Royal Reporter's Notebook: Behind the Scenes of King Charles and Camilla's Coronation
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When Queen Victoria was crowned in 1838, the grand proceedings at Westminster Abbey were an under-rehearsed, badly organised mess. Senior clergymen arrived to the ceremony extremely late having gotten "lost" on the way, the monarch’s maids of honour repeatedly tripped over their trains during the procession, and Victoria’s coronation ring was crafted in the completely wrong size.
Despite the monarch being measured for the gold, sapphire, ruby, and diamond piece ahead of time, the royal goldsmith had incorrectly made the band for her pinky instead of her ring finger, meaning that the Archbishop of Canterbury literally had to jam the too-tight jewelry on to complete the ceremony. The queen later revealed that the ring was so painfully tight that it had literally scraped the skin off her finger as it was wedged down to fit.
So as Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury placed the heavy St Edward’s Crown on King Charles III's head in Westminster Abbey this May 6, it was understandable that he checked its fit several times before stepping away and declaring, "God save the king."
Unlike coronations past—including the disastrous time molten wax poured onto the heads of guests at George IV’s crowning because the candle holders were too small—there were 150 TV cameras dotted around the abbey and along the procession at King Charles's coronation this past weekend to capture every moment, be it good or bad, in crystal-clear 4K resolution. The room for error was nil. And thankfully, due to the weeks of rehearsals that the royals took part in ahead of the coronation, the day went ahead smoothly. In fact, apart from Prince William and Princess Kate joining the procession late (children were to blame, a source tells me), and Camilla’s ladies in attendance—sister Annabel Elliot, and queen’s companion the Marchioness of Lansdowne—accidentally creating an unfortunate wedgie moment out of her silk Bruce Oldfield dress on the way into the Abbey, very few hitches took place.
Every precaution had been taken to avoid mistakes. From the mountain of flash cards held up throughout the ceremony to ensure that no word was misspoken or missed, to the discreet marks placed on the floor of the abbey so key members of the congregation knew where to stand. Even Prince Louis, whose playful antics at Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee concert last year stole the show, was (mostly) on his best behaviour. Aides had warned us beforehand that the five-year-old may "retire" during the two-hour service due to his age, but apart from a short 20-minute break, he stuck the entire thing out.
Still, despite so much being planned and practiced in advance, nothing could hide the nerves that were evident on King Charles's face as he entered the abbey. Though this was a moment he had been waiting for his entire adult life, the king looked deep in thought and even confused at times. Only briefly did his steely facade crack into a small smile at the sight of grandson Prince George who was one of the four pages of honour helping hold his robe of state. George—the second in line to the throne—made sure that not even one crease was visible on the purple silk velvet piece each time grandfather Charles moved.
For the majority of guests at Westminster Abbey, it was their first time witnessing the ancient ritual. Prince Harry, who had flown in the day before the proceedings, seemed laid-back and comfortable sitting in the third row of family members next to Princess Beatrice and Edward Mapelli Mozzi, and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank. Sources said he was keen to support his father on the most important day of his life, but he was equally eager to get back home in time to see his son, Prince Archie, on his fourth birthday.
Charles's reign began on a sombre note in September 2022 after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and Saturday’s coronation was meant to be the celebratory beginning for the sovereign. But, whether it was collective nerves or the pouring rain outside, a sense of joy was tough to sense inside the abbey. Even amongst the family members, few smiles were shared (at one point Princess Anne’s daughter, Zara Tindall, looked like she was falling asleep).
The tender moment between Prince William and his father as he read the Homage of Royal Blood was a rare moment of warmth during the service. Swearing his unconditional loyalty to King Charles, William pledged to be his "liege man of life and limb" before kissing the monarch on his cheek.
For Queen Camilla it seemed at times she was unsure of what emotions to express. No doubt aware of the mixed emotions members of the public had about her crowning, she may have thought showing too big a smile would send the wrong message.
But any nerves that were visible on her face at the start of the service soon dissipated for Camilla after smiles from the grandsons and great-nephew she selected as her pages of honour. Teenagers Louis and Gus (the latter who was nursing a broken arm following a bike accident) grinned at their grandmother several times during the ceremony, clearly putting her at ease. By the time she was anointed and crowned, and her decades-long transformation from the heir apparent’s mistress to queen was complete, the weight on her shoulders seemed to have melted away.
Of course, the day didn’t come without some controversy—Prince Andrew showed up in his royal garter robes after being asked not to attract attention, and dozens of Republic activists were arrested near the procession despite having the legal right to peacefully protest.
Apart from that, much emphasis was put on the diversity and inclusivity that would be on display during this "modern" coronation. With guests from all backgrounds, representatives of all faiths, and even a gospel choir during the ceremony (though curiously not actually performing gospel music), many trumpeted this coronation as proof that the king embraces diversity. And while Charles clearly has an interest in enhancing diversity, it was impossible to ignore the fact that the royal family’s only family member of color (and mother of the House of Windsor’s only mixed-race children), Duchess Meghan, didn’t feel comfortable or welcome enough to attend.
The road ahead for the British monarchy may be rocky (countless polls continue to reveal a fast growing apathy toward the royal family in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth), but as King Charles and Queen Camilla waved from the Buckingham Palace balcony to the public, the thunderous roar of the Royal Air Forces’ Red Arrows aerobatic team racing overhead and the cheers from The Mall were enough to temporarily drown out any concerns about the future. Beyond that, it remains to be seen.
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