Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinion | Latest coronation ‘update’ shows that the palace still doesn’t get it

Opinion | Latest coronation ‘update’ shows that the palace still doesn’t get it

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Programming note: Britain’s coronation and all things royal are the topic of Post Opinions columnist Eugene Robinson’s next Q&A with readers, and we’re co-hosting! Submit your questions in advance, and bookmark this page for Tuesday at noon Eastern time.

LONDON — To kick off the most consequential week of his reign — and arguably his life — King Charles Philip Arthur George of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, revised the centuries-old coronation service to … ask people everywhere to pledge allegiance to him.

In the House of Windsor, this is what passes for renewal.

Over the weekend, Lambeth Palace, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, released details of the coronation ceremony to be held on Saturday. While trying to stress the king’s commitment to service (“I come not to be served — but to serve,” he is to pray aloud) and to sustainability (recycled thrones!), officials revealed that the traditional homage of peers — in which hereditary peers knelt before the monarch and pledged their loyalty — has been replaced with an “homage of the people.”

And so anyone watching, streaming or listening to Saturday’s service — whether at a pub or from their couch — will be invited to recite this pledge: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

After this, a musical fanfare will be heard. Then the archbishop presiding over the service will say, “God save The King.” And then all are invited to recite: “God save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May The King live for ever.”

See Page 28 of the official liturgy if you think we are making this up.

Updating a centuries-old, predominantly Protestant service for modern sensibilities is no easy task. But it appears that in trying to make the service more inclusive, no one paused for a common-sense test: How appealing would this mass oath sound in a hyper-populist, anti-establishment age? Our guess is not very.

The Post story on these changes includes this quote from a spokesman for Lambeth Palace: “Our hope is at that point, when the archbishop invites people to join in, that people wherever they are, if they’re watching at home on their own, watching the telly, will say it out loud — this sense of a great cry around the nation and around the world of support for the King.”

We wonder if the great cry might rather be about how the best minds spent seven-plus months coming up with … this.

In September, walking among the flowers amassed in London’s Green Park in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, we wondered whether the royal family might have suggested that those inclined to buy a bouquet could instead donate 1 pound to a charity. Today, it would have been more appealing had they asked people just to plant some flowers. Or, as Evelyn Waugh wrote, put out more flags.

More coronation firsts: Female bishops and members of other faiths will play active roles in what for roughly four centuries has been a Protestant, male service.

At the king’s “urging,” writes Post London bureau chief William Booth, “the coronation will acknowledge that Britain is no longer an exclusively Christian country, but is in fact a multifaith nation, including many who believe in no deity at all.”

For months Charles has been signaling this departure from the norm. The first in the procession to enter Westminster Abbey will be representatives from the Jewish, Sunni and Shiite Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Bahai and Zoroastrian communities, Booth writes. “During the service, four peers from the House of Lords — a Muslim, Hindu, Jew and Sikh — will hand to Charles objects of the royal regalia. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, will read from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians.” At the ceremony’s end, the king will receive a “spoken greeting in unison” — that is, not a prayer — from religious leaders of other faiths.

The anointment of the monarch — with fragrant oil consecrated in Jerusalem — will take place behind an embroidered screen, out of view of cameras and guests in the abbey. Prince William, the immediate heir to the throne, will swear an oath of allegiance to the king — and, breaking with custom, will be the only member of the royal family to do so. This change avoids any controversy about inclusion or exclusion of the king’s brother Prince Andrew (who was excised from public duties after defending his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein) or the king’s younger son, Prince Harry, who stepped away from his public role in 2020.

From our inbox: Alex from Kensington, Md., sent two questions: Are they still making two new thrones? Will guests wear tiaras?

Let’s start with a fun fact: Coronations involve not just one but many special chairs. During his coronation, King Charles will be seated on a chair of estate, then the ancient coronation chair and then what is known as the throne chair. The wooden coronation chair, which encloses the Stone of Scone, has been used in British coronation ceremonies since 1308. Traditionally, new thrones are made for coronations, but the throne chairs to be used this week by Charles and Camilla were made for the 1937 coronation of his grandparents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. They have been reupholstered, with some new embroidery done by the Royal School of Needlework (whose royal patron is … Camilla). The chairs of estate to be used Saturday were made for the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and were used by the queen and Prince Philip. They, too, have been reupholstered.

Coronations are also resplendent with bling. But the Princess of Wales may wear a floral headdress, as opposed to a tiara. And The Post reported this weekend that, in another change from coronations past, “Lords and ladies attending Saturday’s abbey service will wear business suits and dresses, instead of their red robes and coronets.”

Childhood charmer: If you haven’t seen it, take three minutes and read through then-Princess Elizabeth’s handwritten account of her parents’ 1937 coronation. In carefully upright cursive across six lined pages, the 11-year-old recounts her sightings of the crowd, the gold-bow-adorned dresses she and younger sister Princess Margaret wore, the “magic” moment when their mother was crowned and more. Among our favorite observations: “At the end the service got rather boring as it was all prayers.” And: “What struck me as being rather odd was that Grannie [Queen Mary] did not remember much of her own coronation. I should have thought that it would have stayed in her mind for ever.”

Coverage from around The Post

So, who’s going? More than 2,200 people, including foreign delegations from 203 countries and about 100 heads of state, have confirmed attendance, Buckingham Palace said Monday. About 20 royal families will be represented, a British government official told reporters Leo Sands and Mary Jordan. Traditionally, crowned monarchs and heads of other states have not attended coronations, said Craig Prescott, a Bangor University academic who writes about the British monarchy. But some foreign heads of state and government are attending this time. The British royals “continue to strike a chord internationally, and I never quite understand why,” Prescott said. “You can understand interest in Australia or Canada, but there is interest globally, outside of the Commonwealth.”

How rich is Britain’s king? There is no clear public answer, write Karla Adam and Mary Jordan. The majority of Britons support the monarchy, and many have a favorable view of Charles — though he is not nearly as popular as his mother was — but a growing minority “view the royal family as an expensive relic,” they write. Critics, especially among the young, “seriously question why a democratic society pays to support a man with a symbolic job. They resent having to pay a 40 percent inheritance tax while King Charles paid zero on the estate thought to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars that he inherited from his mother last year.”

There’s great information in this article, which is an accessible guide to the complicated world of royal finances. “The royal family owns or profits from more than 1 percent of the land in the United Kingdom. (By comparison, the top 10 landowners in the United States collectively hold 0.7 percent of the land.) That concentration of wealth is especially galling to some amid a cost-of-living crisis in Britain.”

How much do people really know about assets held by the king, the royal family or the crown? Our correspondent hits the streets of London to find out. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)

Can you guess what assets are royal or not? Follow along with this Post video as London correspondent Karla Adam quizzed people on the street.

The Prince and Princess of Wales recently shared a snap of the late Queen Elizabeth II and some of her grandchildren — 📸 by the princess — to mark what would have been the queen’s 97th birthday.

Send us your royal questions and comments! Follow @washingtonpost and @postopinions on Instagram for more coverage.

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