Happy Coronation Weekend, friends. We are now two-thirds of the way through the festivities, but the major moments are behind us, so this seems like an appropriate time to wrap up the events from the last 36 or so hours.
Before we begin, I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of just how significant Saturday was. There hasn’t been a coronation in the UK since 1953 and it hasn’t always been a safe assumption that the succession from Queen Elizabeth II to King Charles III would move as seamlessly as it has over the last eight months. This was the first coronation of the 21st century, which means the first coronation in today’s media, political, and economic climate. They pulled it off and that’s no small feat.
Unlike with prior reigns in the House of Windsor, I don’t think we can ever take accessions for granted again. This has nothing to do with any one person, but more to do with the nature of the world around us. Monarchy, more and more, is an anachronism. Put another way, the definition of how modern monarchy is going to function in the UK is still in transition.
In the weeks and months leading up to Saturday there’s been a lot of speculation as to what was going on behind the scenes – who was invited, who was actually attending, what were people “allowed” to wear, etc. We learned early on that King Charles intended for this to be a pared down ceremony compared with that of his mother out of deference for the cost of living crisis and in consideration of, well, 2023. We knew that meant a shorter ceremony, but beyond that, we didn’t know much else. The result was that there were moments the press coverage painted a picture of Palace chaos.
I think there were a couple things going on. For starters, I think a lot of details were in flux. Coronations are more akin to weddings than funerals in the sense that while the broad strokes are going to follow a template, there’s still a lot that is going to be personalized and also reflective of its time. Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, and her wedding in 1947, reflected the post-war era. King Charles’s coronation, meanwhile is more reflective of a post-pandemic economy and lifestyle.
Taken together with the number of foreign heads of state and dignitaries attending, an evolving guest list, securing entertainment, and pulling off a once-in-a-generation spectacle and you’ve got yourself a tall order, even for the most seasoned of courtiers. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the elephant(s) in the room – the Windsors have had a *lot* of family drama over the last three years that cast a shadow over what could have been pure royal-watching excitement.
What I want to emphasize, however, is that some of the slightly frenzied tone that surrounded coverage of the planning frankly had nothing to do with the King or the Sussexes. Some of this – a lot of it, actually – was just the nature of this particular beast.
A Focus on the King
Over the last five years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, we saw a concentrated public relations agenda: highlight the succession. As such, we saw royal moments emphasize not only the monarch, but also the then-Prince of Wales, then-Duke of Cambridge, and, increasingly, Prince George. The strategy behind this was to not only make clear the bond between Queen Elizabeth and her son for her son’s reputational benefit, but also to allay any concerns over the late Queen’s age.
We are now over that hurdle and what we saw on Saturday was a shift: the focus was absolutely not on the succession; it was on King Charles and his consort. It makes zero strategic sense for King Charles to highlight that William is waiting in the wings before he’s had a chance to define his rule. And it would be in remarkably poor taste, in my opinion, to emphasize the succession at a coronation of all events. To do so is to subtly acknowledge a monarch’s looming death and while that may well be how this all works, yes, a coronation is about the hope of a fresh start.
I’ve seen some discourse that all of this comes down to the King’s ego given his longstanding reputation for jealously hoarding the spotlight whenever possible. And yes, that is a well-known facet of the King’s character and not a particularly attractive one at that. But consider this from his perspective – he was the longest-serving Prince of Wales for one of the monarchy’s most beloved figures, he was the unhappy husband of a royal icon, and by the time his personal life reached some happiness and stability, he was often overshadowed by his handsome sons and their photogenic wives. Let the man have his own coronation.
But as I said, I don’t actually think the focus on the King was about his ego at its core – I think that we’re just so used to a certain type of messaging with the Royal Family that we’re noticing a subtle shifting of gears and reacting to it. In my book, yeah, the monarchy is about King Charles for the next bit of time and that’s okay. This is his chapter.Embed from Getty Images
The Queen’s crowning stirred up some latent feelings of vintage angst. To be fair, I was actually surprised when Queen Elizabeth announced that her daughter-in-law would be styled “queen” and again at Queen Elizabeth’s death that there wasn’t more backlash than there was, but it appears the visual provided by the actual crowing was enough to do it. So, let’s get this out of the way: yes, we all know that Queen Camilla was King Charles’s long-term mistress while he was married to Diana, Princess of Wales. We also know that Diana blamed Camilla for the unhappiness of her marriage. And now we know, courtesy of Spare, that apparently William and Harry begged their father not to marry her after Diana’s death.
Well, he did. Eighteen years ago. And since then she’s been a remarkably effective working royal with a solid portfolio of issues she’s championed, including domestic and sexual violence and children’s literacy. I have absolutely no patience for leveraging Diana to insult Camilla at this point, particularly from people wildly unaffected by the Wales marriage. Camilla didn’t seduce a happily married man because 1) that’s not how marriage works, 2) that’s not how people work, and 3) that’s also fundamentally not what happened.
And yet, the pearl-clutching continues. [Side not: I’d love to see a breakdown of people who judge Camilla, but love the “girl boss” historical re-write Anne Boleyn’s received in the last 30 years.]
The King’s nexus to all of this, of course, is that he “broke his promise” that Camilla would be known as Princess Consort when they married, and yet planned all along to make her queen. I mean, yes, that’s exactly what happened. Because, duh. I will caveat that with, had Camilla’s reputation not been rehabilitated sufficiently, I actually doubt the Palace would have shoved this down the public’s throat because the foremost priority would have been safeguarding the succession and thus the King’s accession. And contrary to Spare, this has nothing to do with anyone’s ambition: this is the Palace’s most fundamental job.
Anyway, back to Saturday – the end result was that, in my opinion, Queen Camilla seemed incredibly nervous during the ceremony. Unlike her husband, she hasn’t been trained her entire life with this expectation. And unlike The (current) Princess of Wales, she can’t take comfort in generally high popularity. Her popularity is by far better than anyone could have expected in 2005, but I’m sure it’s crossed her mind many times over the last few days that there are still droves of people thinking about Diana and believing to their core that the wrong woman got crowned. That would make me nervous, too.
I’d also add that Harry’s version of Camilla in Spare is completely at odds with every other depiction of her – far from being some Lady Macbeth figure, she has usually been described as having a fairly ambivalent attitude towards the trappings that go along with having married her husband. And while I think it’s a safe bet that she definitely wanted to marry him, and more than likely that she took a pretty common sense approach to the public work attached to her marriage, I think the gravity of Saturday weighed on her.
Camilla has joined a list of consorts who include Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Boleyn, Henrietta Maria of France, and Prince Albert. I think the reality of that is something she still grapples with when she chooses to think about it at all.
A Coronation Ceremony Isn‘t a Celebration
The procession, the concert, and the rest of it, sure. The actual service? No. At its most fundamental, it’s a religious ceremony by which the sovereign is anointed and thus blessed by God to rule his realm. As such, there’s a reason why King Charles was blocked from view for the actual anointing, and why there was so much angst over Queen Elizabeth’s coronation being televised in 1953. I flag this because there was consistent commentary on television yesterday about a “lack of joy” and how grave the King looked. He wasn’t meant to celebrate the service – he was meant to take his pledge to his country and people before God seriously.
I would imagine Saturday felt surreal and humbling, and I would imagine today there was a significant element of relief.
Again, we haven’t seen a coronation in 70 years – unlike Trooping the Colour, jubilees, or royal weddings, a coronation is an entirely different animal.
The Lack of Tiaras
As you no doubt noticed, there weren’t any tiaras or coronets at the coronation yesterday, save the crowns used by King Charles and Queen Camilla. This was messaged as part of King Charles’s effort to acknowledge the cost of living crisis, while the pared down dress code was also meant to reinforce sustainability. A lot of this has been focused on Catherine through the lens of what she would “choose” to wear, so let me make one thing very clear: Catherine didn’t opt not to wear a tiara. She would have been told the expectation and then carried it out. The headpiece she chose was an elegant compromise between adhering to the King’s wishes and understanding the public expectation for a “wow” moment.
Most of the public commentary has been positive about the King’s decision; however, some royal watchers were disappointed not to see the full scale of a coronation in which everyone – from nobility to visiting royalty – were decked out in all their regalia. While I understand the latter viewpoint and went back and forth on this for a while, I’ve ended up agreeing with the King’s decision for one reason.
There’s traditionally a moment during a coronation in which every member of nobility is holding their coronet and, upon the monarch being physically crowned, they say “God Save the King/Queen” and place their coronets on their heads. To me, this isn’t about sustainability or the cost of living crisis, this is about preserving the monarchy because the optics of *that* moment wouldn’t have worked for many who weren’t expecting it. And not everyone would have been.
It’s not just the “let them eat cake” aspect of the jewels. It’s also the messaging about class and aristocracy that literally donning a coronet before a television audience would signal. It fundamentally makes everything that goes on in that Abbey unattainable to billions of people, utterly negating the concept of a “people’s coronation.”
We will see Catherine in a tiara again. It’s okay that it wasn’t yesterday.
The King’s errant younger son was a non-entity on Saturday, and I’m glad about that. It’s all just exhausting at this point, but I think Harry attending solo and not participating in any other aspect of the celebration was for the best. It would have looked strange and frankly made him seem like a hypocrite. For the King’s sake, I’m glad both his sons saw him be crowned. The rest is between them. For the time being, at least.
The Wales Children
Princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte all played their parts well. George served as one of the King’s pageboys, while Charlotte looked flawless in a matching headpiece with her mother. Louis was given a break part-way through the coronation in deference to his age, and then rejoined for the procession. But don’t worry – we got our Louis moments on the balcony 🙂
Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor
The Duke of Edinburgh’s daughter and King Charles’s niece, Lady Louise, looked absolutely stunning on Saturday. This was the first family event at which she’s truly looked like a young adult to me. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever acknowledged here that she’s followed in William and Catherine’s footsteps by matriculating to St Andrews University in Scotland.
And with that, I’m going to end here. I have a few more odds and ends that I want to cover, but I’m running out of steam and I want to get something up this weekend. I’ll follow up with Part II ASAP.