King Charles inherits a fundamentally different Britain than did his mother Queen Elizabeth II who abruptly came to the throne at the age of 27.
/ May 15, 2023
By John J. Metzler
The British do pageantry very well. Certainly the history, regalia and sacred symbolism all merged spectacularly for the Coronation of King Charles III, the first such event in seventy years.
Westminster Abby, which saw the coronation of forty monarchs starting in 1066, stood proud and tall nearby, the Houses of Parliament. Its bells chimed in the new era.
Now Charles, at 74 the man who waited and prepared his whole life for the event, is crowned.
The actual ceremony, interspaced with choirs, trumpets, and its ancient rituals went flawlessly; the crown was placed on Charles’ head. Equally his wife Camilla was crowned queen.
A BBC commentary adds, “The first Coronation in 70 years proved to be a sumptuous, seamless and often surreal ceremony.” There’s little doubt about that.
But amid the Coronation’s dazzling pageantry, the military parades and the surge of patriotic pride serve to remind everyone that the United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy is still very popular, despite the Royal Family’s feuds, peccadillos and naysayers. Prince Harry of Hollywood made a cameo appearance as a petulant guest.
Prince William and Princess Catherine shone brightly both at the religious Coronation as well as the evening pop concert at Windsor castle; The Prince of Wales assured that his grandmother was “up there, fondly keeping an eye on us.” Celebrating his father’s achievements over the past half century, the heir to the throne said, “Pa, we are all so proud of you.”
To state the obvious, King Charles inherits a fundamentally different Britain than did his mother Queen Elizabeth II who abruptly came to the throne at the age of 27, following the death of her father George VI, the revered wartime King. But that was in June 1953; The postwar era, economic austerity, but still a very United Kingdom. Winston Churchill was back as Prime Minister.
So choreography aside, King Charles III still briefly basks in the afterglow of this past extraordinary year. Last June, Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the Platinum Jubilee, 70 years on the throne as the longest reigning Monarch. Then came the Queen’s passing in September, she died at 96. The funeral offered a massive outpouring of grief, thanks and support for a person who duty and service characterized her reign. Now the Coronation.
The UK’s tumultuous political scene mirrored the rush of royal events, there were three Prime Ministers and two Monarchs during 2022!
Charles III faces a daunting challenge given that the modern United Kingdom is less united, more hyper sectarian, and agnostic towards faith and institutions and to the monarchy.
Though the Coronation ceremony was steeped in profound Christian tradition, Charles made a particular reach out in friendship to all of Britain’s faith communities. King Charles is the head of the Church of England after all.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. opined, “The history of these lands is profoundly marked by our religious history. Until the sixteenth century, the coronation was Catholic. For the last four hundred years it has been a service of the Church of England and it remains so.”
Britain’s <em>Catholic Herald</em> magazine added, “The King can offer leadership in a world that seems hostile to faith.”
Then there’s the economy. Britain has been falling behind. Its inflation rate is dangerously high.
Strikes have returned with regularity recalling the 1970’s. The BREXIT fault lines following the break with the European Union have hardly healed.
In a glint of mixed news, aYouGov for the BBC's Panorama program, showed that 58 percent of people asked said they wanted to keep the monarchy, 26 per cent said they instead wanted an elected leader while 16 percent were not sure. Older adults show more support for the monarchy and indeed 78 percent of people over 65 supported the monarchy. Significantly only 32 percent of the 18-24 years olds felt the same.
Nonetheless despite the London rain on coronation day, massive crowds assembled to pay homage to the newly crowned king and queen.
Though the British monarchy is non-political and serves more as a force for tradition, moral suasion and continuity, the fact remains that today’s Britain is a far less deferential country, buffeted by both pernicious social media challenges and deep political skepticism.
The role of Charles, as a modern monarch must reflect a gravitas and stature to seamlessly balance the affairs of both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth’s 56 member countries. King Charles III appears to have that classically stoic quality to ensure continuity. Charles stated, “I come not to be served, but to serve.”
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International
[Freedom Is Not Free!]