As the world watched the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla, politician Penny Mordaunt stood still for 50 minutes holding a sword reported to weigh over 3.5 kilograms. This discreet act of stoic endurance and effortless dignity caught the world’s attention.
Penny Mordaunt is the leader of the House of Commons and the Lord President of the Privy Council. This latter appointment is the reason she was the bearer of the 17th-century Sword of State at the 2023 Coronation.
On the morning of the Coronation, images of her walking slowly in an embroidered teal cape dress were beamed to homes all over the world.
Part of the long procession that entered the historic Westminster Abbey, Mordaunt held the Sword of State perfectly still for the entire ceremony.
A symbol of the monarch’s power to vanquish enemies and preserve peace, the cruciform silver-gilt hilt sword features etched decorations, a rampant lion and unicorn, a fleur-de-lis, a Tudor rose and a portcullis. Encased in an equally ornate scabbard, the sword has been carried before the monarch by the President of the Privy Council at every Coronation since the 17th century.
At the peak of the ceremony, Mordaunt took up a second sword, The Jewelled Sword of Offering. With the utmost care, she delivered this second sword to the monarch as a symbol of his commitment to defend the Church.
This moment was the first time in history a woman has had this role in a Coronation.
Traditionally the Lord President’s ceremonial uniform consists of a wool coatee, heavily embroidered with goldwork leaves and trousers trimmed with 2% gold lace. For this historic moment, Mordaunt instead commissioned a bespoke cape dress and headpiece.
London-based label Safiyaa, milliner Jane Taylor and embroidery atelier Hand & Lock worked together with Mordaunt to design a modest ensemble in a rich shade of ‘Poseidon’ teal. The shade is a reference to the naval legacy of her Portsmouth constituency and her service in the Naval Reserves.
Designer Sukie Buzzacott drew traditional leaf shapes, taking inspiration from Hand & Lock’s onsite archive then manipulating them to the shape of the dress and headpiece.
The design team at Hand & Lock worked directly with Mordaunt to develop the embroidery, referencing the oak and fern motifs of the traditional coatee, both enduring symbols of the council. Designer Sukie Buzzacott drew traditional leaf shapes, taking inspiration from Hand & Lock’s onsite archive then manipulating them to the shape of the dress and headpiece.
The leaves were embroidered by hand using goldwork, Hand & Lock’s specialist technique, using the same methods as are used on the traditional uniform. Goldwork is an ancient embroidery technique where a skilled artisan uses metal materials to create three dimensional surface embroidery.
It has been used for centuries to decorate ceremonial and military garments and has been referenced by countless fashion designers.
The intricate embroidery was created using antique shades of gold. Production Director Alice Murrell explained the decision:
“Historically goldwork begins its life in a bright shade of gold but ages to a darker, tarnished shade with time. We chose an antique shade of gold to complement the rich ‘Poseidon’ shade and create a subtle nod to the traditional style of ceremonial embroidery.”
While the embroidery successfully underlined the heritage, craftsmanship and history of the occasion, the design of the dress pleased the modern style sensibilities of the fashion elite and created a moment of fashion history.