] Rupert Francis John Carington, 7th Baron Carrington, DL. Be careful of how many Rs one uses! (I suspect I will need at least one corrigendum in time...)
[20] Antonia Rebecca Caroline Romeo, also Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice
[21] Cloth was very expensive, centuries ago. This was essentially a fee for making the record.
[22] I have no objection to those redactions, which are wholly in accord with the law, to be clear.
[23] It has long been forgotten just what dillie-grout even is, but this duty still inures in the Manor of Bardolf-in-Addington (now a luxury wedding venue, I believe)