Another Royal Occasion

London Coronation Rehearsals

It’s now Sunday May 7th, 2023. Kia ora!

Last night I stayed up to watch the coronation of King Charles III. JD stayed up too, and we watched it together. I went to bed sometime after 1 am this morning, so I missed the balcony appearance; I also missed the salute of the massed troops on the lawn of Buckingham Palace.  But I did watch the ceremony. Even avowed anti-Monarchists watched the ceremony, realising that it’s been 70 years since the last coronation, and wanting to see how this one might be different, and wanting to see the pageantry. Well, it did not disappoint, although it continued to drizzle with light rain in London. Never mind, there may have been the odd contretemps, but it looked as though everything went pretty smoothly, apart from some very frisky horses in parades leading up to the big event.  And what was Richie McCaw doing there, with Sir Sebastian Coe?  I didn’t know that he’d been invited.  Evidently some service members had to board trains at 3 am to get to London and be there on time. FB, now Meta, has a lovely photo of red-uniformed guards boarding a train to get back to their barracks, with the caption: So nice to see guards on trains again!

Well, you have to hand it to the British, they do turn on an amazingly good spectacle, whatever the weather and the horses’ friskiness.  All that ceremony is a great tourist attraction, and while the Americans do funerals well (they’ve had a lot of experience), they must be slightly envious of the British ceremony dating back hundreds of years, on some cases, but not to Biblical times, as one commentator remarked. Really, that makes you wonder just what is taught in schools these days! And Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s remark that he hoped it wouldn’t be like a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera seemed totally inappropriate. He has been saying some odd things lately, but he conducted the ceremony all right.

Primarily this was a religious ceremony, with the anointing and coronation having roots in service, not in being served.  One felt for all the invitees having to wait hours before the coronation service began;  there was a pre-coronation concert, but even this avowed lover of classical music found some items rather tedious. King Charles may love this music, but I doubt that many of his loyal subjects share his views.  Never mind, it was entertaining. Meanwhile, one could tut-tut at the many ill-fitting suits and “silly walks” displayed, while a few displayed great elegance: Brigitte Macron looked amazing, Dr Jill Biden and her daughter made great entrances wearing blue and yellow; and then we had the “descent of man”, a line up of former British Prime Ministers, including Liz Truss, and the inevitably unkempt Boris Johnson. I was disappointed not to catch a glimpse of Rory Stewart wearing the uniform of a Privy Councillor, or any privy councillors. I did see New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins wearing a korowai, with the Governor-General Dame Cindy Kiro.  Sadly, I could not be as proud of him as I was of former Prime Minister Ardern, but I guess we were fortunate to gave her for six years. All good things come to an end.

I watched the Coronation coverage on TVNZ on Demand, when JD didn’t have the television on TV One.  It was good the way the presentation switched between parades and preparations outside, and arrivals of guests to Westminster Abbey (poor lucky things, at least we had bathrooms and food and drink near at hand! And we didn’t have to dress up for the occasion).  Some of the marching left a lot to be desired, and the crowds seemed rather meagre, but then hundreds of people flocked to the Mall afterwards.

It did strike me that the pageantry for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, and her funeral, and this occasion were all wonderful, but all slightly different. Well done to those involved!

This was King Charles III’s big day, and so it seemed appropriate that the arrivals focused on him and his queen consort processing to the Abbey in a covered coach;  the arrival of the Waleses was not highlighted – JD wondered if they’d had a last minute crisis, but of course they hadn’t. Prince George was a page-boy for his grandfather; the Prince and Princess of Wales looked wonderful, of course, as did Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. The Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte wore lacy headbands, not tiaras. Princess Anne looked quite wonderful too. But our eyes were on King Charles.  Prince Harry had arrived a few minutes earlier; he was seated with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and their husbands, and he seemed to insist on a bit of friendly conversation and joking with one of them. Strategically, the red feather in Princess Anne’s hat got in the way of the camera having a direct view of him. Afterwards Princess Anne rode a horse in the parade back to Buckingham Palace. Her new honour solved the problem of what to wear, as she amusingly remarked. She looked very regal, almost like her mother.

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, Edward and Sophie, looked wonderful, of course.

The King did not look happy throughout. I found it hard not to think that he just wanted to get through it all safely; after all, there was a lot of formality, not just in the ceremony of the coronation, but the public trips to and from the Abbey, and then the appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and the feast afterwards. All of it would be exhausting really, and he’s over 70, as is his sister Princess Anne.  Perhaps he was wishing his mother was watching him – See me now, Mum (and Dad); aren’t you proud of me (yet)?  He looked serious, dignified, almost as if he was in pain; perhaps he was just trying to hold it all together. His big moment was finally here, and yet what memories he must have had – perhaps of his mother’s coronation 70 years ago; we saw delightful photos of him and Princess Anne being naughty on that occasion. He must have also been remembering his marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, and how that ended in tears; of her death and funeral;  of his disgraced brother Andrew, and, of course, of his other son, Prince Harry, who married yet another difficult woman, and has betrayed his family so terribly.

We saw King Charles at his most vulnerable, kneeling before the altar, wearing a white shirt, before his anointing (which was screened off).  This reminded me of masonic rituals, although I guess that any induction ceremony or sacrament, whether it be baptism, marriage, or death, or ordination, or something else, requires an element of vulnerability. And I was correct about the crowns: he was crowned king with St Edward’s Crown, which is only used for coronations; otherwise the Imperial Crown is used, although Britain no longer has an Empire. It did when his mother was crowned, although India became independent in 1947, and the African nations were to peel off in subsequent years. When Prince William, Prince of Wales, kissed his father after promising his allegiance, it reminded me of Prince Philip’s sneaky kiss of his mother at her coronation.  The pledge of allegiance, to be undertaken by those watching (another Welby idea), was thankfully dropped. Really, the king has very little power nowadays, although according to the Guardian the British monarch gets to vet all legislation before it’s voted on.

It was noteworthy that a Scottish religious leader presented him with a new Bible, saying that it was the most valuable thing in the world. As with Roman Emperors’ victory processions, there were reminders that life on earth is temporal, yet there was a Latin chant shouting Vivat, and May the King Live Forever! Well, his mama lived for a very long time.  Their prayers were answered, and it truly did feel like the end of an era when she died.

The ceremony had the Eucharist, but for whom, one wonders? Not the congregation; perhaps for some of the religious leaders and the King and Queen. I did see a Communion Chalice being shared, and I froze; there wasn’t a mask to be seen, of course. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a Hindu, did a reading from Philippians 3, about fixing one’s eyes on Christ: I found this quite striking. He seemed to have a speech impediment, a kind of lisp, which I had not noticed before. The hymns, sung by the congregation, were quite wonderful: Christ is made the Sure Foundation, and Praise my soul the King of Heaven. There was nothing in the service I would disagree with, and the emphasis was on God, and service to God. The Archbishop gave a short sermon, with a smile as he began to do so. I think everything was in large print, for the mostly elderly folk who had to say and do things.

One felt for Penny Mordaunt, who had to stand holding something really heavy for what seemed like a long time; it seemed rather unfortunate that she’d chosen to wear a teal-blue outfit, the strong colour not really fitting in with other elegant costumes.

It seemed quite a long ceremony to crown the king, but what about the queen? She was not forgotten, and was crowned with Queen Mary’s crown (I think she was the wife of King George V), which was remade for her, although it looked pretty heavy and seemed to not be placed quite right on her head. It’s an irony that Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s consort) and Prince Philip (Queen Elizabeth II’s consort) were not crowned, but Queen Camilla and Queen Elizabeth (wife of King George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II) were crowned queen; Anne Boleyn was too, well after King Henry VIII’s coronation, and before her beheading. It seems she insisted on being crowned queen, and was disappointed that more people did not come out to cheer her parade.  What tumultuous times those were. That’s very odd, really; women don’t count for much, but if a woman is monarch, then her husband counts for less? I suppose you couldn’t have Albert or Philip being crowned king, could you? How come King counts for more than a Queen?

So it was all quite wonderful, if perhaps a tad – boring?  Prince Louis did not disappoint – the camera caught him yawning, at one point; I did not see him in the service again, so perhaps his mother had someone discreetly remove him?

After the ceremony, and one had to feel for the newly crowned King and Queen negotiating the steps, robes and trains, and those heavy crowns – the King and Queen rode back to Buckingham Palace in a gold coach. Now this, I have to say, reminded me of Disney, with its very ornate, almost rococo, gold roofing.  Mercifully it was covered; the Waleses came in another covered carriage, as did the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh and their children.  There was amazing synchronised marching by the forces on the parade back to the Palace. All the messes made by the horses had been cleaned up before the march back to the Palace.

Here’s a link to a video posted by the Waleses:

After everyone got back to Buckingham Palace, I went to bed. It was already very late, but I had trouble sleeping after all the excitement.

The Monarchy argument rages again: he’s not my King! Apparently some anti-monarchy protesters were arrested in the leadup to the coronation. I hear these arguments, but, honestly, would you rather have someone like Johnson, Truss, or Luxon as your head of state? The Royal Family are inoffensive, and the Prince and Princess of Wales are rather wonderful. They’re well liked here and in Australia, and loved in Great Britain (and North America). People complain about the costs of royalty, but look at the costs of the American political system!  All the politicians have flights from home to Washington, several staffers, and security.  Then there are the ridiculous costs of American elections. Certainly, the Royal Family’s finances are somewhat opaque, but by and large they’re inoffensive, gracious, sensitive, well-dressed, and behave impeccably. And we all like a good parade, don’t we?

The display of British pomp and ceremony (and a great time with the dressing up box) contrasts with the scene in the US, where there’s been another mass shooting, this time in a Texas outlet mall, with at least 8 killed and 7 injured, before police shot the gunman.  Meanwhile, Trump joins with the J6 “Choir” to sing the US National Anthem, hand on non-existent heart. It seems that in his view woman are there for his pleasure, and don’t exist to be anything in their own right. One presumes, though, that he perhaps views his daughter Ivanka differently?  Whatever the story there, she married a Jewish man and converted to Judaism, so that must have been come kind of rebellion. Didn’t he say “Tom Brady could have been my son-in-law”?  Ivanka’s preference didn’t come into it. In marrying the rather weedy Jared Kushner, she certainly didn’t marry a football player or even a sportsman.

Whatever your faith is, this was a Christian ceremony that made no secret of being Christian, and Anglican, but acknowledged other faiths and had their representatives in attendance. I think that is a rather wonderful example of being tolerant, while being Christian. The US, on the other hand, would claim to be a Christian nation, while some of their absolute judgements seem very unchristian to many others of us. 

Still, although the Abbey’s new blue carpet with a yellow background reminded us of the Ukrainian flag, we could be at peace with this lovely coronation, that went so well.  Long live the King! 

That’s it for now. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi nui.

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