Can a coronation be modernized? It may not be that easy


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As the calendar moves ever closer to May 6, more details are emerging about the coronation of King Charles.

There will, among other things, be two golden coaches — one considerably newer and offering a more comfortable ride than the other — to carry Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, to and from Westminster Abbey in London. 

There are also far more community representatives and far fewer peers invited to this ceremony than the last one, for Queen Elizabeth in 1953. (Most peers who will attend have also reportedly been advised to come in business attire rather than their traditional velvet coronation robes, something that isn’t sitting so well with some.) 

There will also be a shorter procession route back to Buckingham Palace than there was the last time. 

And in answer to one question that loomed large over the whole affair, it emerged the other day that Prince Harry will indeed attend his father’s coronation, but on his own, as his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, remains at home with their children in California.

But other questions that have hung over the coronation remain unanswered, and perhaps point to the challenges of planning a Church of England ceremony deeply rooted in 1,000 years of history and tradition while also trying to inject a dose of the modern day into it.

The Coronation Chair is seen inside Westminster Abbey in London on April 12, 2023, ahead of King Charles’s coronation. (Dan Kitwood/The Associated Press)

“We don’t know what the order of service is,” said Bob Morris, a member of the honorary staff of the constitution unit at University College London, in an interview.

“The only change in the service itself that I’ve been able to find hint of is that the homage might be reduced in length…. That doesn’t save a lot of time but it certainly saves some. But we’re still looking at the problem of reducing something that took nearly three hours in any substantial way.”

While some details about the procession and the extent of the military contingents — more than 6,000 personnel in all — have emerged, “we certainly don’t know anything about how they’re going to accommodate other faiths at the coronation,” said Morris.

“My guess is there might have been some argument about this, that the King would have perhaps been more ambitious than the Church of England. But it’s very difficult to see where they could have been inserted actually in the ceremony itself, other than just attending.”

What has emerged so far seems to reflect how something like a modern coronation “is a tremendously complex and delicate event to plan and navigate,” said Justin Vovk, a royal commentator and a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton who specializes in the history of the monarchy, in an interview.

“There are so many things to consider, from optics to … precedents and protocols and I think with what we’re seeing with the current one is that you need a bit of everything in it.” 

White horses pull a carriage in front of a palace.
A nighttime rehearsal for the coronation of King Charles processes down The Mall in London on April 18. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Vovk said he thinks all this “is sending this message that in some ways there there will be modernization, but the ceremonies that have provided structure and legitimacy to this important moment in the life cycle of monarchy … are still going to be employed, and that it really sends the message that these are elements that they see as being critical to that continuity, that they do need to keep things familiar.”

Morris said it’s clear Charles is determined to cut the costs, recognizing straitened times, and “make it a very different coronation.”

“We say that coronations best reflect the society you’re in, and I suspect the King’s going to have a good stab at that.” 

  • Coverage of the coronation will air on CBC-TV, CBC News Network, CBC Gem and CBC News Explore on May 6 starting at 4 a.m. ET. There will be repeated coverage later in the day on News Network for those who aren’t early risers.

Canada and the coronation

A person stands beside a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, who is giving a salute.
Charles, then the Prince of Wales, visits Canada House on May 12, 2022, in London. (Hannah McKay/Getty Images)

With two weeks to go until the coronation, details about Canada’s official efforts to mark it remain relatively few and far between. 

The Prime Minister’s Office has said an official ceremony will be held in Ottawa on May 6 and feature speeches, artistic performances and unveilings.

But no further details regarding the event — even a precise location — have been released publicly.

The Department of Canadian Heritage did not provide any answers to questions posed this week regarding the event.

Nor were any answers provided by the PMO to questions regarding who will be part of Canada’s official delegation to the coronation. 

The relative sparseness of Canadian coronation information has caught the attention of some observers.

A  person in presented with a pair of moccasins by another person
Prince Charles, right, is presented with a pair of moccasins made by a Canadian Ranger during a review of the Canadian Rangers in Yellowknife on May 19, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

“I echo the concerns of the Monarchist League of Canada that the federal government is not doing enough to commemorate this important event,” said David Johnson, a political science professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia, via email.

Johnson sees a contrast between what has emerged from the federal government and information that has been provided by some provincial and territorial lieutenant-governors, who have been announcing coronation events.

“Just here in Nova Scotia, the office of Lt. Gov. Arthur LeBlanc has announced a variety of events over May and into June,” said Johnson, noting, for example, an exhibit on King Charles, his life and interests that will be on display at LeBlanc’s official residence.

While the makeup of Canada’s official delegation to the coronation is unknown, a few details regarding other Canadian representation in London on May 6 have emerged.

Five members of the RCMP’s Musical Ride will be taking part, a spokesperson said via email this week. 

“They’ll ride in the procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace ahead of the King and Her Majesty the Queen Consort,” the spokesperson said.

Four Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers ride on horses at the front of a procession.
RCMP officers on horseback ride in the funeral procession as the coffin of Queen Elizabeth leaves Westminster Abbey after her funeral in London on Sept. 19, 2022. Five members of the RCMP Musical Ride will be in the procession after King Charles’s coronation on May 6. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

They’ll be riding former Musical Ride horses George, Elizabeth, Sir John, Darby and Noble — all of whom have been given to the Royal Family, with Noble being the most recent arrival in the Royal Mews a few weeks ago.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces will also be taking part, with 45 personnel forming a marching contingent, along with personnel from other Commonwealth countries. 

“It’s an honour, really,” said Capt. Nicolas Plourde-Fleury, spokesperson for Canadian Joint Operations Command, in an interview. “It’s also humbling to be part of history like that.” 

The Canadian contingent includes 16 personnel from the Canadian Army (in dark green uniforms), 11 from the Royal Canadian Navy (in black), 11 from the Royal Canadian Air Force (in sky blue), six from Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (in brown with tan berets) and one from the Royal Military College (in red).

“We’re looking to represent all the building blocks” of the Canadian Armed Forces, Plourde-Fleury said.

Also this week, it emerged that King Charles’s official title in Canada is to be changed, dropping references to him as King of the United Kingdom and “Defender of the Faith.”

Two people sit at a table.
Prince Charles, left, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take part in a sustainable finance roundtable meeting in Ottawa on May 18, 2022. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

The removal of “Defender of the Faith” is not surprising, Johnson said.

“These traditional words evoke much raising of eyebrows now, even in the U.K., and from the former Prince of Wales himself,” he said. 

“In Canada, with our multicultural ethos, and within our much more fluid approach to religiosity/multi-faith reality/agnosticism, it is in keeping with modern-day Canada that the Canadian government does not see the King as playing the role of ‘Defender of the Faith.'” 

It also appears that Canada won’t be specifically referenced in the oath Charles makes during the coronation ceremony. The U.K. government announced changes to the oath this week that will mean that rather than each Commonwealth realm being referred to individually, they will be referenced “collectively.”

Vovk said “it’s a bit sad” Canada and other countries won’t be specifically mentioned, “because it felt like an opportunity for the Commonwealth realms to receive a bit of recognition, a reminder that the monarchy isn’t British alone.”

By referring to the Commonwealth realms collectively, it ensures that no one country feels privileged above the others, said Vovk, “and is a reflection of the sense of equality and diversity for which the modern monarchy has been aiming.”

What happens at a Queen Consort’s coronation?

Adults wearing crowns and coronets, and two children, stand on a balcony.
The last time their was a crowning of a Queen Consort was in 1937, during the coronation of King George VI, right and Queen Elizabeth, second from left. With them on the balcony of Buckingham Palace are their daughters Princess Elizabeth, centre, and Princess Margaret. (Getty Images)

Fascinator readers have been sharing comments and questions recently. Eleanor wondered if it would be possible to hear more about how the coronation of a Queen Consort was done the last time it occurred, in 1937, and before. 

Within the coronation service, the crowning of a Queen Consort occurs after the St. Edward’s Crown is placed on the head of her husband, following a tradition that dates back centuries.

“We see the consort crowned with the consort’s regalia, but it’s not as lengthy a portion of the ceremony as it is for the monarch,” said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris in an interview.

It’s also a simpler ceremony.

“There are similarities — the anointing, the use of a canopy, the crowning and presentation of the consort’s regalia — but no homage is paid,” Judith Rowbotham, a social and cultural scholar and visiting research professor at the University of Plymouth in southwestern England, said via email.

“The point is that while a Queen Consort has power, symbolized by the anointing, the crowning and the sceptre [she receives], that power derives solely from her husband, and so she will acknowledge this by bowing to him before going to sit by him.”

A woman in an elaborate gown
Queen Elizabeth smiles as she poses for an official picture in London after the coronation in 1937. (AFP/Getty Images)

The last time a Queen Consort was crowned, at the coronation of King George VI in 1937, it was Queen Elizabeth (later known as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother). Their daughters, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, also attended the service in Westminster Abbey.

“We see in 1937 from Princess Elizabeth’s own writings … that she talks about both her parents being very central to this ceremony,” said Harris. 

The crowning of a Queen Consort during a King’s coronation has a long history, but it wasn’t always the case.

“The early Anglo-Saxon kings hadn’t really emphasized their consorts,” said Harris. “It was quite a shift from 973 that the consort was part of the coronation ritual.”

It didn’t always go according to plan. Take, for example, the coronation of Charles I in 1626.

“Charles I’s consort, Henrietta Maria, for instance, who was just 15 when they were married and was a devout Catholic, refused to be crowned in a Protestant ceremony,” said Harris.

A early version of a finished gown is displayed on a mannequin.
A rare surviving early version of the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, is shown on display at Kensington Palace in London on June 2, 2021. (Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images)

More recently, the crowning of a Queen Consort has gone more smoothly.

The three Queens Consort who were crowned in the 20th century — Queen Alexandra in 1902, Queen Mary in 1911 and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 — “saw their coronations as an opportunity to showcase aspects of their own personality and interests and heritage,” said Harris.

“All of these consorts were able to have some influence on their public presentation at the time of their coronations and they were all Queen Consorts as mature women.”

Part of that presentation came in their attire.

“The dresses worn by the last three consorts were heavily symbolic,” said Rowbotham.

“Both Alexandra and Mary were crowned as Queens and Empresses. By the time Elizabeth was crowned, the beginnings of what became the Commonwealth was there, so her dress reflected that.”

Each of those Queen Consorts also had a crown made for her (Camilla will wear a modified version of Queen Mary’s crown — without the contested Koh-i-Noor diamond.)

On one occasion, however, there had to be some relatively quick work to create the consort’s crown.

“Queen Elizabeth’s crown for the 1937 coronation had to be designed and made by Garrard, the jewellers, in haste as the coronation had been originally planned for Edward VIII, who was not married until after his abdication,” said Rowbotham.

“It was decided to keep to the date planned for Edward’s coronation to stress continuity and also keep costs under control.”

Royally quotable

“I probably sent him somewhere else in Birmingham, so I apologize.”

— Prince William, as he was visiting an Indian street food restaurant in Birmingham on Thursday, where he answered the phone and took an unsuspecting customer’s reservation — only to realize he may have given him the wrong address.

A man works at a restaurant stove.
Prince William cooks during a visit to The Indian Streatery, an authentic, family-run independent Indian restaurant in Birmingham, England, on Thursday. (Arthur Edwards/The Associated Press)

Royal reads

  1. King Charles has inherited assets that have propelled his wealth to almost £2B, according to research and analysis by the Guardian. The analysis is part of the Guardian’s ongoing investigation into the finances and private wealth of the Royal Family.

  2. Kensington Palace has published a previously unseen photograph of Queen Elizabeth with some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, taken shortly before her death last year. The release Friday came on what would have been her 97th birthday. [Daily Mail]

  3. Among more than 850 community and charity representatives from across the U.K. who have been invited to King Charles’s coronation is record-breaker Max Woosey. The 13-year-old, who has been dubbed “the boy in the tent,” raised more than £750,000 for a hospice by camping in his garden for three years. [ITV]

  4. Camilla had no “endgame” in her relationship with Charles and just “married the person she loved,” her son has told a podcast. [BBC]

  5. Charles and Camilla have chosen a quiche as the signature dish for the coronation. And how does it taste? One tester apparently found it “so packed full of vegetables it’s more like a spinach pie than a quiche,” but, a food writer noted, “the surrounding custard is light and creamy, and the generous helping of cheese likely to placate all but the most determined greenphobes.” [The  Guardian]

A person holds a quiche for another person to take a look at.
Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh, left, and Prue Leith look at a quiche, the signature dish of King Charles’s upcoming coronation, as they attend a Coronation Big Lunch at Westminster Abbey in London on Tuesday. (Victoria Dawe/Coronation Big Lunch/Eden Project/Reuters)

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