The Coronation of King Charles III

On May 6th, 2023, Charles III was crowned king. He was already king, of course, because that title passed to him immediately upon the death of his mother, Elizabeth II, on September 8th, 2022, at 3.10 pm. Charles’ coronation today recognised his kingship, and included pledges by king and people of loyalty and service to each other.

I’m not an ardent royalist like some are, but also far from being anti-monarchy. There are parts of a nation’s history that should not easily be discarded, and hard-working and wise ‘royals’ can do much for the United Kingdom, its commonwealth countries and other ‘realms’.

So I settled down to watch the coronation service and its associated events. I knew I was in for a marathon – and it was that – but I could relax which is more than what was possible for the thousands of military and police on parade and guard duty, and those who had an active part inside Westminster Abbey. They’ll all sleep soundly tonight.

I will share a few personal thoughts on the day’s events. But – since this is written on the same day – they should be seen as immediate reactions rather than deeply considered reflections.

Here’s what stood out for me.

Superb organisation  It’s hard to grasp how anyone can bring together the complex content and timing that makes a coronation day work. And all today’s events were marvellously efficient. What undoubtedly helped is the little-known fact that ever since Elizabeth II became queen officials of the government, Church of England, and royal staff held meetings at least annually to plan Charles’ coronation. Now that’s being prepared.

But I’m not surprised. Decades ago – as a young journalist in Edinburgh – I saw advance press releases outlining visits by royalty. The itinerary was timed to the minute. Indeed, my newspaper had an early edition sold on the streets as soon as one royal event was over. The story detailed where the Queen had been, who she’d met, what she’d seen. How did they have it written so soon? They didn’t. It was written before the event, entirely from the detailed schedule issued in advance. Royal events – great and small – are planned to the smallest detail.

But today’s coronation was one of the greatest of events, and I applaud those who brought together people from all round the world, thousands of military personnel, many clergy and politicians, London’s city officials, broadcasters, and many more. Quite a feat.

Remarkable endurance  I was impressed that several people involved in the service could retain their posture for long periods of time. In many cases, they stayed still while holding ceremonial items. Charles himself had to stay balanced with a crown resting precariously on his head while sitting on an uncomfortable ancient Coronation Chair, holding an orb in one hand and a sceptre in the other. Queen Camilla was put through similar torture. Both did well. And so did others who kept their concentration, passed the correct items of regalia exactly at the right time, moved to new locations when needed, and so on.

Outside, on the routes between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, there was constant discipline from police who faced out to the crowd and military who faced in towards the procession. They stood there for hours from long before dignitaries went past.

To add to the discomfort outdoors it rained much of the time. That’s oddly normal for coronation days. It also rained on the previous four occasions, including the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953. Yet everything about Charles’ coronation seemed unaffected, except low cloud meant the fly past was scaled back to only helicopters and the Red Arrows performance team. (The plan had been for 14 waves of aircraft, ranging from World War II fighters and bombers to super-modern jets. Some were already flying holding patterns off the east coast when the Ministry of Defence cancelled their participation. Aircraft crashing over London is a risk that could not be taken.)

A very religious service  Coronation services have their origin in ancient times. And coronations at Westminster date back to William the Conqueror on 25th December 1066. For many centuries there was a strong belief in the divine right of kings, the view that kings were appointed by God and could rule absolutely. Though no-one now believes in divine right, the idea that a monarch should be blessed, strengthened and guided by God prevails.

Hence it’s not surprising that today’s coronation was a profoundly religious event, led by the senior clergy of the Church of England. For a long time Charles has recognised that British people are not only Christian; many adhere to other faiths. Thus representatives of other religions had roles too. However, the monarch is formally the supreme governor of the Church of England, so there’s no surprise that denomination’s forms of prayer and worship predominated.

Charles has also said that he intends to defend all faiths – in the sense that no faith should suffer discrimination – and I applaud that. For many of the tough situations he will face, I hope the prayers for Charles will be answered. He will need the wisdom only God can give to navigate the right way.

A considerate event  Two things particularly made me realise those responsible for the coronation had tried to be thoughtful and kind.

First, I was following the official coronation order of service, and right at the end I could read the wording of a greeting other faith leaders would give the king just before he exited the abbey. The TV cameras covered that moment but we didn’t hear a word they said. That seemed a shame to me. Until, later, a commentator explained the silence. The Chief Rabbi observes strict Jewish practices about the sabbath (which is a Saturday). That meant he could not travel by car or train to the service. That could be overcome by staying near the abbey overnight. But sabbath rules would also prohibit him speaking into a microphone. So, to allow the Rabbi to participate alongside other faith leaders, there was no microphone to pick up their voices. That is a remarkable consideration.

Second, thousands of military personnel marched well in advance of the ornate coaches that carried King Charles and Queen Camilla. That meant they never saw the monarch and his wife while on parade. That was tough. The day had begun at 3.30 am for many of them, as they had to travel into London and be in position early on. Then they stood and marched in the rain. Of course that was their duty, pleasant or not, and I’m sure they considered it a privilege to have a part in the day. But never to see their new king and queen? Someone thought that didn’t need to happen, so when they finished their march up The Mall they continued on past the frontage of Buckingham Palace and gathered on the vast lawn behind (where Garden Party events are held[1]). The troops lined up in long rows on the grass, and when the royal couple appeared on the terrace overlooking the grounds, the military removed their headwear and gave the heartiest of ‘hip, hip, hooray’ cheers. That’s something they’ll tell their children and grandchildren. I found it quite moving.

At the age of 74 King Charles today became the oldest person to be crowned monarch in Britain. He was just three years old when his mother became queen, making him the heir for over 70 years. That’s a long time to wait. He’s used a lot of that to campaign on important issues, especially about the environment. As monarch he can no longer speak on any subject considered political, but the king has other opportunities to do good. I believe he’ll make a positive difference, and do that with passion and wisdom.

Lastly, a note, especially for those who think it rains all the time in Britain. It really doesn’t. I enlightened many of my American friends on that subject, but even British commentators seemed to suggest today’s rain in London was typical late spring weather. So why have the coronation in May? But here are two facts:

  1. London’s largest airport, Heathrow, has recorded an average of 45.91mm (1.8 inches) of rain in May between 1991 and 2020. Only four other months are drier.
  2. Heathrow, London, has an average annual rainfall of 614.98 mm (24.2 inches) while Central Park, New York City, has 1267.5 mm (49.9 inches) – more than double London’s total. Even Paris has more rain annually than London – 641 mm (25.2 inches).

So, today wasn’t really a bad choice for Coronation Day. And King Charles – perhaps thinking of the long reign of his mother – described the rain as a ‘blessing’. May there be showers of blessing on his time as king.

[1] Many years ago my wife Alison was invited to attend the Queen’s Garden Party, and I was her ‘plus one’. I know my place.