The coronation of King Charles
All eyes will be on England for King Charles’s coronation this spring – and not just across the pond. Just as millions around the world watched the UK’s biggest royal weddings and Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, we’ll be doing the same with this event. But we might have a few more questions than our British friends about all the pomp and circumstance. Where do these traditions come from, and how are they being adapted for a new monarch, the first to be crowned in Britain in 70 years?
“The coronation has traditional, religious and symbolic significance,” says royal expert Nicoletta Gullace, an associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire who specialises in modern British history. “It is the moment the crown is placed upon the king’s head, and it signifies Charles’s authority in a long line of rulers ostensibly going back to the time of William the Conqueror in 1066.”
In addition to the ceremony itself, there will be plenty of festivities – but not quite to the extent we’ve seen at other royal events, including Queen Elizabeth’s coronation back in 1953. “Charles wants to have a ‘slimmed-down monarchy,’ so he is trying to avoid the appearance of extravagance,” Gullace says. Still, no one does royal celebrations like the Brits, so no doubt the festivities will be filled with all the grandeur we’ve come to expect.
Let’s delve into what you can expect from King Charles III’s coronation, from the timeline of events to the history of the rituals and the crown jewels, as well as the potential snubs and drama. (Harry and Meghan, we’re looking at you!) Plus, find out who from the British royal family tree will be there, what Queen Camilla’s coronation crown will be like and if King Charles III’s role in government will change after the big day.
When is King Charles’s coronation?
King Charles’s coronation date is Saturday, May 6, 2023. “Plans for the coronation of Charles III and his Queen Consort Camilla have been underway for a long time under the code name Operation Golden Orb,” says historian and author Tony McMahon.
How long will it take for Charles to be coronated?
“The coronation will be much shorter than the three-hour royal marathon Queen Elizabeth II endured,” McMahon says. “There’s clearly a sense that attention spans are not what they once were. Shorter will be better.” Expect the ceremony to last an hour or two max. The celebratory events, however, will continue through Monday, May 8.
Interestingly, May 6 is also the birthday of Prince Harry’s son, Archie, who will be turning 4 years old. It is also the date that the late Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister) married Antony Armstrong-Jones, as well as the wedding anniversary of Camilla’s daughter, Laura.
Why did the royal family wait so long to have a coronation?
It’s a tradition that dates back centuries. “Shortly after the previous king or queen dies, the new monarch is proclaimed at St. James’s Palace and throughout the kingdom, but there is a gap between that event and the coronation,” McMahon says. “That doesn’t mean we are without a sovereign. The Latin phrase rex nunquam moritur applies in these circumstances, which broadly translates as ‘the king never dies.’ So, we have a monarch – it’s just that a crown has yet to be popped on their head.”
Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was 18 months after the death of her father, so the gap between Charles’s accession to the throne upon her death on September 8, 2022, and his coronation isn’t unusual or particularly long, McMahon says. In fact, it’s quite a bit shorter, at just around eight months.
“The reason for a gap between the accession and coronation is the requirement for a period of respectful mourning, and on the more practical side, getting things organised for the big day,” McMahon says. “If anything, coronations have become bigger logistical nightmares [starting] in the 20th century. Getting guests to Westminster Abbey from all over the world was not a concern for a medieval monarch.” Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 was the first to be televised, which added considerations for cameras, lighting and audio.
Will the coronation be televised?
Absolutely. Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, famously championed televising her coronation, and major royal events have been standard viewing ever since. In addition to the BBC in England, many international news channels will likely televise the event. (No official announcements have yet been made.) You’ll probably also be able to watch it online via live streaming.
But King Charles’s coronation probably won’t come close to the recent royal weddings in terms of viewership numbers.
“Given the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last summer, her extremely long funeral event and all of Prince Harry’s Netflix specials and book talks, people may be royaled out,” Gullace says. King Charles also doesn’t have the same popularity as the younger royals or the late queen.
What will happen at the coronation?
The coronation isn’t just a political event – it’s also a religious ceremony. “King Charles is literally being anointed as God’s chosen ruler,” McMahon says. “That may seem weird to us today in the 21st century, but it’s still what legitimises having a monarch.” At the ceremony, Charles will be affirmed as the head of the Church of England, and his power as the symbolic ruler of the realm will be solidified, Gullace says. “It is a solemn occasion, but it will be accompanied by a festive public holiday, a pop concert, a light show at Windsor Castle, extended pub hours and community luncheons,” she says. Here’s a full timeline of the events.
The procession to Westminster Abbey
From Buckingham Palace, “King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla will process to Westminster Abbey through central London,” McMahon says. This is known as the King’s Procession. Westminster Abbey, by the way, also hosted Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s wedding, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding and the queen’s funeral – and it is the spot for royal coronations. “The first coronation at Westminster Abbey was in 1066, when William the Conqueror [who invaded England from Normandy] was crowned king,” says royal expert and author Marlene Koenig. “Charles will be the 40th monarch crowned at the abbey.”
Fun fact: Only two kings since 1066 were not crowned – Edward V, who reigned for two months in 1483 before mysteriously vanishing, and Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936. Having King Charles’s coronation here connects him with his ancestors through the ritual and the place where it will be held, Gullace says.
The coronation ceremony
The ceremony itself has been largely the same since medieval times. “The service is defined in a medieval Latin manuscript called the Liber Regalis, basically a manual for a coronation, which is first and foremost a religious service,” Koenig says. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, will anoint King Charles with holy oil, and he will swear to uphold the Christian faith and the laws of England.
After taking the oath and being anointed, Charles will be given the orb, coronation ring and sceptre, which symbolise his divinely ordained role as king of the United Kingdom. He will then be crowned – but not quite in the same way as the last king. “Back in 1937, the late Queen Elizabeth’s father King George VI was [also] crowned as Emperor of India, King of the Union of South Africa, the dominions of Canada and Australia, and all the colonies in the empire,” McMahon says. “Charles will be king of a lot less. He may be the last British head of state in some countries where sentiment is growing for a president.”
A representation of other faiths
This will be a change from previous coronations. “King Charles III is the head of the Church of England, but he’s always been keen to position himself as a royal for all faiths,” he says. “There are going to be more representatives of faiths this time round, other than the Church of England. So, expect to see leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Roman Catholic faiths playing some kind of role.”