As I wrote last week, there was no way in the world I was going to miss the Coronation of King Charles III. Well, now all the pomp, ritual and ceremony is over, the Coronation quiche all eaten up and the weekend’s best fashion moments pored over — how do I feel?
1. It was as close as I will ever get to a religious experience
Even though I’ve been a monarchist all my life, I was not sure how I was going to feel about this Coronation. In the aftermath, I can say: it was more glorious and more moving than I ever could have imagined. It was simply sublime, and the closest that this agnostic shall ever come to a religious experience.
It didn’t feel like that at the start of the ceremony though. When Charles stepped down from the carriage in his ermine robes looking slightly grouchy, I was disappointed. I couldn’t feel anything! The whole thing just looked like some weird game of dress-up for some famous pensioners.
Then the music came in and suddenly I was in a whole other space; one that I had never previously visited, although I had long suspected its existence. I don’t know whether it was relief that I was now feeling something or whether it was the beauty of what was happening. Whatever it was, the tears began to fall.
A different kind of euphoria
I have felt euphoric at concerts before. I know the feeling of being so moved by music that you have no choice except to surrender yourself to it. This was different. This was a clear sense of having transcended everyday reality for something higher; something mysterious and grand. At once, I felt both rooted in the real and modern world, but connected to the long, broad sweep of British history. And — surprisingly to me — to the idea of faith which is so inextricably linked to the British monarchy.
Like many others in modern Britain, I am not a member of any religion. I was never christened, only visited church occasionally, and do not plan on changing this. Religion is a house whose windows I am content to peer through and where I am glad to attend the odd party — but I don’t want to move in.
This religious abstention did not matter one bit at the Coronation. The turbulence and unpleasantness of Brexit and the pandemic has completely destroyed my trust in the institutions of state, our leaders, and – to a certain extent – those around me. Perhaps this disintegration of belief and rationality created a vacuum into which the possibility of faith was able to rush on this day. More than at any other point in my heretical little life, I felt close to the divine and as if I too was capable of believing.
The moment Charles disrobed to a simple shirt to disappear behind the embroidered screen for his private moment with God was particularly powerful. Accompanied by Handel’s magnificent music to “Zadok the Priest”: you would have to have been either dead or an algorithm not have have been in some way moved.
2. It was a perfect reflection of Britain in 2023
It might come across as stating the bloody obvious to say that this Coronation was thoroughly British. Of course it was, what would you expect? However, what made this event extraordinary was how the event managed to perfectly capture Britain as it is right now — in 2023.
At once ancient — and yet modern. So many different cultures and ethnicities — a mixed bag with all kinds of things that don’t appear to go together but somehow still work to form a vibrant (somewhat chaotic) whole.
There was no better representation of this than Rishi Sunak, Britain’s current Prime Minister. Although a practising Hindu, Sunak gave a reading from the New Testament, the Epistle to the Colossians. Britain can fairly claim to be the one of the only countries in the world where this is possible, and in no way a contradiction.
Even the Coronation Concert, derided by some as an underwhelming display by a bunch of B-listers was, in its way, exquisitely British in nature. No longer in the premier league, a little past its prime — but carrying on anyway. Still having a good singalong and a laugh even though it’s pouring down with rain and things haven’t gone quite to plan.
3. In being so profoundly human, the monarchy demonstrated its relevance in the 21st century
The British monarchy, with all its funny rituals and flummery can seem like a useless anachronism that has no place in the modern world. Even though I am a monarchist, I accept and share concerns about how the monarchy represents hereditary privilege and inequality as well as its fundamentally undemocratic nature. All that is quite true. Yet this is also true: no state form is perfect; there are only the advantages and disadvantages of the various types.
I maintain: as long as the monarchy can continue to inspire the kind of emotions experienced by so many at the weekend, it is relevant. Because emotions are at the core of the human experience, and humans are what makes up society.
Democracy is (or should be…) about capturing people’s rational minds. The monarchy captures people’s hearts and imaginations in a way an elected head of state cannot. Britain is unusual — and lucky — in that it is able to combine the two in its eccentric, medieval state form.
4. It gave Brits a reason to feel proud once again
Unless perhaps you are American, it is hard to understand just what a clusterf*ck being British has been in the last 7 years. The enormous, prolonged and bitter scrap over Brexit, a list of domestic problems as long as your arm, the pandemic division, chaos in Westminster…after all that, Brits are exhausted, demoralised, alienated from one another and desperate for something positive and cheery.
Many people were sceptical that the Coronation could deliver that kind of shot in the arm of optimism. Many more people just weren’t bothered about it. There also seemed to be a a sizeable number of people actively hoping that it would all be a complete washout. They might have thought they looked clever, but by cleaving so determinedly to negativity, the naysayers simply showed us their own, deeply unpleasant true colours.
On this momentous occasion, it was open to us all to choose between looking down in stubborn gloom and looking upwards with joy and pride. I, along with millions of others, chose the latter.
5. It demonstrated once again the monarchy’s awesome capacity for storytelling
If there’s one thing that the monarchy can do peerlessly, it is to tell a story. In its members’ trials, tribulations, strengths and weaknesses, we can see reflected the challenges of each generation unfolding in real time. Their births, marriages, deaths, disputes, trials and tribulations — in essence, we see the stories of our own lives reflected in theirs.
The Coronation itself was a concentration of some of the most powerful and eternal elements of storytelling: a sense of destiny, of community, of the bond between father and son, and of resilience and renewal.
6. The Coronation was cause to reflect with joy and gratitude
I thought I would be more tearful about the death of the Queen Elizabeth II. As it was, I only became tearful when I realised that she was finally heading for the great stairway to heaven and at two brief moments during her funeral.
Rather, the dominant feeling I observed from the time of the Queen’s death through the funeral and the subsequent period of mourning was gratitude. I was profoundly thankful to have grown up in a country headed up by this incredible, dutiful, intelligent woman.
I was slightly sceptical whether these feelings of love for the monarchy would attach to Charles, or whether they were exclusively reserved for the Queen and would therefore die along with her.
Count your blessings, Britain
The Coronation gave me my answer: the former. Charles is stepping into some very big shoes and has yet to prove himself as monarch during a reign which will inevitably be much, much shorter than his mother’s. Iconic status and all-round admiration isn’t handed to you just like that — not even if you are the King! He has to earn it.
However, as I watch the ceremony, I once again felt that same, immense thankfulness. This odd constitutional arrangement with the monarchy at its core has guaranteed the British a stability, liberty and peace that so many other countries lack, or have lost along the way. Brits have been, and are, unbelievably fortunate to nestle in its delicate cradle, sheltered from the world’s ills. My gratitude attaches to the institution, and thus transcends the identity of the current monarch.
Despite the myriad problems Britain has currently, it is worth reflecting on why thousands of people risk their lives every year to get there in search of a better life. They want to enjoy what the British have and take for granted. Every single Brit, whether pro-monarchy or not should take a moment to absorb that thought and count their blessings.
7. It said just as much about the monarch himself as it did about the nation
Although so much of the Coronation was a reflection of the nation, various touches were a clear nod to Charles himself.
The olives used to make holy oil with which the new King was anointed were harvested from Mount of Olives at the monastery of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem where Charles’ paternal grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, is buried.
The Greek orthodox chant incorporated in the ceremony was a nod to Charles’ father, Philip who came from Greece. Such subtle details were there to remind us of the duality of the monarch: the sovereign who belongs to, and is obligated towards, the nation — and the mere mortal beneath that Royal mantle.
8. Britain is headed up by some seriously impressive women
As we observed with the late Queen, the job of sovereign is a job for two. She was remarkably fortunate to have been able to share the burden with her husband, Prince Philip. In marrying her, he sacrificed his own ambitions for a life of cutting ribbons, making small talk, and walking two steps behind his wife.
Now the Queen has passed on to her male succession line, we look upon a monarchy bolstered by a phalanx of strong women, fully committed to supporting their husbands in their roles. Camilla, Catherine, Sophie — they are Charlie’s angels! Even little Charlotte is already showing an admirable dignity in the way she sternly shepherds her mischievous younger brother Louis while in public.
Looking beyond the Royal ladies, the surprise of the Coronation was the conservative MP Penny Mordaunt. Already highly praised for her dignified handling of the declarations and processes in the Privy Council upon the Queen’s death, Mordaunt was chosen to hold up the Sword of State during the Coronation service. This she did with utter grace, resplendent in a teal brocaded outfit redolent of Anne Boleyn. Not to mention stamina — one may only guess at the biceps of steel concealed under that cape.
9. Music has the power to touch us in a way which the spoken word cannot
As mentioned above, bearing witness to this remarkable ceremony felt almost transcendental. A large part of this was the magnificent music which accompanied it: it helped us to feel like we could reach out to touch the divine for ourselves.
Heavenly choir song, a superb solo by the South African opera singer Pretty Yendé, a moving rendition of Kyrie eleison by the Welsh singer Bryn Terfel, joyful gospel music too, all given the most tremendous stage under the vaulted ceiling of Westminster Abbey.
Musically, this Coronation had everything and — literally — hit all the right notes.
10. The Coronation presented us with visions of the past, of the present, and the future
When the cameras filming the Coronation from inside Westminster Abbey panned out to give us a full view of the proceedings— notwithstanding the modern fashions and accoutrements — it could have been 1100, or 1750 or 1915, it was so timeless.
So much of the ceremony concerned ancient rites, regalia hundreds of years old — and, as far as Zadok the Priest was concerned — words spoken at every coronation since 953 AD. It was unquestionably about the past and how it has brought us to where we are.
However, in seamlessly weaving together elements of modern multicultural, multifaith Britain, the Coronation was also firmly rooted in the present.
But what are the past and present without the future? The Royals made sure to give us a clear view of that too: with the prominent participation of the Prince and Princess of Wales and their three children, the clear message was: this is what’s coming next. We have endured. We will endure.
Seen on this day, it would seem as the though the monarchy’s future is secure. We might even, in a fit of open optimism that would be quite un-British, be moved to say that it is bright.
God Save The King!
Photo: RuthBlack on Envato Elements