6 June 2024

Charles III will be officially crowned king next month, in a solemn religious service eight months after the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II. 

The set-piece coronation at Westminster Abbey on May 6 is the first in Britain in 70 years, and only the second in history to be televised.

Charles will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at the central London church since King William I in 1066.

Outside the UK, he is also king of 14 other Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Camilla, his second wife, will be crowned queen.

For the royals, the occasion — described by the government as a “new chapter in our magnificent national story” — is a cause for celebration.

There are commemorative coins and chinaware as well as a special recipe — Coronation Quiche — and a series of celebratory events throughout the weekend.

But with two weeks to go, there has been grumbling about the cost and signs of public apathy, as well as plans for republican protests.

– Cost –

The ceremony itself, expected to be about an hour long, sees the Crown Jewels and the Coronation Chair take centre stage at the abbey.

The jewels are normally kept under lock and key at the Tower of London, while the chair has been used at every coronation ceremony since 1308.

Despite the ancient rituals of blessing a monarch with consecrated holy oil, there will be some nods to modernity.

Charles and Camilla’s grandchildren will take part in the ceremony, watched by more than 2,000 invited dignitaries — a quarter of those in attendance in 1953.

Among them will be Charles’s younger son, Prince Harry, despite his stinging criticisms of royal life since moving to California three years ago.

The newly crowned king and queen’s processional route back to the palace — accompanied by some 4,000 British and Commonwealth troops — has been much shortened.

The display of gilded coaches, liveried troops and sparkling jewels comes at a tricky time in the UK, as many Britons struggle with rising prices due to high inflation.

Unsurprisingly, there has been some push-back at the cost: one survey this week suggested 51 percent believed that taxpayers should not foot the bill.

Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 cost £912,000 — equivalent to £20.5 million ($25.5 million) now.

The most expensive was of Charles’s grandfather, George VI in 1937. It cost £454,000, or £24.8 million in today’s money.

Senior government minister Oliver Dowden has promised there will not be “lavishness or excess”.

But he added: “It is a marvellous moment in our history and people would not want a dour scrimping and scraping.”

– Apathy –

Royal history and the pageantry that goes with it are deeply embedded in British culture, with formal celebrations such as weddings and jubilees met with huge crowds.

In 1953, 25-year-old Elizabeth’s coronation brought a touch of glamour to a country recovering from war but there is so far little of the same fervour this time round.

Charles, 74, is a familiar figure, and the country has seen dramatic social and political change in the 70 years he spent as his mother’s heir apparent.

As well as being king and head of state, Charles leads the Church of England, the mother church of the worldwide Anglican communion.

But unlike when his mother acceded, church attendance has slumped and the wider influence of religion in the country is on the wane.

At the last census in 2021, some 22.2 million people in England and Wales (37.2 percent) reported “no religion”.

In 2011, the figure was 14.1 million (25.2 percent).

One survey this month indicated that while many were happy to have a long weekend, just over a third (35 percent) of people “do not care very much” about the coronation.

Just under a third (29 percent) said they “do not care at all”, with apathy greatest among younger age groups.

Younger people are also more likely to want an elected head of state, and the republicans have seized on the coronation to get their point across.

The campaign group Republic is planning protests on Coronation Day, with supporters in T-shirts proclaiming “Not My King”.

“The coronation is a celebration of hereditary power and privilege, it has no place in a modern society,” said Republic chief executive Graham Smith.

Republican sentiment is also bubbling in the Commonwealth realms, notably in the Caribbean, promising to diminish the British royal family’s global reach even further.

By AFP