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What could the coronation of King Charles look like?

Virtually nothing is publicly known about plans for King Charles's coronation. But the ceremony steeped in royal and religious tradition seems likely to have at least a few marked changes from the three-hour spectacle that saw his late mother, Queen Elizabeth, crowned on a rainy day in June of 1953.

Solemn religious ceremony in Westminster Abbey could come late next spring

Then-Prince Charles delivered the Queen's speech at the state opening of Parliament in London on May 10. His coronation as King will take place on May 6, 2023. (Hannah McKay/AFP/Getty Images)

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Virtually nothing is publicly known about plans for King Charles's coronation. 

But the ceremony steeped in royal and religious tradition seems likely to have at least a few marked changes from the three-hour spectacle that saw his late mother, Queen Elizabeth, crowned on a rainy day in June of 1953.

"The King has said that he expects it to be shortened. He also expects it to be quicker," Bob Morris, a member of the honorary staff of the constitution unit at University College London, said in an interview. "There was a 16-month interval between [Elizabeth's] accession and the actual coronation."

Those who watch these kinds of things carefully see sometime late next spring as a good possibility for Charles's coronation. That would put it about nine months after Elizabeth's death on Sept. 8 at her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

"I think they'll probably do it pretty soon, really. I mean the speculation here is that they would do it in June of next year," said Morris.

When they do it, they will be carrying out, as the Royal Family notes on its website, a "solemn religious ceremony" led by the archbishop of Canterbury that "has remained essentially the same over a thousand years." 

Queen Elizabeth sits in Westminster Abbey on her coronation day on June 2, 1953. (Intercontinentale/AFP/Getty Images)

And for the last 900 of those years, it's been at Westminster Abbey in London. More than 8,000 people attended Elizabeth's coronation there on June 2, 1953, but for health and safety reasons in the abbey, among other considerations, an audience more in the 2,000-plus range is expected for Charles.

While it is a Church of England ceremony, there will inevitably be much focus on faith and how Charles sees his role in that regard.

Several years ago, he appeared to send a signal about that, suggesting he would become "defender of faith" at his coronation, rather than "defender of the faith," recognizing the multicultural nature of the country and Commonwealth he will reign over.

Morris said the coronation ceremony used to be thought of as a moment "to sacralize the monarch."

"It's no longer, I think, thought of in that way by the Church of England. It used to be exclusively a Church of England ceremony, until the last occasion when the moderator of the Church of Scotland was admitted to present the Queen with a Bible, and then scuttle off again."

Now, however, said Morris, "we think that the church is much more open-minded about the place of other religions, and we expect them to be present there, but they will not be celebrants."

Elizabeth wore the Imperial State Crown and carried the Sovereign's Orb in her left hand as she left Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, at the end of her coronation ceremony. (The Associated Press)

Morris said the current archbishop, Justin Welby, "has very sensibly held a committee which reviewed the [coronation] rite. We believe that he has done much to shorten it, but we don't know how short."

Attention will also focus on the coronation oath. Elizabeth's coronation oath, for the first time, stated the names of the realms and dominions, meaning she became the first monarch to be crowned Queen of Canada. 

At the heart of the coronation are symbols steeped in their own history. 

The solid-gold St. Edward's Crown that is placed on the monarch's head during the ceremony weighs more than two kilograms, and was first worn by King Charles II in 1661. But Elizabeth left the abbey wearing the more famous Imperial State Crown, which had been remade with more than 3,000 gems transferred from the old Imperial Crown that dated to the 17th century.

The Sovereign's Orb, which glitters with emeralds, rubies, diamonds and pearls, was also made in 1661. The coronation ring is slightly more modern, having been made in 1831 for William IV.

As much as the coronation is steeped in tradition, there is also the sense that it will be judged against the social and economic climate of current-day Britain, which faces a cost-of-living crisis and worries about how people will afford to heat their homes over the winter.

WATCH | As the U.K. mourns Queen Elizabeth, the country grapples with cost-of-living crisis:

Queen Elizabeth’s costly funeral comes as many Brits struggle to get by

3 months ago
Duration 2:55
As the U.K. pauses to mourn and prepare for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, the country is also grappling with a major economic crisis, and many people are struggling to get by.

"There was talk within 48 hours of the Queen's passing that the Crown is going to have to be very careful with the coronation to make sure it sets the right tone and doesn't misfire," Justin Vovk, a royal historian and PhD candidate in history at McMaster University in Hamilton, said in an interview.

"We've seen it in the past … George IV in 1821 … he had what was the most expensive coronation of any British monarch. And when he died 10 years later, people just hated him," said Vovk. 

"He was considered the most unlamented monarch in recent British history at that time because of how extravagant he was."

Now, said Vovk, the greatest potential for change in how Charles's coronation is carried out, particularly compared to previous ones, lies in the "extravagance and the money they spend on the pomp and the pageantry."

"We don't know what things are going to look like in the spring and summer, so a really extravagant, costly coronation would definitely run the risk of alienating people," said Vovk. 

"I think that we're going to see a more cost-efficient coronation than we've seen in the past, just as a matter of respect and to show that the Crown is aware of what people are going through."

King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, speak with Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, as they leave Westminster Hall on Sept. 14. The archbishop of Canterbury leads the coronation ceremony. (Danny Lawson/The Associated Press)

Charles knows "he's got an uphill battle," said Vovk, as he steps into the shoes of his mother. 

"I think he's keenly aware that he needs to tread very carefully and just make sure everything is planned so that it doesn't offend anyone and doesn't alienate people, but that [the coronation is] an event that will rally people to the monarchy instead of making them question its relevance."

Such questioning is "pretty normal" when a monarch dies, said Vovk.

"We've seen this going back four, five hundred years. Any time the monarch dies, it's always a moment of vulnerability for the Crown as an institution. So I'm not surprised at all that people are having these debates and these questions." 

Sending subtle messages

In this photo taken on Sept. 11, King Charles carries out official government duties from his red box at Buckingham Palace in London. (Victoria Jones/The Associated Press)

When the first official picture of King Charles doing his duties of state was released, it was more than just a photo of a man deep in concentration at his desk.

As is so often the case with such royal photos, attempts at symbolism and subtle messaging were also at work.

"I think they're just trying to say [Charles is] quietly getting on with business, quietly trying to move the affairs of state forward gently," British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview.

The photo of Charles with his red box of official papers was released about a week ago.

"Royal photographs have often been seen as sending messages, expressed in symbols rather than direct words," BBC royal correspondent Sean Coughlan wrote on the network's website

"It is not a traditional, formal photo with the monarch sitting stiffly, facing forward at the desk. Instead he's seen as though captured in a moment of concentration and movement, not looking at the camera."

Two new British coins bearing the official coinage portrait of King Charles are shown during a media preview in London on Thursday. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

After being in the public eye leading up to Elizabeth's funeral on Sept. 19, Charles retreated to Scotland for several days. At the same time, signs of the new monarchy have been emerging, whether through the release of  Charles's new cypher or Britain's Royal Mint revealing the first coins featuring his image.

Borkowski said Charles  has been "very smooth" in the way he has moved into the role of King.

"He was very empathetic to people. He surprised lots of people."

King Charles meets well-wishers as he returns to Clarence House from Buckingham Palace in London on Sept. 10. (Jonathan Brady/The Associated Press)

Charles did that by "going out, being touchy-feely with the crowd as he came back from Scotland and went into Buckingham Palace …  by being very tactile, being very responsive to them, being very, very empathetic [in] the way that he spoke," Borkowski said.

"It all seemed very authentic where we thought he might struggle slightly."

Borkowski also pointed to the way in which Charles brought Camilla, the Queen Consort, into many of the moments.

"And obviously people can see that he bashed some heads together and made sure that [his sons Prince William and Prince Harry] played ball and they put their differences to one side, certainly in public."

Prince William, left, and Kate, Princess of Wales, and Prince Harry, right, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, walk to greet the crowds after viewing floral tributes for Queen Elizabeth outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on Sept. 10. (Alberto Pezzali/The Associated Press)

Beyond efforts to create an image around Charles, the mourning period for Elizabeth and her funeral also reflected a monarchy focused on a broader public message.

"It was an epic event," said Borkowski. "It's what the Royal Family do very, very well. When the Royal Family are in control with a medium that they understand, which is the mainstream media … and [they are] not having to deal with disruption, they're peerless."

Borkowski said the Royal Family knew they had to make an "immediate impact," given the fact Charles — even though he's stepped up — still has "a long way to go to have any inkling of the respect that his mother had."

They did "surprising things," Borkowski said, filling the media with content, such as the various vigils members of the family held around the Queen's coffin in the days leading to the funeral.

"The Queen dying in Balmoral allowed this sort of event to stretch from Scotland, right the way to Edinburgh through to London."

King Charles, front, Prince Edward, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew hold a vigil at St. Giles Cathedral in honour of Queen Elizabeth as members of the public walk past on Sept. 12 in Edinburgh. (Jane Barlow/Getty Images)

And now, Borkowski said, "what they're doing is just trying to feel their way gently and trying to get to a situation where they still remain in control before the narrative is taken away from them."

A few more details

Queen Elizabeth waits before receiving Liz Truss and inviting her to become the next British prime minister at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on Sept. 6. Elizabeth died two days later. (Jane Barlow/The Associated Press)

Three weeks after Queen Elizabeth died, the release of her death certificate revealed a few more details.

According to the official document from the National Records of Scotland, Elizabeth, who was 96, died of "old age." 

The time of her death is recorded on the certificate as 3:10 p.m. local time on Sept. 8 at Balmoral Castle. Public notification of her death came three hours and 20 minutes later.

Her daughter, Princess Anne, is identified as the person who provided the information about her death.

Media reports following the release of the certificate focused, among other things, on how the precise time of her death would suggest and confirm that most of the closest members of her family — except for Charles and Anne — did not make it to Balmoral before she died.

The death certificate for Queen Elizabeth says she died of 'old age' at 3:10 p.m. on Sept. 8. (National Records of Scotland/Reuters)

Attention also focused on the cause of death being identified as "old age," something the BBC said "is only usually given as the sole cause of death in very limited circumstances," such as the certifying doctor having personally cared for the person over a long period of time or a gradual decline having been observed.

Elizabeth was buried in the King George VI Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle after her funeral on Sept. 19. She was laid to rest with her husband, Prince Philip, and her parents.

A new black marble ledger stone inscribed with all their names was placed in the chapel, which the public could view Thursday for the first time since before the funeral.

A new ledger stone was placed in the King George VI Memorial Chapel inside St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle after Queen Elizabeth's burial there, alongside her husband Prince Philip. (Royal Collection Trust/Dean and canons of Windsor/Reuters)

Royally quotable

"My wife and I were most concerned to hear of the appalling devastation caused by storm Fiona and particularly wanted to send our profound sympathy to the people of Atlantic Canada whose lives, livelihoods and properties have been so badly affected by this disaster. We have fond memories of our recent visit to your beautiful region and know that your resilience and sense of community will help you through these unbelievably difficult times."

– King Charles, in a message he sent to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon after post-tropical storm Fiona hit Atlantic Canada last weekend.

Royal reads

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, middle, receives a blanket from Indigenous leaders during a visit to Bernard Constant Community School at James Smith Cree Nation, Sask., on Wednesday. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)
  1. Gov. Gen. Mary Simon visited James Smith Cree Nation this past week to meet with the families of those who died during a mass stabbing in Saskatchewan in early September. While there, Simon made a private visit to the victims' graves and spoke with community members about what they went through. [CBC]

  2. Prince William reflected on grief during his first public appearance with Kate, Princess of Wales, after the Queen's funeral, saying that "there are certain moments that catch you out. You are prepared for all, but certain moments catch you out." [BBC]

  3. Mike Tindall, the former England rugby player who is married to Princess Anne's daughter, Zara, sometimes offers some royal insight through his podcast, The Good, The Bad & The Rugby. In a special episode released the other day, he spoke of the "amazing way" the Royal Family came together after the Queen's death, the backlash he faced over the medals he wore to the funeral and how he has "loads of regrets about not asking her so many things." [BBC]

  4. Denmark's Queen Margrethe, Europe's only reigning queen and the continent's longest-serving monarch, has stripped four of her eight grandchildren of their titles, the palace announced. [The Guardian]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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