On Saturday, May 6th, 2023, almost one week ago, we witnessed the coronation of King Charles III of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and of his other realms and territories. The first ceremony of its kind to be seen around the world in 70 years.
The occasion, while not being the official start of HM reign (That occurred the moment his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth II, passed away), provided us with a window into the ethos of what royal government is and what it is supposed to do, juxtaposed to democratic government, especially in the UK where the current PM, who just gave a reading from the bible at the Kings coronation, lost over 1,000 seats to Labor in local elections.
The King faces four cardinal points as he is presented to the congregation gathered around and is recognized as their undoubted sovereign. He is the true born son of the previous Queen; this act therefore is an acknowledgement of his legitimacy to be King.
Next, omitting much of the more unnecessary religious proscriptions from the oaths HM swears (which are largely an imposition forced after William III and Mary II usurped the throne), the King in short promises and swears to defend and uphold the rights of the Church, defend and uphold the Liberties of his people, and to rule with mercy and justice over all his domains. Already quite the contrast between simply swearing to uphold the authority of an inanimate piece of paper (which to many in the USA is actually a living thing and therefore can constantly change its meaning). But the setting of the oath taking is also very important; it is not in a courthouse, nor in a town hall, nor in a central market square, the oaths are taken within a sacred space and in the name and presence of God.
God is the witness and judge, and only God can decide if oaths are kept or broken, all mortal eyes are flawed and are often blinded by prejudice and therefore are likely to make judgments in bad faith. God is a constant and safe holder of the oath, a being who makes no arbitrary judgment.
The King is then prepared for the anointing, a practice which goes back to biblical times, and is invoked by the anthem set to music by Handel: Zadok the Priest. It is a ritual that sanctifies the King and sets him apart from all others, that fact is not just esoterically true, but also visibly true by the use of the screen to shield the King from the congregation in this most intimate and religious rite which is for him and God alone to take part.
After the King is invested in the Chair of St. Edward the Confessor; he is clothed in the Colobium Sindonis, a simple white sleeveless tunic, and the Supertunica, a quasi-priestly vestment; after which he is vested with the Spurs, the Sword of offering, the Armills, the Stole Royal, the Ring, the Orb, the Glove, the Scepter, the Rod of Equity and Mercy, and finally St. Edwards Crown.
The Spurs represent Chivalry and Honor, that the King can and should defend those in need; The Sword of offering represents “not Judgment, but Justice, not Might, but Mercy” and that the King put right all wrongs, that those things which are out of order and decayed might be restored and renewed; The Armills represent the embrace of God around the sovereign; the Stole Royal represents righteousness, that the presence of God and his wisdom and virtue might clothe and wrap the sovereign at all times and in all things; The Ring represents the lifetime commitment made by the King to God and his people, often called the wedding ring of England; The Orb represents the universe, it is set beneath the cross to signify that all of this world is under the eternal sway of the almighty, by God Kings reign; The Glove, which the King will hold the Scepter with, is to remind the King that they should wield authority with gentleness and mercy; The Scepter represents power and authority, all rule emanates from the King and his person, which in turn emanates from on high; The Rod of Equity and Mercy represents exactly what its name suggest, that the King should ensure iniquity and injustice are remedied and halted; And finally the Crown of St. Edward represents majesty and dignity, it is blessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury who invokes that God might bestow his favor and blessings upon the King.
Lastly, before the King enters the sanctuary to remove his regalia and don the Imperial purple, he sits in his throne and receives Homage, or pledge of loyalty and service, from first the archbishop and then his son the Prince of Wales; this time also followed by a “Homage of the willing”. Previous coronations included not only the Homage of the Bishops, but also all the royal dukes, and the peers (nobility) of the realm. We can only speculate if the Homage shall remain as is, be restored to what was, or vanish entirely from the service.
But here, after all that, we see a vision of government, an ideal of kingship, that has nearly vanished from our world. Even in Britain where this service took place, it is a mere shadow of what it was, despite the very rich ceremony which we did see. In the UK the Monarch doesn’t rule, they are only nominally the ultimate authority; that, in reality, is exercised by the PM, who swears nearly no oaths and is not burdened or encumbered by the weight, both literally and figuratively, of these powerful symbols and history. The PM, like all politicians, has numbers on their side, they already won the game, they have the right to do as they or their party pleases and push any and all programs forward that they argued for, even if those missions will in the end be harmful or dangerous. The people deserve to get what they want, good and hard.
It can be rightly said that HM King Charles III would be a better sovereign of Britain and holder of actual authority than any prospective PM. He has seen more, experienced more, done more, and now has been humbled more than any PM or politician ever has. This ceremony is not and was not just about one man and his glory, but it is a solemn and heavy reminder of the weight he carries on his shoulders, or the weight his ancestor used to carry.
If elected officials were presented with such cumbersome weights, perhaps they would not act with such disregard for others and certainty of their own worth and greatness. How ironic it is that the vestige of a once powerful throne continues to be humbled, yet those that hold excessive power today need not be humbled at all, either in Britain or the United States.
God Save The King!