At long last, King Charles III inherits his birthright
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London: King Charles III has fulfilled his destiny more than 70 years after he was born as the heir to the British throne, becoming the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned at Westminster Abbey.
The oldest individual to ever become sovereign was crowned alongside his wife, Camilla, the woman many believed would never become Queen, in an ancient religious ceremony that drew on a millennium of British history.
His coronation marks a pivotal moment in the history of the royal family – seven months after the death of his mother, the late Elizabeth II – as the monarchy balances ancient tradition and 21st-century values, while facing growing republican sentiments in Australia and other realms and increased calls to address historic ties to slavery, decolonisation and oppression of indigenous peoples across the former empire.
Global leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, and foreign royalty including the Tasmanian-born Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, attended Westminster Abbey on Saturday, the scene of royal coronations since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066. The ceremony triggered three days of celebrations across the UK.
After the ceremony and procession, the King and Queen stepped out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace, and received three resounding cheers from the huge crowd gathered in The Mall.
Wearing their crowns and ceremonial robes, they stood alongside their grandsons, and William and his wife Catherine, the Princess and Princess of Wales.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla on the Buckingham Palace balcony. Credit: Getty
Five helicopters – from the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force – formed a scaled-back flypast because of the drizzly and cloudy weather. The Red Arrows followed, with their trademark red, white and blue trail painting the sky in Union flag colours.
Earlier, the 2000-strong congregation at the Abbey chanted “God Save The King” as, seated on the Coronation Chair and clasping the two sceptres, Charles received St Edward’s Crown, made for his namesake, Charles II, in 1661. A trumpeter’s fanfare sounded, the abbey’s bells rang for two minutes, and gun salutes were fired throughout the UK, parts of the realm, and from Royal British Navy ships at sea.
Hundreds of thousands of people packed central London, forced to take cover under heavy rain, but hoping to catch a glimpse of the King and Queen as they made their way to and from the abbey from Buckingham Palace in horse-drawn carriages.
In a reminder of Britain’s often turbulent religious past, the King opened the service with the oath: “I, Charles, do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant”.
The service was presided over by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Charles III is the supreme governor of the Church of England as well as monarch of the UK and the other 14 Commonwealth realms.
While the coronation was a less lavish affair than his mother’s 70 years ago next month, it was still the biggest military ceremonial operation in seven decades. It was the first to be broadcast live on television in Australia. Elizabeth II crowned three years before the technology was introduced to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
The King had deliberately planned for an inclusive service, inviting leaders of a number of faiths to play a role in the ceremony. The face of Britain has changed considerably since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is a Hindu while Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, are Muslims.
Sunak, who gave a Bible reading from the Epistle to the Colossians, said the coronation was a “moment of extraordinary national pride”.
“It’s a proud expression of our history, culture and traditions. A vivid demonstration of the modern character of our country. And a cherished ritual through which a new era is born,” he said.
An earlier suggestion by the archbishop that the public should be invited to take part by saying an oath of allegiance to the King had caused some controversy. Jonathan Dimbleby, a veteran BBC broadcaster and a friend of the King, said he thought the monarch would find the idea “abhorrent”. On Saturday, it was confirmed that the wording of the service would be changed.
In the original version, published last weekend by Lambeth Palace, the archbishop was due to “call upon all persons of goodwill… to make their homage”.
Instead, he invited people to “offer their support”, emphasising that this could be with a moment of private reflection.
Despite the service being broadcast live to millions of viewers around the world, the anointing of the monarch took place behind a screen, so the King had privacy during the sacred part of the ceremony. The archbishop anointed him on the hands, head and chest with holy oil.
The moment is screened because it is seen as a private and symbolic moment between the sovereign and God.
Prince Harry, the King’s second son who quit the institution more than two years ago and now lives in California with his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, appeared relaxed as he arrived at the abbey flanked by his cousins, Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, and Princess Beatrice and her husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.
King Charles III sits as he receives The St Edward’s Crown during the coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.Credit: AP
He nodded and smiled to several members of the congregation, mouthing “hello” to someone he recognised. He sat beside his uncle Andrew, the Duke of York, who was booed as he was driven down The Mall in a state car ahead of the service.
Neither played a formal role in the ceremony, the procession back to Buckingham Palace, or appeared on the balcony.
The King’s representative in Australia, Governor-General David Hurley, joined several hand-picked guests, including Australian women’s football captain Sam Kerr, singer-songwriter Nick Cave and decorated soldiers, Corporal Daniel Keighran, VC and Richard Joyes, CV.
Former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop represented the Prince’s Trust in Australia. OECD director-general Mathias Cormann was also among the invited guests, along with US first lady Jill Biden and Olena Zelenska, the Ukrainian first lady.
Prince Louis, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, from left, arrive back to Buckingham Palace.Credit: AP
More than 25,000 police and security personnel guarded the ceremony, with organisers planning for the possibility of protests aimed at visiting world leaders.
During the morning procession from Buckingham Palace to the abbey, the head of the campaign group Republic, Graham Smith, was arrested in Trafalgar Square. The group said five other demonstrators were also detained while wearing “Not My King” T-shirts and unloading placards near the coronation route.
“So much for the right to peaceful protest,” the group said.
The Metropolitan Police said ahead of the event they would have an “extremely low threshold” for protests during coronation celebrations, adding that demonstrators should expect “swift action”.
King Charles III and Queen Camilla travelling in the Gold State Coach built in 1760 and used at every coronation since that of William IV in 1831. Credit: Getty
Some 7000 servicemen and women from across the Commonwealth took part in the procession from the abbey back to Buckingham Palace.
Prince William, now heir to the throne, played an active role in the service while his son, nine-year-old Prince George, was one of four boys who held the robes of the King.
In the 24 hours before the ceremony, the man who had spent years planning every detail of his coronation cut a relaxed figure as he took time out of a day of official engagements and final rehearsals to go on a walkabout in The Mall with the Prince and Princess of Wales.
He shook hands with dozens of people, in a reminder of the last time he greeted well-wishers outside the palace the day after his mother, Queen Elizabeth, died.
When one of them asked if he was feeling nervous, King Charles III laughed. Putting his hands together, he told the crowd: “I pray you guys stay dry”.
The UK has been given a four-day long weekend to mark the event, and street parties are planned across the country, including the highlight coronation concert on Sunday evening UK time. British boy band Take That, Lionel Richie and Katy Perry will be performing at Windsor Castle’s East Lawn, with some 20,000 members of the public expected to attend.
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