The United Kingdom is about to embark on an orgy of flag-waving pomp and pageantry in celebration of King Charles III’s coronation.
Charles is already the ruling monarch, having ascended to the throne following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II in 2022. So this is more of a chance for him and everyone else to dress up and have a bit of an old-fashioned royal knees-up.
Despite events taking place in a relatively small island off the coast of mainland Europe, the footage of King Charles being anointed with oil and accepting the regalia of state will be broadcast across the world. Here is The Conversation’s guide on what to expect.
1. 3 days of celebration
Not content with dedicating just one day to the coronation, the Brits are putting on a three-day extravaganza starting May 6, 2023. As Pauline Maclaran from the Royal Holloway University of London explained, that Saturday will be dedicated to the actual formal proceedings. Sunday will give way to street parties across the U.K. The final installment takes place on Monday, a day when the British public will be excused from work but encouraged to spend the day volunteering.
But it won’t just be Brits marking the occasion, especially at the central event on Saturday. As Maclaran noted: “In testimony to the monarchy’s ‘soft power,’ foreign dignitaries and world leaders will be among the 2,000 anticipated guests taking their places in the abbey alongside members of the royal family. …”
2. A notable no-show
There will be one notable absence among the overseas well-wishers at the coronation: President Joe Biden.
The U.S. leader’s decision not to attend has resulted in some U.K. newspapers’ raising a stink over a “royal snub.” Not so, wrote Arianne Chernock, a royal watcher at Boston University. In fact, no U.S. president has ever attended a British monarch’s coronation.
But, Chernock notes, what is perhaps of more importance is whom the U.S. leader sends in his stead. Delving through the experiences of Biden’s predecessors, she noted: “If history is a guide, who is sent across the Atlantic will telegraph particular American ideas and aspirations. The delegation will also reflect the president’s own personal agenda.”
In the past, that has meant signaling America’s disgust at the rise of European fascism and recognizing the changing role of women in society.
3. But look who is going
Some have put Biden’s decision not to attend down to a purported animosity “Irish Joe” feels toward the British. That far-fetched theory seems even more so when you look at who is attending.
Michelle O'Neill, president of Sinn Féin – a political party that has as a central aim the end of British rule in Northern Ireland – noted in her response to the invite that while she is an Irish republican, she recognizes “there are many people on our island for whom the coronation is a hugely important occasion.”
As Peter John McLoughlin at Queen’s University Belfast pointed out, in framing language in an all-Ireland context, O'Neill was signaling her refusal to accept Ireland’s partition. But her presence nonetheless points at a meaningful commitment to the Northern Ireland peace process.
“Charles’ invitation to Sinn Féin to attend his coronation is in keeping with this process of reconciliation and the normalization of relations between Britain and Ireland. Sinn Féin’s acceptance of the invitation is part of the same effort, but also has a more political intent,” McLoughlin wrote.
4. Charles’ transatlantic cousins
Most Americans did not got an invite for the coronation. But that shouldn’t stop residents of Buckingham, Virginia, or Westminster, Colorado, from joining in the fun alongside the folk of their place namesakes in the U.K. Indeed, there might be one or two people there who can legitimately lay claim to having a bit of royal blood themselves.
Turi King, professor of genetics and public engagement at the University of Leicester in the U.K., did the number crunching and found that for those who claim any British ancestry, “the chances that not one of your 13-times great grandparents was directly descended from Edward III are tiny.” It’s all down to math, you see.
“It’s fair to ask what it really means to say that someone is a direct descendant of royalty,” King pondered. “My experience is that it means something different to each person. As a geneticist I would find it fascinating to know how I’m related to royalty, but I’d be equally interested to know about the lives of my other many ancestors. To me the most thought-provoking aspect is that we’re all related to one another.”
5. What next for Charles?
So what comes after the coronation party? For Charles it may be a right-royal hangover – one hundreds of years in the making.
Tobias Harper of Arizona State University noted that Charles faces major challenges. Many countries, including those that are part of the Commonwealth, are reevaluating their colonial past – and that leads to uncomfortable questions about the role of the British monarchy and what role, if any, the current king should have.
Meanwhile at home, he has inherited a United Kingdom that looks decidedly un-united amid the fallout of Brexit and growing fissures between the four nations it represents. And then there is Charles’ own perceived faults – his meddling in politics, which stand in contrast to his mother’s political neutrality.
“If being king in 2022 sounds tricky, it’s because it is,” wrote Harper. “Charles will struggle to serve all his constituencies well. There are many ways he can fail. It’s not even clear what ‘success’ means for a British monarch in the 21st century. Is it influence? Harmony? Reflecting society? Setting a good example? Survival?”