June 1st 2023

Francis Dymoke: Championing HM The King and Army Cadets

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The Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla followed a great tradition which traces back to the year 900 and the crowning of Edgar, King of England.

On 6th May 2023, amongst the magnificent splendour and formality were Coronation customs dating back 1,000 years too. One of those ceremonial roles was held by the Honorary Colonel of Lincolnshire Army Cadet Force (ACF), Francis Dymoke DL.

In 1066, following William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, the Marmion/Dymoke family were given knight serjeanty over the Manor of Scrivelsby, Lincolnshire – meaning they were essentially made tenants of the estate – so long as they acted as the King or Queen’s Champion.

As ‘Champions’ they were to ride into each Coronation banquet on horseback and challenge all comers who might dispute the Monarch’s title. They would drink the Monarch’s toast. The Monarch would drink the Champion’s toast in return. And the Champion would receive the Monarch’s golden cup as payment.

Since they were given the title, the Marmion/Dymokes have been present at almost every Coronation. But although the custom was set, Francis had to apply to continue his family’s long legacy.

“Admittedly, it was a worry the precedent would be dropped,” said Francis. “It was before Easter when they phoned up and asked if I would like to be a part of the ceremony. I said that was very kind and I was honoured, and we went from there.

“Before my father died in 2015, he left instructions on how to put in a claim and it was important to me to continue the history. I hope my son, Henry, will do the next Coronation so our family can proudly say we’ve stood as the King’s Champion for 1,000 years.”

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Francis gazes at a portrait of his ancestor, Sir Henry Dymoke, at his home in Scrivelsby.

Practise makes perfect

Ceremony rehearsals took place not once, not twice, but on four occasions ahead of this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. Each session lasting around three hours.

The last time a King’s Champion rode into a Coronation on horseback wearing a suit of armour was in 1821 for the crowning of George IV which took place during the banquet in Westminster Hall. The custom has, understandably, been resigned to the history books.

During rehearsals, Francis had to practice carrying the Royal Standard down the aisle, walking behind carriers of the four standards of the UK, before then placing the flag in a brass holder on the altar. Francis describes the first rehearsal as difficult. By the fourth, he said it was perfect.

“Because of the rehearsals, I enjoyed every minute of the ceremony,” said Francis. “I’m quite used to going to Lincoln Cathedral for big services – it’s very moving with the choir. But the Abbey is just on a higher level. The whole atmosphere was electric with the power of the music and the event itself.”

Despite the significance of the occasion, Francis said he was feeling very calm on the day. The only part that slightly tested his nerve was the media frenzy that followed with Channel 4 and broadcasters from the United States keen to delve into his family’s long history.

“If I could speak to them, I think my ancestors would say – ‘Great shame you weren’t on a horse challenging for a dual!’ Our family has always supported the Royal Family, and they would be pleased and greatly relieved the tradition lives on.”

Here to serve

Through the course of his civic duties, Francis has met King Charles three times. It’s clear he has a great amount of respect for His Majesty and his sense of duty and social responsibility.

Francis Dymoke, Honorary Colonel of Lincs AFC and King's Champion (Credit BBC)

Francis Dymoke, Honorary Colonel of Lincs AFC and King’s Champion (Credit BBC)

“During the service, I was reading from the service sheet when suddenly a young chorister walked from the choir straight up the middle of the Abbey to the King,” said Francis, talking about his favourite moment from the Coronation.

“He said to the King – ‘Your Majesty, as children of the kingdom of God, we welcome you in the name of the King of Kings.’ The King replied – ‘In his name and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.’ And that set the tone of the whole day and, I think, his reign. It was the same for the Queen.”

Francis, who is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, a former County Chair of the Prince’s Trust and previous High Sheriff of Lincolnshire, shares the same belief as the King – “I’m not here to tell people what to do. I’m here to help,” he added.

At the age of 68, Francis is winding down his extended duties and responsibilities, but inspired by the King’s words and his admiration for Cadets, Francis, a former Sea Cadet himself, is firmly committed to making a difference as Honorary Colonel of Lincolnshire ACF.

That’s once he has caught his breath from a whirlwind of a few weeks.