As the Coronation is taking place this week, I thought I should try to find some link between the Coronation and clotting. First, I tried to find out if any royals had suffered from clotting problems. George VI died from coronary thrombosis, and I am sure other Royal family members have had heart problems or venous thrombosis, but none seemed particularly interesting. I also looked for any bloodthirsty acts associated with the coronation but found nothing directly related. Of course, Edward V and his younger brother were murdered in the Tower of London before Edward’s coronation, but hard to make a connection between that and clotting. Then I came across a rather tenuous link related to the anointing oil used during Coronation services.
During the service, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch with anointing oil. The recipe for the oil is centuries old. It contains oils of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris. A batch should last for several coronations, but in May 1941, a bomb hit the Deanery at the Abbey and destroyed the phial containing the oil. So a new batch was made for the Queen’s Coronation. King Charles has also chosen to have a new batch for his coronation; one that does not contain any animal products. He has had the ambergris and musk removed.
What is Ambergris and why has he removed it?
I understood most of the ingredients, but what is ambergris? Ambergris is a unique material found in the sea that is washed up on beaches at various places around the World, including New Zealand. It has been called the treasure of the sea and floating gold. Its origin was a mystery for centuries, but it was not until the 1800s that it was uncovered that ambergris came from Sperm whales. Sperm whales eat large amounts of cuttlefish and squid. The undigestible parts coalesce in the whale’s intestines, and they pass them out as a lump of ambergris. Black sticky blocks of freshly expelled ambergris float on the ocean surface. Over time, the mass oxidises, dries, and hardens into a grey-waxy material. Ambergris means grey amber in French. The chunks of Ambergris exude a sweet earthy aroma like tobacco or pine.
For thousands of years, this has been a highly prized material. The Chinese called it “Long xian xiang”, which translates to “perfume of the dragon drool”.
Ambergris has been most widely used in the perfume industry as an ingredient in high-end perfumes. It was present in Amber of Coty in 1905 and Shalimar of Guerlain in 1925. Ambergris enriches the olfactory notes of other fragrances, which explains why the anointing oil used at the coronation blends ambergris with other oils. Due to its cost, ambergris is not widely used today; alternatives have been developed with similar properties, but some perfumes still use it. Channel No5, Ambre Nuit by Dior, and Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens all contain ambergris.
Fortunately, collecting ambergris does not harm the whales as it is a waste product found on the beach.
Medicine for heart disease
Ambergris is widely used in traditional Asian medicine, primarily for respiratory illnesses. In the Middle East, it was ground up and used as a medicinal and ingested to increase strength and virility and to combat heart disease (my tenuous link to clotting). In India, it is traditionally used to treat epilepsy and other nervous system disorders.
One of its primary uses was as an aphrodisiac. Like other animal aromatic substances, ambergris contains pheromones. Its odour acts directly on the hormonal system when you inhale its scent. In the Middle East, men consumed it to enhance their sexual power, and women took it to cure infertility.
The libertines of the eighteenth century in France used a drink called “triple vanilla and ambergris” to “heat their senses”.
Anointing oil for King Charles
King Charles replaced the ambergris in the anointing oil with amber derived from pine sap. He removed the ambergris as it is from an animal source. In some of the press articles I have seen, it has wrongly been described as originating from a Sperm whale stomach. In fact, it is just whale poo, not truly an animal product.
I can understand why Charles didn’t want that wiped on his forehead during the ceremony.