It is difficult to beat the UK’s pomp and pageantry, its precision and elegance, history and grandeur. The coronation of King Charles III was one such occasion that was celebrated over the entire weekend, with people from across the world thronging to witness the occasion, which for most was a first, as it only happened after over seven decades.
Some found the entire palaver somewhat silly or over-the-top, others lapped up every moment of it despite the intermittent downpours.
Despite a multicultural event, the chinks in the armour of the Royal Family were visible in public, for the world to see, namely:
The tensions with Prince Harry Duke of Sussex, and Prince Andrew, following the Jeff Epstein allegations
Days before the coronation when British people were “called upon” to swear an oath of allegiance to King Charles III during the 6 May ceremony, leading to a fierce backlash, with many observers found the idea “tone deaf”.
King Charles’s ascension to the throne reigniting a debate over whether the Royal Family deserves a global role in the 21st century, no more so than in the 14 Commonwealth realms where the British monarch remains the head of state
And then, of course, there were the campaigners against the monarchy who came together in huge numbers in yellow T-shirts and banners of “Not My King”
'Anti-King' Mood Ruled the Grounds
Republic, the anti-monarchy campaign group, that has all along campaigned against monarchy, was in full force in London and its leader Graham Smith, along with several others, were arrested by the Metropolitan Police on Saturday, 6 May, for which the Met Police has come under severe criticism for its high-handedness.
In fact, Human Rights Watch UK director Yasmine Ahmed said, "The reports of people being arrested for peacefully protesting the coronation are incredibly alarming. This is something you would expect to see in Moscow, not London."
The moot question is in these changing times is the British monarchy losing its relevance? Was such lavish pageantry necessary at a time when the country is going through a severe cost-of-living crisis? The coronation cost over a £100 millon. Queen Elizabeth II’'s coronation in 1953 cost around £1.5 million, equating to around £50 million – roughly half what her son’s coronation has cost.
Undoubtedly, the coronation established how far the British monarchy has come in embracing a completely multicultural and diverse celebration of the occasion, with leaders of all major religions participating in the ceremony for the first time. A Hindu Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, reading from the Epistle to the Colossians at the Westminster Abbey service, even though historian David Starkey claimed Sunak was “not fully grounded in our culture”. He criticised the Prime Minister for being “invisible” in preparations for the coronation, saying: “In terms of religion.”
Is the Post-Queen Monarchy Even Viable?
I, as many others, have always wondered if the monarchy would begin its decline after Queen Elizabeth II. She was not just a monarch, she represented a global brand.
Throughout her reign, this brand to some extent defined and promoted the British nation around the world. It endured and remained meaningful and important to people across the world. Can King Charles III follow his mother’s footsteps?
A poll conducted by the National Centre for Social Research a week before the coronation revealed that only three in 10 Britons think the monarchy is “very important” – the lowest proportion on record. It showed that public support for the monarchy is at an all-time low, with 45% of respondents saying either it should be abolished, was not very important, or not at all important.
That figure was 35% among respondents to a similar poll in 2022, the year of the late Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee. Age also appears to be a factor in opinions on the Royal Family. Just 12% of 18-to-34-year-olds view the monarchy as “very important”, compared with 42% of those aged 55 and older. The challenge now will be whether King Charles III can deliver its appeal and relevance to the younger generation. Some believe, his long-standing campaign for the environment could not only endear him to the youth but he could be a ‘green’ King.
Although King Charles’ popularity has increased since his mother passed away, but as many say, he simply cannot be what the Queen was. The Queen was very careful and never expressed her personal views in public. The views of Charles – from climate change to sustainable architecture – have always been in the public domain. In fact, there was a huge controversy when King Charles III did not attend COP27 last year in Egypt on the recommendation of the British government because as king, he has to maintain a neutral role.
The public display of his personal life has also been a detriment. Over some time, there has been a PR blitzkrieg to put the now-Queen Camilla in a positive and endearing light in the public, but don’t forget Princess Diana, the “People’s Princess" occupies a special place in most people’s – more so women’s – hearts. Many remember the infidelity during his marriage to her. And now, of course, the fraught relationship between the family and Prince Harry.
Will Monarchy 2.0 Sustain?
King Charles’s ascension to the throne has also reignited a debate over whether the Royal family deserves a global role in the 21st century. He also has a legacy of empire and slavery, which is something the Royal family under King Charles is willing to engage with.
It will be interesting to observe what King Charles’ legacy will be. A lot will depend on his impact on young Britons. Unlike his mother, he does not have seven decades to shape it. Noting the correlation of age with increasing support for the monarchy, noted historian Richard Fitzwilliams says, “Usually as people get older, they become more conservative,” but "it doesn’t guarantee it will happen in the future.”
The monarchy may look secure for now, but the foundations of its public support need some reinforcement.
(Nabanita Sircar is a senior journalist based in London. She tweets at @sircarnabanita. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)