How can a coronation be modernized?
Palace says ceremony for King Charles will look to future while being rooted in traditions
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It could be a tricky balance to strike: planning for a coronation that reflects the role of the monarch in today's society while also trying to ensure the service respects traditions of a ceremony steeped in 1,000 years of history.
So far, details of King Charles's coronation in Westminster Abbey in London on May 6 are few and far between.
Buckingham Palace did issue a statement last weekend outlining "coronation weekend plans." The palace also repeated its commitment to a service that "will reflect the monarch's role today and look toward the future, while being rooted in long-standing traditions and pageantry."
But few specifics for the Saturday morning ceremony at the heart of the occasion have emerged.
"We still don't have much detail about the coronation service itself. [That's] the thing that struck me," Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said in an interview.
There is a sense that this coronation will be shorter than the last one. That ceremony for Charles's mother, Queen Elizabeth, on June 2, 1953, took three hours. But how exactly might this one be shortened? Less time perhaps for hereditary peers doing homage — or paying their respects — to the new monarch?
On the face of it, says Bob Morris, a member of the honorary staff of the constitution unit at University College London, things seem "less well organized than in 1953."
Last time around, he noted, "they had much more time, of course, to deal with this," because the coronation took place more than a year after the death of Elizabeth's father, King George VI, in February 1952.
This time, there will be eight months between the death of one monarch and the coronation of the next.
"As time goes on, some of the options are foregone necessarily," said Morris, noting, for example, that there won't be an annex built at the west door of the abbey, as there was in 1953. "That means that the congregation must be much smaller." (Last time, more than 8,000 people were on hand; this time, attendance is likely to be more in the 2,000 range.)
One outstanding question that looms large for some observers is just who will be invited to the ceremony — and by extension, what that list of invitees may indicate about the priorities of Charles and the U.K. government.
"I come back to thinking that the crucial piece we need to know about is the invitees, you know, who's coming," said Morris.
"What does it say about his choices and the government's choices, too … because it's the government that approves the list," he added, noting that the government will of course "want to accommodate the King" as far as is possible.
The palace did announce plans for events over the two days following — the Coronation Big Lunch on Sunday, encouraging neighbours and communities across the U.K. to share food together, as well as a concert that evening, and the Big Help Out on Monday, encouraging volunteerism.
Perhaps in those events, there is a sense of some themes Charles and the palace may want to be in focus that weekend.
"It's togetherness, isn't it, of one kind or another? Neighbourliness," said Morris.
Some reports have suggested Charles may opt for military attire over the silk stockings and breeches previous monarchs donned for their coronations.
Prescott said he thinks those planning the coronation are "really trying to find that middle ground between having … a coronation that reflects the history of it while having something that has some connection to the 21st century."
But one of the problems they're grappling with, Prescott suggested, "is the sheer fact that this hasn't taken place for 70 years."
Had circumstances been different, and there had been two or three coronations in that time, there might have been opportunity for incremental changes in the ceremony to occur.
"1953 feels an incredibly long time ago in terms of how society has changed, and so there's a desire to keep some of the tradition, but we've not had really an opportunity to make up new traditions," Prescott said.
"That's the balance they're trying to strike and … that may play out in odd ways."
Of course, Prescott said, "there is the basic point that a coronation service itself is a bit of an anachronism.… How can you modernize something that is inherently quite unusual anyway?"
The weekend plans announced by the palace include relatively few references to the Commonwealth — something that also caught Prescott's attention.
"But, so far, the thing that strikes me is just how little detail we still have," he said.
"Maybe they're keeping things under wraps and there'll be some surprises. Who knows?"
How will Canada mark the coronation of King Charles?
The last time there was a coronation, Canadians marked the occasion on both sides of the Atlantic.
In London, on that rainy day in early June 1953, 900 members of the Canadian Forces lined the parade route or marched in the procession to Westminster Abbey, where Queen Elizabeth was anointed and crowned.
Canadians recognized the event at home, too. Thousands of revellers gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, while Quebec celebrants flocked to the Plains of Abraham and members of the Chinese community in Victoria did a celebratory lion dance.
"With solemn prayers, loyal tributes and the greatest military parade since World War Two, more than 150,000 Toronto citizens … honoured their newly crowned Queen," the Toronto Daily Star reported.
Horse races, fireworks and military tattoos were also held around the country.
"It was a very big deal; it was a moment of national excitement," Justin Vovk, a royal historian and PhD candidate in history at McMaster University in Hamilton, said in an interview.
The governor general of the day, Vincent Massey, declared it a national holiday, revived the use of a state landau for special occasions and issued silver spoons for all Canadian children born on that day. Medallions were distributed to schoolchildren.
Seventy years on, so much has changed in Canadian society.
"English Canada was … much more loyalist to the monarchy [in 1953] … than it is now. And it's probably a sign of … English Canada being much more British in orientation and in population," said David Johnson, a political science professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia.
So far, there is little indication of how the upcoming coronation for King Charles might be marked in Canada. No details have been announced.
"Information regarding Canadian plans to mark the King's coronation will be communicated in due course," a spokesperson for the Department of Canadian Heritage said via email this week.
Johnson expects there will be official recognition of the event, but not necessarily a national holiday, as there was in 1953.
"I would bet against it," he said in an interview.
More likely, he said, is recognition from the King's representatives in Canada.
"Certainly the Governor General and the lieutenant-governors will have something to say about it and will mark it in some way."
Johnson is also interested in seeing who is in the Canadian contingent invited to Westminster Abbey.
From Vovk's perspective, it's a little early to try to speculate on what awareness Canadians might have around the upcoming coronation.
"I think as we get closer to the day, and even once the Canadian government starts to announce some of its plans, then I think it will start to become more real for Canadians," he said.
But Vovk doesn't think there will be the "the same level of nationwide enthusiasm" as was observed in 1953.
"I think there's actually going to be a lot of tough conversations happening around this coronation that we've never seen before — conversations about the legacies of colonialism and inclusivity."
Vovk looks to the way in which the federal government marked Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee last year for a sense of how the coronation might be recognized this year, and expects that the government will take some cues from how the event is planned in the U.K.
"I think that we are going to see a program of coronation-themed events that are designed to really speak to and encourage and promote Indigenous culture and history in a way that hasn't been before," he said.
"I think we're going to see more activities and celebrations, for want of a better term, around questions of diversity and inclusivity," Vovk added, noting for example that in Buckingham Palace's recent announcement, there was mention that a choir performing during the coronation events will include LGBTQ singing groups.
Vovk also expects to see "events that are designed … to promote a sense of civic unity, a sense of neighbourliness, of coming together."
As happens with other high-profile royal events, the coronation is likely to spark discussion, debate and questions around the future of monarchy and Canada's ties to it.
Johnson welcomes opportunity for those on both sides of the issue — monarchists and republicans — to take another look at each other's perspectives.
"I think … the coronation and the weeks and days leading up to it will be a wonderful educational moment."
What are your thoughts about the coronation? Drop an email to The Royal Fascinator. We may include comments from readers and follow up on issues raised in editions leading up to May 6.
Sharing personal news and views
Two members of the Royal Family were offering up some personal news and insight on social media in recent days.
Princess Eugenie, the younger daughter of Prince Andrew, took to Instagram to share word that she and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, are expecting their second child.
"We're so excited to share that there will be a new addition to our family this summer," Eugenie wrote in the post that included a picture of her with her first child, August, who turns two next month.
Word of her pregnancy also came in a more traditional royal way: an official statement from Buckingham Palace.
Over on YouTube, Zara Tindall, Princess Anne's daughter, took questions from husband Mike Tindall for half an hour or so as part of a series called Mike Drop that he has done in collaboration with a horse-racing event the couple attends annually in Australia.
In response to her husband's queries, Zara chatted about the deep roots of her love for all things equestrian and her experiences as a competitive rider.
"Disappointment drives you much more than if you just win immediately," she said.
The conversation also turned personal as she spoke of returning to riding after their children were born.
"I found it hard getting myself back to it. Mentally you feel guilty as a mother leaving your child to go and do something else."
"I do a mean steak. My sauces come out quite dry or lumpy — I've got to work on those."
– Prince William, during a cooking lesson he joined while visiting a charity that teaches life skills to young carers. This week, the Prince of Wales and his wife Catherine, Princess of Wales, also visited a food bank where they helped prepare parcels.
Royal watches and reads
An exhibit produced by the Winnipeg Architecture Foundation on display at various galleries throughout the year features city landmarks and examines Queen Elizabeth's legacy and fondness for Winnipeg, highlighted by her visits and connections to local organizations and sites. [CBC]
King Charles has asked for a surge in profits from six new offshore wind farms on the Crown Estate, worth £1 billion, to be used for the "wider public good," rather than the Royal Family. [BBC]
Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have accused TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson of writing articles "in hate" as they responded to his apology over comments he made about Meghan in a newspaper column. [ITV]
Publishing protocol may not have been followed, but Prince Harry likely isn't complaining about his book sales. An accidental release of Spare, days ahead of schedule in Spain, led to round-the-clock media coverage of the Duke of Sussex's memoir and its many revelations. But the book wasn't selling everywhere. [CBC, The Guardian]
In an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Princess Eugenie said that her son will be an "activist" for climate change from the age of two. She also said that becoming a mother has "totally changed" her view on the environment and the decisions her family makes in their household. [The Independent]
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