King Charles III, the man who waited nearly 74 years to become king, was crowned in Westminster Abbey on Saturday with everything Britain can muster.
Outside the abbey, thousands of soldiers, tens of thousands of spectators and a few demonstrators crowded in the rain along The Mall, the wide avenue leading to Buckingham Palace in central London, to see Charles and Camilla, the Queen’s wife, as they did. The two kilometer journey to the church aboard the Diamond Jubilee state coach.
At the coronation ceremony, Charles pledged to rule the people of the United Kingdom with “justice and mercy”.
Cries of “God Save the King” and bangs rang out after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby placed St Edward’s Crown on Charles’ head, while Camilla received Queen Mary’s crown for his coronation.
As the day began, the abbey was buzzing with excitement and blossoming with fragrant flowers and colorful hats as international dignitaries, nobles and other notables gathered for the arrival.
Among those in attendance were actors Judi Dench and Emma Thompson and musicians Lionel Richie and Nick Cave, who sat alongside politicians and judges in wigs, soldiers with shiny medals attached to their red tunics and members of the House of Lords in their red robes.
Among the dignitaries and world leaders attending are US First Lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Governor General of Canada Marie Simon, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and eight former and current British prime ministers.
The heir to the throne, Prince William, his wife Catherine and their three children were present. The couple’s eldest son, Prince George, was one of the four Pages of Honor in which he wore his grandfather’s robes.
During the service, William knelt before his father to declare his loyalty to the king.
“I will carry you as a man of life and limbs,” said William. “Then help me, God.”
Prince Harry, the monarch’s youngest son – who has publicly argued with the family – walked alone to his seat after entering the abbey. When Charles and other members of the royal family joined the motorcade, Harry waited outside the abbey until a car arrived to remove him.
Harry’s wife Meghan and their children have remained at home in California, where the couple have lived since leaving the royal family in 2020.
After the service, Charles changed into a lighter imperial crown for the trip back to Buckingham Palace on the Gold State coach. Once inside the palace, they, along with the younger generations of royals, emerged onto the balcony to wave to the crowds below and watch the military planes fly by.
Earlier, anti-monarchy group Republic said six of its members, including chief executive Graham Smith, had been arrested near Trafalgar Square in central London as they prepared to protest against the coronation.
On the south side of the square, thousands of people swelled behind metal fences along the procession route. In the center of the crowd, dozens of anti-monarchy protesters held long yellow banners reading “Not for me” which they chanted over and over.
Part of the crowd chanted “Yes he is” or “My king and I am proud of him”.
Clad in their finest Union Jack gear, as well as raincoats and robes, thousands of demonstrators were easily drowned out by the noise of the demonstration, but became alarmed as the demonstrators occupied a privileged space and blocked some of the spectators with their flags.
“They can protest, but they can’t carry their flag,” cried Karen from Devon in the southwest of England.
People will stop and watch.
“Even in a world where people are satiated with on-demand entertainment, people will stop and watch,” said former BBC royal correspondent Michael Cole. He described the coronation as a “magnificent procession and ritual” and “a ceremony unlike anywhere in the world”.
But like the best dramas, it was a show with a message.
For 1,000 years and more, British monarchs have been crowned in lavish ceremonies that confirm their right to rule. Although the monarch no longer holds executive or political power, he remains the head of state of the United Kingdom and a symbol of national identity.
At a time when double-digit inflation has impoverished everyone in the UK, Charles is keen to show that he can still be a unifying force in a multicultural nation very different from the one that welcomed his mother.
It was therefore shorter and less formal than the three-hour coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1953, Westminster Abbey was fitted with temporary stands to increase seating capacity to over 8,000. The aristocrats were dressed in scarlet robes and crowns, and the coronation procession climbed eight miles through central London so that some three million people could cheer the glamorous 25-year-old queen.
Queen Elizabeth II died last September at the age of 96, after seven decades of her reign.
Organizers cut Charles’ service to less than two hours and sent out 2,300 invites. Aristocrats were expected to avoid formal dress, and the procession took a shorter route directly to Buckingham Palace from the abbey. This followed Charles’s instructions to the downsizing party as he sought to create a smaller and cheaper royal machine for the 21st century.
Charles abolished the traditional moment at the end of the service when the nobles were asked to kneel and pay homage to the king. Instead, the Archbishop of Canterbury called on everyone in the abbey and people watching on television to swear “true allegiance” to the King.
During the preaching service, Charles, dressed in scarlet and cream robes, swears on the Bible that he is a “true Protestant”. But a preface to the Coronation Oath was added saying that the Church of England would “endeavour to promote an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs can live freely”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Hindu leader, read a passage from the New Testament from the King James Bible.
Newly formed gospel choir HallelujahFor the first time, female priestesses participated in the ceremony. It was also the first to include representatives of the Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh religions.
Almost 20% of the UK population is now from minority ethnic groups, up from less than 1% in the 1950s. More than 300 languages are spoken in UK schools, and less than half of the population describes themselves as Christian.