23 November 2013


A week or so ago I was writing a sermon, and I again discovered, as one so often does, the extent of my own ignorance.

The Coronation Service. The Orb ... the round golden ball surmounted by a cross, symbolising the Sovereignty over all the world, all peoples and nations and potentates, of Christ the King.

I discovered that it seems not to feature in the medieval English Liber Regalis, laying down the procedures for consecrating English Monarchs. Or in the Pontificale Romanum. I don't think an orb was included in the Scottish regalia (so much more ancient and beautiful than the English, incidentally). I don't recall seeing it in those magnificent pictures of Bourbon monarchs, down to Charles X, in their Coronation robes.

Wikipedia does reveal its existence in the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires.

I believe the Orb was listed in Tudor inventories.

All of the above assertions are not properly checked and may be erroneous.

I wonder: could it be that the Orb was seen as having some connection with notions of Empire and that it was introduced into England in the context of Tudor imperial ambitions?

Somebody out there must know!


William Tighe said...

I don't know, but isn't the Orb depicted in the "coronation portrait" of Elizabeth I, which is reproduced on the cover of Christopher Haigh's *Elizabeth I* (published in the OUP's "Profiles in Power" series a decade or more ago)? I have a vague recollection of seeing it also in late-in-the-reign depictions of Henry VIII.

Yes, the English regalia date only from 1661, while the Scottish regalia come from the reign of James V (1513-1542). The Swedish regalia, dating from 1561, are also rather pretty.

Btw, the fellow historian (and fellow Eltonian) Dale Hoak demonstrated, in an essay published over a decade ago, that it was Henry IV, not Henry VII (as had been thought) who altered the English Crown from being an "open" crown to a "closed" (or "arched") "imperial" crown.

William Tighe said...


One of my favourite "themes" concerns how the Church of England is, like a sleepwalker (for what church could do such a thing in full possession of its wits?), following the path blazed (and the word "blazed" seems particularly appropriate, considering the final stop on this path) by the Church of Sweden. But perhaps the Swedefaction of England is a more general phenomenon than that of one Protestant state church following blindly another. the Swedes were the last Protestant European monarchy, save England, to retain a full coronation ceremony. Oscar II was crowned with full pomp and circumstances in 1872, and that despite the uproar that the radical press made at the time concerning the cost of the ceremony, but when his son Gustav V succeeded him in 1907 no coronation was performed, merely a public proclamation of his accession; and no Swedish monarch has been crowned, or worn the Swedish crown, since Oscar II. Will this, too, come to pass in Ukania?

John F H H said...

The Orb appears:
On the first Great Seal of Edward Confessor, (1053-1065);
In the depiction of the Coronations of -
Harold (Bayeux Tapestry)
Henry VI 1429/32 (drawing of c.1485!)
In contemporary portraits of Richard II and Edward IV.
In mediƦval Great Seals.
In the coronation of Edward VI (but not mentioned in those of Henry VII & Henry VIII) and every subsequent Coronation.
Kind regards,

Patruus said...

Some information about the history and significance of the Orb is to be found in the section headed "The Ubiquitous Orb" commencing near the foot of this page -

RichardT said...

Edward the Confessor's seal does not seem to show a cross on the orb (in fact it looks more like an orange).

But the Bayeux Tapestry does show Harold with an orb with a cross.

jeff said...

Why do you ask Fr? Are you drafting an Ordinariate Use coronation rite?