Long Live the King! Coronation of Charles III- style or substance? The King and the Queen will be crowned in a ceremony that combines the old and new.
King Charles, Camilla arrive in Westminster for coronation rehearsals
Driven in a Bentley, King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla arrived in Westminster on Friday for coronation rehearsals ahead of the Saturday…
The coronation will attract criticism from supporters and opponents of the monarchy; too lavish or not lavish enough? Media fixation is on the jewels and Prince Harry’s relationships with Charles. It is missing the point; the coronation is about Charles and him only.
There are not many coronations in one lifetime. In the nature of things they come after the timely or untimely death of the previous sovereign. This may be an obvious thing to say, and each one is different yet the same. Charles’ too has the basic ingredients of the coronation but with his own particular twist.
Does he need one at all? In theory no, he is already king so the coronation is the formal acknowledgement of the transition of monarchical power, such as it is.
Critics may point to the somewhat slimmed down version (more below) or one that has its differences to that of Elizabeth II in 1953. But first of all we must remember that this is all about him, not Megan or Harry or the partygoers, nor pro-republican or anti-monarchist groups, Just Stop Oil fanatics , Extinction Rebellion, pro- modernists or pro-royalists or Not My King middle class students nor anyone who wished the coronation to reflect their particular worldview. Charles is the focus of everything just like a bride at a wedding.
There are certain forms that have been sanctified by tradition. Essentially this is a formula acknowledging by the public (invited) that Charles is the king and the monarch’s oaths are to God, that he will uphold the laws of the divine and secular. It’s a contract. Look at the Royal Castle in Warsaw and you can see symbols of this relationship everywhere, seen generally in most constitutional monarchies.
You can be an absolute monarch or a constitutional one. Britain has the latter and unlike a Russian czar (Putin included) he cannot do anything he wants. The monarch is bound by contract and the ceremony has a certain choreography that underlines this at every turn.
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The Coronation – old and new
First, comes the recognition after the procession into Westminster Abbey. The King and Queen are shown and acclaimed as the monarchs. This is a centuries-old custom. After all, monarchs have had impostors or pretenders. The Archbishop of Canterbury calls upon the congregation to acclaim the king. There has to be no doubt.
The coronation oath is next. The King will be called upon to keep the laws of the land and the church of England. He swears on the Bible. Charles will also swear to foster an atmosphere of tolerance.
The anointing is performed- the most secretive part of the coronation. Holy oils, a mix of rare ingredients make the chrism, are rubbed onto the hands, arms and between the shoulders. The king is in a plain white robe showing humility before God. The oils are vegan based unlike the historic ones based on whale ambergris (a reading of Moby Dick would be useful here). Either way The King is anointed as we are at baptism, to mark his connection with God. This is screened from the congregation so sacred is the ceremony itself.
Why the hands? In the past the royal hands were believed to have miraculous powers. King Charles recently presented standards to army units and the final act was touching the colours of the regiments, thus giving them an almost sacred quality: the laying on of hands, the royal touch.
He will then be crowned with St Edward’s crown for the only time in his life. This is a public ceremony. During Elizabeth II’s coronation, 22 million tuned in around their black and white televisions to watch this moment.
He will be presented with the orb and sceptre, and sword as symbols of his authority – divine and temporal.
The last act will be to see Charles ascend the throne and to receive the oaths of allegiance from the lords present. Charles however, will only take the oath from Prince William. The Archbishop of Canterbury in a modern twist will call on the viewers to pledge their allegiance to the king…a very modern turn. After this, Queen Camilla will be anointed and enthroned, a much simpler ceremony.
They will descend from the thrones, originally at a higher level and closer to God, to the sound of the national anthem and a multi-gun salute, for the departure back to Buckingham palace. The departure as the procession is only around a mile long, about five times shorter than his mother’s in 1953.
Other differences, ones of style rather than substance, will be present, the King opting for military uniform rather than breeches and stockings.
He has been criticised from the 1953 coronation for being penny pinching or woke, with 2,000 invited rather than 8,000, a shorter procession to Westminster abbey, a shorter ceremony (one hour rather than three in 1953 or the five of Queen Victoria). Perhaps this is a wee bit pernickety when you consider that Britain was in a cost of living crisis in 1953, having only just emerged from food rationing and the trial of the second world war. Today there’s a similar cost of living crisis and the King is presented nevertheless with the same dilemmas of expenditure.
The coronation of 1953 was the first to be televised so it had to be adapted for a new media age. Let’s not forget that many British traditions, taken by the critics of the King, wanting more pomp and ceremony, are indeed quite modern-19th century. The form evolves but the substance remains
We got the king that we deserve. The real question is does this matter? What is the meaning of what he says?
Britain is a less religious place and less deferential than in the early 1950s . Is this just an excuse for street parties or climate demonstrations, a reason to admire the frocks and rocks on show- blingophilia. This is a question for society.
Whatever the case, the monarchy will continue, that is what it is for. The Carolean age will no doubt be different from the Elizabethan one. That is the point…it’s the same yet different
He won’t appease the wokerati of his eco-warrior credentials, nor convince a rabid republican to be a monarchist. Morever the king has been lampooned for being an eco-monarch, talking to flowers, being ecumenical in the 1980s, caring for the environment. Then, he was a ridiculous figure, today a trendsetter. So who knows? Nor will he satisfy the royalists who want more pomp and pageantry. If he spends to much money on his coronation he is criticised for being a Marie Antoinette figure; too little, a Scrooge.
Minds have been made up long ago. The king cannot satisfy all and therefore has come under fire from all, that he is not the king that we envision he should be, constantly criticised for not being up to the mark.
The King bridges the gap between the divine and temporal, if you still believe in God that is, the gap between the absolute, parliament and prime ministerial. It’s a contract between God and man.
Britain has had centuries to develop this system. It is laughed at and grudgingly admired in equal measure.
It’s the system we have and its success has evolved over centuries of often bloody conflict. Transfer of power is bloodless, and that is no small thing.
It’s a series of delicate compromises and if Britain decided to abandon the monarchy then it would have to find something else. Could Britain imagine President Tony Blair ran the argument a few years back. Could we have imagined President Boris Johnson? Take a moment to consider these options.
Whether Charles becomes a good king or a bad king will be up to him. What it actually means will be as much up to us as up to him- a constitutional monarchy remember. If that is what we want to do.
The crown is the most important and the relationship it has with the body politic. Personality, personal competence or likeability is another thing altogether.
Separate the man from the office, consider the meaning, the substance not the form of ceremony. Let’s at least hope his reign is tastier than the coronation quiche that is his hallmark dish for the occasion.
Meantime, Long live the King… anyway!