For most of the UK today, a coronation is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. A historical occasion that stops the whole country in its tracks and now gives some a welcome respite from their Monday workload. Whether you support the Royal Family or not, or even remain indifferent, the Coronation will impact your life in one way or another and brings to the surface some otherwise dormant sentiments surrounding this tradition and the family at the centre of it.
Why do we have a Coronation?
The tradition of coronating a new monarch goes back over 1000 years, and initially emerged from the increasing influence of religion over the state and the need for stability in situations where multiple individuals had a claim to the throne. Nowadays, it is more symbolic and celebratory than anything else, but still represents an important transition into a new monarch’s era and formalises their role in the governing of the country. Some experts have equated the Coronation to a wedding, with the ‘marriage’ being that between the monarch and the state.
The actual service is made up of four key stages: The Recognition, Oath, Anointing and Enthroning. All are representative of several different key factors to the monarch’s new sovereignty, but the Coronation Oath stands as the only aspect of the ceremony required by law. This is considered by many to be one of the most important and relevant moments in the ceremony, with the new monarch swearing to govern the peoples of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth Realm “according to their respective laws and customs.”
Where the contention comes in, however, is that the Coronation is almost entirely symbolic. There is no actual necessity to the event, as the new monarch (in this case, King Charles III), succeeds by law automatically when their predecessor passes on. Some say it has almost no constitutional value anymore, and although the event is steeped in history and tradition, the UK is the only European monarchy to preserve it, feeding the idea that it is unnecessary and ostentatious.
Due to its standing as a state event, it is therefore the government’s responsibility to pay for it and they have made the decision not to reveal the cost until after the event, though this is estimated to be between £50 and £100 million. To opposers of the Royal Family, this is considered to be a shameless waste of taxpayers’ money during a cost-of-living crisis that has crippled a large quantity of the population, whilst the Royal Family sit comfortably in their many palaces and private jets.
The cost of the Coronation and wealth of the Royal Family as a whole is observably the biggest divider between supporters and opposers of the monarchy. Other points of contention revolve around the perceived attitudes of the Royals towards race, and the nature of the Coronation as a fundamentally religious service which upholds the Church of England; something which no longer resonates with the multi-faith, multi-ethnic landscape of modern Britain. Attempts have been made to make the event more palatable in this regard, with the most diverse list of invitees to date and the anointing oil now made vegan and cruelty free with olives grown at the Monastery of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem. However despite these attempts to modernise the coronation and incorporate different values and faiths, it remains an extremely traditional Christian ceremony inaccessible to many of those paying for it.
Polls indicate a steady decline in the popularity of the Royal Family since the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, with 58% voting to keep the monarchy in a recent YouGov poll. The poll found that the royals are favoured by over 65s and appeal less to 18-24 year olds and those from minority backgrounds, with a proportion of these groups voting to have an elected head of state instead. But what would it mean for Britain to have the monarchy abolished?
Britain as a Republic
The monarchy, or The Crown, is central to Britain’s unwritten constitution which was initially established with the Magna Carter in 1215 and has then subject to various acts and changes as time has gone on. The UK’s status as a constitutional monarchy means that the monarch is our head of state but does not rule, instead following the government’s advice and acting as a figurehead to the public for “national identity, stability and continuity.”
To have the monarchy abolished would subsequently mean Britain would become a democratic republic with an elected head of state, voted for by the UK population. This would in turn likely lead to a change from an unwritten to a written constitution which would be followed by the head of state and politicians alike. The arguments for and against unwritten constitutions are complex and nuanced but can be summarised in that whilst it is more dynamic, flexible and adaptable, it can also cause uncertainty, lack of clarity and its informal nature can undermine its legitimacy.
It is difficult to quantify the value of the Royal Family and discern whether they are still significant to our country. On the one hand, they are seen as unrelatable, pointless and a drain on taxpayers’ money, whilst on the other they are perceived as important to the balance of power, beneficial to the UK economy and sentimental to a lot of the British public, particularly the older generations. Regardless of public sentiment towards them, it is unlikely we will see the abolishment of the monarchy any time soon, if ever, but the Coronation of King Charles III certainly shines a spotlight on the role of the Royals, the public’s attitude towards them, and whether there is still a place for them in today’s society.