Will the coronation of King Charles III become a media spectacle?

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By Webdesk

On Saturday, May 6, Britain’s King Charles III will be crowned, eight months after he ascended the throne following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, last September.

Presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior Church of England cleric in the country, the ceremony will take place at Westminster Abbey in London, the setting for every coronation since 1066.

At the coronation, the 74-year-old will be crowned with a solid gold crown made in 1661 in front of 2,200 invited guests from the political, royal and famous world.

Among them will be his eldest son Prince William and his wife Catherine, while his second son Prince Harry, who recently got into a fight with the rest of the family, will fly to the event from the United States without his wife Meghan Markle.

It is still not clear what role Prince Andrew, recently stripped of royal duties due to his links to a sex abuse scandal, will play.

The guest list also includes British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, plus a number of other royal families including Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco. .

Previous coronation

Charles’ coronation comes 70 years after the coronation of his mother, then aged 25, who was crowned in a grand ceremony on June 2, 1953.

The coronation ceremony of the 39th monarch at Westminster Abbey was steeped in religious splendor, symbolism and tradition as millions watched as Queen Elizabeth II took an oath, was anointed with holy oil and adorned with riches, robes and royal regalia as she was crowned Queen of the United States Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon.

British King Charles III (L) greets the benefactors after a welcome ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate
King Charles III greets well-wishers at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin [File: Wolfgang Rattay/AFP]

Saturday’s ceremony appears to be a less grand affair, with a shortened ceremony from about three hours to an hour and a shorter list of participants.

Commentators told Al Jazeera that the differences speak to the changing role of the royal family and Britain as a nation domestically and on the global stage between the two events.

Ed Owens, a historian, royal commentator and author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53, told Al Jazeera: “In 1953 there was a genuine sense of enthusiasm, optimism and hope that was a sign of a fresh start for Britain in the aftermath of the Second World War. The coronation was presented as the celebration that would usher in a new era.”

“There has been so much time between the two coronations and the tone of this correlation is about justifying why it should go on, especially for a younger audience, and explaining the religious symbolism to a nation that no longer has a Christian majority. is. ”

Edward Kissi, an associate professor in the Department of African Studies at the University of South Florida, told Al Jazeera that a comparison can be seen between the grandeur of the national and global fanfare in 1953 compared to a more lukewarm pre-event atmosphere now.

“Context is important here,” he said. “Queen Elizabeth was crowned at the terminus of the British Empire, and the waning days of Britain’s global influence. King Charles will be inaugurated at a time when the Empire is gone and the Commonwealth it replaced is unsure of its attachment to and reverence for Britain and its soon-to-be crowned monarch.

Guest list

An important difference is the number of people that must be present. In 1953, the guest list numbered more than 8,000 people and represented 129 countries and territories, including General George Marshall, the former US Secretary of State, and the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan, Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammad Ali Bogra.

By comparison, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar will attend the king’s coronation on behalf of India, while President Joe Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, will be the top US official.

Khadiza Naufa Fatin, an independent researcher and editor at the Heritage Times based in Guwahati in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, told Al Jazeera that the differences in events reveal a lot about the new world order.

“The 1953 event was very close to the aftermath of World War II and the resulting independence of several colonies,” she said.

“At that time, former colonies and their leaders felt relatively closer to the memory of an empire that once ruled them. As new nation-states formed, they had not yet moved away from the monarchical system and a monarch was seen as a necessary symbol to hold the state together. People therefore looked to Queen Elizabeth II for hope and peace in the economic and political turmoil,” added Naufa Fatin.

“The very different contexts surrounding the relationship between the British monarchy and the parts of the world that were once part of the empire color the contrasts between 1953 and 2023,” said Matthew Smith, professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the legacies of British slavery at University College London (UCL).

“In those seven decades, sweeping results have been achieved in the decolonization project that have resulted in complex systems of nationalism in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and even Britain itself, which looks demographically very different today than it did in 1953. What this meant is that the receptivity to the coronation of the king will hold a rather interesting illustration of how much progress we have made,” he said.

Amid some of the wider shifts in decolonization discussions surrounding goods and artifacts from former colonies, the monarchy announced earlier this year that the disputed Kohinoor diamond, or a replica of it, will not feature in a coronation ceremony for the first time.

“There is a much stronger public awareness today about how Britain made its wealth and the stories of exploitation through slavery and colonialism are more widely known and recognized,” said Professor Smith.

“The Church of England, private institutions and families have made very public apologies over the past three years for their role in enslavement and African slavery. These developments are not lost on the crown,” he added.

“I would like to imagine that the King himself, as he considers his reign, must realize that the horrors of the past cannot go unnoticed, unacknowledged, or beyond repair, and gestures such as the adjustments to the Queen Consort’s crown can are just a small indication of that,” Smith said.

“At present, the monarchy in Britain seems more like a relic of the past. So in some ways people see this event as a tradition rather than a political necessity,” said Naufa Fatin.

“Even at home, the British have never felt so far removed from the royal family as they do now. They can’t relate to the existence of a household that clings to the stories of its past glory in order to remain politically relevant. The British royal family is not what it used to be, but one of the royal families around the world. In the past, in the English-speaking world, their power was a standard we all understood, but that is now changing,” she added.

The 1953 coronation was the first British coronation to be fully televised in the UK, with a reported 27 million domestic viewers, and the second major world event to be televised internationally, following the inauguration of US President Dwight Eisenhower a few years ago. months earlier.

Analysts say that despite the changes and controversies, the coronation looks set to become an international media spectacle.

“In an age of social media, thousands, even millions, can still ‘attend’ the coronation from a distance, and indirectly by looking at their television sets,” said Professor Kissi.

“The coronation is likely to be a 21st century media spectacle that will surpass that of 1953.”

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