HM The Queen is 85 this year. She is so attuned to the demands of duty that she would perfectly understand it if it became known that the planning for the Accession proclamation, if not the Coronation of King Charles III, was already under way. There must be a committee somewhere in Whitehall meeting monthly to identify what has to be done about these State occasions and iron out the details. Can I draw its collective attention to three issues they might consider?
The first is the proclamation. A clip of the 1952 announcement is on YouTube, of course, and a fine piece of Olde English it is too. But I notice that among those whom it addresses – members of the Privy Council, the Lord Mayor and so forth – are “principal gentlemen of quality.” Now I count myself as being in that number, but as a phrase to use on this occasion in this day and age, no, I think not.
Looking further ahead to the coronation itself, a quick viewing of the film of the 1953 event makes one or two things stand out. First, it’s noticeable how many of the the congregation nearest to the throne and the central rituals of the ceremony are aristocrats in robes and coronets, to a degree that I think that today would be inconceivable. Where are the People in this pageant?
Second, the anointing under a canopy, before the handing over of the orb and sceptre, and the antique language used by the Archbishop to proclaim these pharaonic enactments (“kingly power” and so forth) are startling. They make it seem that all the lessons we learnt in 1660 and 1688, about the monarch sitting on the throne by the consent of the people rather than by any kind of ‘mandate from heaven’ have somewhere been lost. That cannot be. Monarchy and people have changed much over the last 60 years and what was true and moving in 1953 will not be seen as that today.
Even the central act seems somewhat remote, with heavy and exclusive symbolism. Why not adapt and use the coronation rites of the Netherlands in which the new monarch touches the crown rather than wear it? People nowadays don’t seem to mind ritual and ceremonial, so long as it comes freighted with authentic meaning. The British will know by instinct what is over the top. But I am sure the committee understands.