Know your country—and know your historyby Andrew Brown / August 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The coronation ceremony is more than a piece of antique flummery. It is an enactment of the kind of nation we think we are. Getting the performance right is also the most important way the next king can secure legitimacy, something which is going to be especially important during the next transition, which could be—as Emily Andrews argues—uniquely risky for the monarchy. The public is not in love with the idea of King Charles (see our polling); he cannot afford another televised disaster like the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. So what should he do?
The first thing is to know your country—and know your history. That sounds easy enough, but the two halves of that don’t combine smoothly. If you watch the ceremony from 1953, then it’s obvious that we’re not that nation any more: the past is another country indeed. The Queen’s coronation was a profoundly Christian assertion of the feudal order of the British state, centred on the aristocracy paying homage as they kneeled—in order of precedence—in front of the new monarch.
The coronation of the next monarch cannot escape some change. Where once we had a visible social order that corresponded to real power and wealth, we now have a House of Lords which is a parking lot for discarded politicians. We now defer to celebrity, not heredity. The last coronation was televised, if only in black and white. The next one will be livestreamed round the world through a thicket of hashtags. The Royal Family is now a celebrity business, in which importance is measured by the magazine covers it can command.
Change in the coverage is a given, and the pageantry will almost certainly need to change too. But changing the ritual risks exposing it to dangerous scrutiny and debate. Charles is unlikely to thrive in that spotlight. Nor is the kingdom he will rule over.