Coronation and the future of the British Monarchy
By Femi Olugbile
The coronation of King Charles III has been a highly anticipated event. Ever since Queen Elizabeth, the much-loved long-reigning monarch died, Charles has been King. A formal enthronement was just a matter of time.
Most of the current population of Great Britain were not born when the crown was placed on the head of a beautiful young Queen Elizabeth seventy years ago, following the death of her father, King George VI. The recordings of the 1953 ceremonial spectacle retain, to this day, a Cinderella-like air of other-worldly opulence and power that has virtually no parallel. The decision to broadcast live was not without controversy. Winston Churchill was worried that people could be watching the solemn event while drinking beer in their homes, something he thought would be sacrilegious.
Monarchy is an increasingly controversial and endangered arrangement in many parts of the world, from Africa to Europe and Asia. What was known by many societies as the original form of governance has disappeared, often in violent, tragic circumstances. In a few cases, it negotiated its survival by giving up much of its power over the people, while retaining some of its old perquisites and ceremonies. Surviving monarchies count themselves lucky they have not gone to way of the Romanovs in Russia, where the communists deliberately set out to wipe out the entire family line, or Haile Selassie ‘King of Kings, Lion of Judah’ in Ethiopia, whose throne was rudely abrogated by a left-wing coup led by a ruthless ideologue named Mengistu Haile Mariam.
The House of Windsor has survived by adjusting itself to an oxymoron known as ‘Constitutional Monarchy’. Queen Elizabeth II could not send someone who annoyed her to the London Tower to contemplate the error of their ways before beheading him, or her, as her forebears had done with perfect equanimity in the past. She was left to open Parliament and deploy stately commemorations of past wars and forgotten heroes, and for the most part to keep her mouth shut, except when it was time to read out statements penned by the government of the day.
What might otherwise have been seen as a humiliating climb down has enabled the British monarchy to survive and to become in some ways, the most visible monarchy on earth, even when Britannia no longer rules the waves, and the writ of the British Empire no longer applies over one third of the earth’s surface, as it did long ago.
How the House of Windsor has evolved to become the very emblem of monarchy when it no longer has an empire or wields any real power is one of the conundrums of the modern day.
It helps, of course, that they have had Elizabeth, the longest reigning monarch in their history, whose personal popularity burnished the image of the country and its erstwhile power. Her popularity has done a lot to keep even the most oppressed people from far-flung parts of the world from dwelling on the cruelties and racism of Empire, focussing their minds instead on how even they could become members of an all-embracing Commonwealth, led, naturally, by the British Monarch.
President Idi Amin Dada of Uganda once asked why he could not be Head of the Commonwealth, instead of Queen Elizabeth II. Nobody gave him an answer.
The Coronation of Charles goes on to live up to the highest traditions of British Ceremony.
The Procession, in the manner introduced by King Edward VII in 1902.
The King and his Queen ride in a carriage from Buckingham Palace, through the crowds, to Westminster Abbey.
The first Coronation at the Abbey was of William the Conqueror on Christmas Day, in 1066.
Charles is received by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
It is not to be assumed that being Archbishop of Canterbury is always a safe job, or that his relationship with his sovereign is guaranteed to be cordial. One predecessor, Archbishop Thomas Becket was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral on the orders of King Henry II – in 1170.
Welby himself is facing a rebellion in which most Anglicans in the rest of the world, including Nigeria, acting under the umbrella of GAFCON, have rejected his authority as head of the Anglican Church.
The procession goes into the Abbey.
The Anointing, with oil brought in specially by the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem.
Williams Shakespeare, naturally, had something to say about the anointing, in his play, King Richard.
‘Not all the water in the rough rude sea
Can wash the balm from an anointed King.’
Back to the Palace, in the Gold State Coach.
The celebrations come afterwards.
The Concert and Street Parties follow.
It is in the news that the leader and several protesting Republicans who reject the monarchy and carry banners saying ‘Not My King’ were pre-emptively arrested by the Police.
Some of the countries where the British King is Head of State are gearing up to become Republics and cast off the last vestige of the British Empire overseas.
The Commonwealth is intact, for now, even if Idi Amin’s question is still hanging in the air.
The Royal Family itself is in crisis. Harry – tell-all writer and rebel, is back off to America. Charles is not exactly in sync with the Conservative government over Rwanda deportation of immigrants and other policies. He is now required to keep his mouth shut, and keep a permanent grin on his face, like his mother.
The Monarchy is trying to transform, to stay relevant to the times. Will their efforts be enough for those demanding a woke Republic where every tendency is accommodated?
And is it true, or not, that without the Monarchy, Britain would be just an inconsequential little island nation?
Will Charles be the last King?
There are interesting times ahead for the world’s most admired Monarchy.
Welcome to the era of King Charles III.