On the day, Charles’ coronation was, like Charles himself, singular in two senses of the word:
extraordinary and eccentric.
But that was as much to do with the rituals, “stupefyingly spectacular” in the words of Nick Cave,
Australian singer and guest at Westminster Abbey, as with the King’s modernising influence.
For months we have speculated on the likely differences between this ceremony and the crowning
of his mother in 1953.
But the 70-year time span makes comparisons unhelpful; Elizabeth at 27 was still an enigma,
poignantly young and sparkly beside her handsome prince.
Her 8,000 guests perched high in the Abbey on precarious scaffolding would not be permitted in
today’s health and safety culture and the serried ranks of the aristocracy attending her are now
deemed anachronistic. We’ve moved on.
While Charles lacks the youthful promise and glamour of Elizabeth, we know what we’re getting;
most of us have grown up with him and there was something about witnessing his big day, so long
anticipated, that sparked almost familial pride.
We could not imagine what went through Elizabeth’s mind during her coronation, but one could
quite easily conjure a Charles running commentary to accompany his date with destiny.
Hopefully, after the event, he will have no gripes. A noted perfectionist, he would be very aware of
possible pratfalls, as his friend Jonathan Dimbleby said, but there didn’t appear to be any exploding
fountain pens (phew) to detract from the dignity of the pageant.
Charles’s efforts to trim back the occasion – a mere 2,200 invitations, hotly contested – could not, in
the end, compete with tradition.
The full panoply of horse drawn gilded carriages – the Diamond Jubilee State Coach transporting him
and Camilla to the Abbey, the Gold State Coach for the return to Buckingham Palace – and the 4,000
members of the armed services in the coronation procession did not disappoint the diehard loyalists
lining the route.
And there was no downsizing the solemnity of the ancient rites – the Recognition of our ‘undoubted
King’; the Anointing, involving Archbishop Justin Welby pouring oil on to the sovereign’s head with
the 12th century Coronation Spoon; and the Investing, with the orbs, sceptres, swords and spurs all
making an appearance.
Potentially the most controversial moment, apart from the presence of Prince Harry, was to be the
Homage, whereby members of the public were to be invited to pledge their allegiance to the king.
But this was a Lambeth Palace not a Charles innovation according to Dimbleby, who said Charles
would find it ‘abhorrent’, and an eleventh-hour change saw the wording become a cry of ‘support’.
All the drama of the two-hour ceremony was of the strictly choreographed sort and there were no
obvious glitches or surprises, though much theatre all the same.
Where to begin? Archbishop Welby will be pleased with his performance. However accustomed he is
to grand services, this one was outside even his experience and he didn’t fluff his lines.
And the magnificent Penny Mordaunt, the first female Lord President of the Council, tasked with
wielding a mighty jewelled sword for the best part of an hour, was centre stage throughout. As one
wag remarked on Twitter, Liz Truss (also in the Abbey) made Penny leader of the House of Commons
to keep her out of the limelight!
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There were plenty of firsts, from the Coronation Kyrie, composed by Paul Mealor, sung in Welsh by
Bryn Terfel, to the Ascension Choir – who nearly stole the show at Harry and Meghan’s wedding – to
the Greek chorus, in honour of Prince Philip.
Charles, a rare royal champion of classical music, made this a rich musical celebration, with inspired
choices, both traditional – Parry’s setting of I was glad (Psalm 122) and Handel’s Zadok the Priest –
and contemporary, with Roderick Williams who composed and sang; Sarah Class’s Sacred Fire,
performed by South African soprano Pretty Yende in the pre-ceremony concert; and Make a Joyful
Noise, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Coronation anthem.
Michael Nazir-Ali, former bishop of Rochester and now a Catholic prelate, wrote this week that the
Coronation “represents, as perhaps nothing else, the character, beliefs and values of the nation”.
Even so, it was still rooted in Protestant liturgy, albeit with multi-faith participation, including a bible
reading by our Hindu Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.
The royals were well rehearsed, from Prince George in his first ceremonial role, holding his
grandfather’s robes, to William, straight faced as he bent to kiss his just crowned papa. Kate looked
queenly and her younger two, Charlotte and Louis (the latter removed for the final half hour of the
service), were enchanting.
Harry, who may well be back in LA by now, was no trouble at all, hidden for the most part by the
plumage in his Aunty Anne’s hat.
Camilla, joined by her sister Annabel Elliot and companion Lady Landsdowne (lookalikes billed ‘spare
Camillas’), seemed a little uneasy as the crown was plonked on her bouffant blonde waves but
smiled gamely and soldiered on.
And Charles looked at times humbled – by the resounding choruses, all those dear friends in the
Abbey, the daunting inevitability of this, his day – and occasionally nervous, fiddling with the gold
braid under his ermine robes as he walked the gauntlet.
But he rose to the occasion, with his peculiar blend of formality and informality (was that a sly “thank
you” for Mordaunt as she finally gave up the sword?), a king for our age.
Giles Brandreth, royal hanger-on par excellence, put it best: Charles, he said, “feels like the right man
at the right time”.
Bring on the reign.
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