Leader of the House of Commons Penny Mordaunt has emerged as the quiet star of the Coronation ceremony - one that nobody saw coming.
Carrying out her role as Lord President of the Privy Council, Mordaunt’s stylish appearance soon sparked comparisons to Pippa Middleton’s show-stealing performance at the Prince and Princess of Wales’s wedding in 2011. For the ceremony, Mordaunt was required to carry the 17th-Century Sword of State into the Abbey in the King’s Procession and continue to hold it aloft for much of the service - specifically at right angles to her body. The sword, decorated with royal symbols including the lion and union and fleur de lis, is also used during the state opening of Parliament.
Given its 121cm length and 3.5kg weight, this is no mean feat, as evidenced by her shaking arms, when she handed the historic weapon to King Charles.
She had prepared for the moment though, drawing on her training as a Royal Navy reservist to ensure that she could hold it aloft for the whole ceremony. “[I] will be carrying the Sword of State, which is the heaviest sword, so I’ve been doing some press-ups to train for that,” she told The Times’ Red Box podcast prior to the event. The Sword represents the King’s authority, she explained. “It was one of two swords made for Charles II and only one survives.
“It has to be carried at right angles to the body, hence the need to do press-ups - pointing upwards, out in front of you, for some time. We practised with some replicas that were weighted, and it’s a huge honour to do it.”
She added that her background in the Navy had given her practice “standing for long periods of time, not fainting”.
The preparation paid off: Mordaunt performed the ceremonial role with such aplomb that her name was trending on Twitter. Labour MP Emily Thornberry tweeted: “Got to say it, @PennyMordaunt looks damn fine! The sword bearer steals the show.”
American singer Courtney Love also voiced her admiration, tweeting: “I’m now obsessed with @PennyMordaunt taking it WAY up a notch with ACTUAL! Tudor! Full #annofcleves #annboleyn #janeseymour Headdress holding this golden SWORD! #boudicca vibes. obsessed! I couldn’t take my eyes off her! [sic]”
Mordaunt was the first woman to carry out this high-profile role in a Coronation ceremony, read as ironic by some political observers: “Let’s never forget, Liz Truss made Penny Mordaunt Leader of the House of Commons to keep her out of the limelight,” observed Richard Morris on Twitter.
Her wardrobe represented a break from tradition too. Instead of the black and gold attire worn by the Marquess of Salisbury at the late Queen’s Coronation in 1953, she commissioned a new garment for the occasion that was rich with meaning.
It was an inspired decision. Mordaunt’s cape dress was by London-based label Safiyaa; a bespoke piece in a deep teal hue described as “Poseidon”, in honour of her Portsmouth constituency.
The look was completed by a bandeau-style hat by milliner Jane Taylor, who is a go-to for the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Edinburgh, and black ballet-style flat pumps later switched to beige court shoes for her part in the ceremony.
The gold embroidery on Mordaunt’s cape and headpiece is by 250-year-old embroidery house Hand and Lock, which also embroiders the royal cyphers. The fern design is a nod to the Privy Council uniform motif, adapted and “feminised” for the garment.
The look was modern and elegant, with just the right degree of traditional craftsmanship. Evidently, symbolic dressing is not a skill unique to the royal family.
Mordaunt told Politico last week that she “felt it wasn’t right” to wear the same attire as Salisbury. Instead, she said that she wanted “to come up with something that is modern and will give a firm nod to the heritage” of the occasion.
Saturday’s well-judged look follows her historic role in September, as the first woman to lead the accession council ceremony of the King at St James’s Palace.
For that occasion, just two days after the death of the late Queen, she wore a black structured dress with a full midi skirt, coordinating blazer and another bandeau-style headpiece. Occasion appropriate and stylish, but not distracting, keeping the focus on the proceedings and not the fashion.
Mordaunt was praised for the polish and authority with which she conducted the ceremony. The grace and elegance with which she performed her role on Saturday will undoubtedly garner the same response.