Goodbye Court Of Claims, Hello Coronation Claims Office

Last week, the Cabinet Office announced the creation of a Coronation Claims Office that will decide who gets to perform certain ceremonial services connected with the King’s coronation. They have three sources:[1] hereditary rights, appanages to an office or title, or land tenure by grand serjeanty.[2] The last category is by far the most common.[3]

Coronation services can be quite varied. The right to present the Sovereign with three maple cups, the right to make wafers, the right to present a glove for the Monarch’s right hand, and the right to present the Sovereign with a towel when they wash before the Coronation Banquet have all been the subject of coronation claims.[4] However, modern monarchs have generally dispensed with services related to the Coronation Banquet or the Coronation Procession. Performing a coronation service is traditionally seen as a matter of prestige, and people have gone to great lengths to defend their claims over the years. For example, when the Court of Claims accepted Henry Scrymgeour-Wedderburn’s claim to be Hereditary Standard-Bearer of Scotland in 1902, the Earl of Lauderdale sought relief from the Scottish courts. The dispute went all the way to the House of Lords.[5]

The earliest record of coronation claims being formally adjudicated comes from the coronation of Richard II in 1377.[6] Initially, they were entrusted to the Court of the Lord High Steward,[7] but from the coronation of Henry VIII onward, they would be heard by a dedicated commission that became the Court of Claims.[8] In modern times, that body was appointed by Royal Proclamation.[9] A wide range of individuals were appointed to the Court, including Royal Dukes, high-ranking prelates, Ministers of the Crown, and senior judges.[10] Most appointments were pro forma, and the Court’s day-to-day work was carried out by members who were professional jurists.[11]

Many claims were granted without much fuss. For example, the Court of Claims for Elizabeth II’s coronation declared that, if a claim had been accepted for her father’s coronation, the claimant only needed to submit a formal petition restating their claim and it would be approved, provided it was unopposed.[12] The strict rules of evidence might be disregarded and formalities kept to a minimum.[13] Not surprisingly, judgments tended to be quite brief. In the words of Sir Gerald Wollaston, “it must be borne in mind that they are in no sense the considered judgments of an ordinary High Court, but partake more of the nature of judgments in summary proceedings.[14]” Because its rulings were so terse, the Court didn’t always feel obliged to follow precedent.[15]

It will be interesting to see how this new approach works out. In theory, it should be possible to resolve most coronation claims administratively, but things could get sticky if any of the claims are contested.[16]  In this litigious age, people may be even more willing to lawyer up if they don’t get their way. If the Coronation Claims Office produces a flurry of applications for judicial review, the Court of Claims may yet make a comeback down the line.   

[1] Leopold G. Wickham Legg, English Coronation Records (Westminster: Archibald Constable & Co. Ltd., 1901),lxviii.

[2] Grand serjeanty was a form of feudal tenure where someone held land from the Crown in exchange for performing a service. While 12 Charles 2 c. 24 abolished many of the traditional feudal obligations, section 7 of the Act preserved honorary services of grand serjeanty.

[3] According to Sir Gerald Woods Wollaston, the Lord Great Chamberlainship and the carrying of the Sovereign’s spurs were the only hereditary duties that were commonly accepted by the Court of Claims, while the claim of the Bishops of Durham and Bath and Wells to support the Sovereign during the coronation were the only duties that were attached to a title. Wollaston, Coronation Claims, 2nd edition (London: Harrison and Sons, 1910), 13-16.

[4] Wollaston, 17.

[5] In Earl of Lauderdale v. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn [1910] UKHL 532, the House of Lords upheld Scrymgeour-Wedderburn’s claim. The dispute was revisited in 1952 when the Lord Lyon ruled that the Earl of Lauderdale could bear the National Flag of Scotland (i.e., the Saltire) while the Earl of Dundee (heir to the Scrymgeour-Wedderburn family) could bear the Royal Banner of Scotland.  

[6] Less formal efforts to handle claims can, however, be found as early as 1236. Legg, lxvii.

[7] The Lord High Steward is the first of the Great Offices of State, and he formerly had judicial duties including presiding over the trials of peers in the House of Lords in cases of impeachment as well as felonies. He also carries St. Edward’s Crown at the coronation. The office was once hereditary, but after 1421 it has only been appointed on an as-needed basis. With the decline in impeachment and the abolition of separate felony trials for peers, the Lord High Steward is now only appointed for a coronation. Somewhat confusingly, there is also a Lord Steward who is a regular officer of the Royal Household, though his duties are largely ceremonial.

[8] A commission determined claims for the coronation of Henry VII, but it had been appointed to execute the office of Lord High Steward instead of being focused on coronation claims as was the case for subsequent coronations. Wollaston, 12.

[9] Although the wording of the Proclamation seems to imply that there might be a separate Commission under the Great Seal, this does not appear to be the case. Wollaston only included the Royal Proclamation in his account of the Court of Claims for Edward VII’s coronation, suggesting that it was the only instrument involved in establishing the Court.

[10] For Victoria’s coronation, every Privy Counsellor was appointed to the Court, but Edward VII reverted to the practice of naming individual members.

[11] Wollaston, 317-320 lists the judicial members of the Court of Claims from Henry VIII to William IV.

[12] This approach was already in place for Edward VII’s Court of Claims. Wollaston, 26.

[13] Wollaston, 29-30.

[14] Wollaston, 20.

[15] Wollaston, 33.

[16] If necessary, the King could presumably refer the matter to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

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