Crowds of thousands have gathered in central London to greet the King and Queen Consort Camilla on their journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey.
Camilla, Charles’ wife of eighteen years, was also crowned Queen after the King.
Just after 10:20 a.m. Charles and Camilla left Buckingham Palace to travel to Westminster Abbey in an elaborate black and gold carriage known as the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. They moved along the 1.3 mile “Kings Procession” route through central London. Crowds lined the route, braving a light drizzle.
The coronation service
Charles entered Westminster Abbey at 11 a.m., each proceeding up the aisle to take his seat on the coronation chair.
Already inside were some 2,200 invited guests, including royals, politicians, and celebrities from around the world.
Charles’ son, William, who became Prince of Wales upon his father’s ascent to the throne last year, arrived with his wife Kate, Princess of Wales, and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. Nine year-old George, who is third in line to the throne, is serving as page of honor to King Charles during the ceremony.
William’s brother Harry is also at Westminster Abbey. Harry’s wife Meghan is not in attendance, having stayed at their home in California to celebrate the birthday today of their son Archie.
Prince Andrew is also participating in the coronation. It marks a rare appearance for the King’s brother, who was stripped of his royal patronages and military titles last year following accusations of sexual assault.
U.S. First Lady Jill Biden is at Westminster Abbey in place of her husband Joe Biden, continuing a tradition of U.S. presidents skipping coronations of the British monarch.
Penny Mordaunt’s star role in the coronation
British Conservative politician Penny Mordaunt dazzled viewers for her role in the coronation ceremony. As lord president of the privy council, which advises the monarch, Mordaunt was required to carry an 8 lbs. 17th-Century Sword of State into Westminster.
She has been lauded for her grace while holding the 4 ft. sword throughout the ceremony. Mordaunt wore a sleek teal midi dress and a matching cape and Jane Taylor hat with gold fern embroidery. “[I] will be carrying the Sword of State, which is the heaviest sword, so I’ve been doing some press-ups to train for that,” she told The Times.
Mordaunt made history as the first woman to perform this royal ceremony.
The crowning moment
In what is considered the most sacred moment of the ceremony, just after 11:50 a.m. Charles was anointed with chrism oil, made in Jerusalem in March. With Charles sitting behind a specially made screen, the Archbishop of Canterbury used a special “coronation spoon” to pour the oil on the King’s hands, chest, and head, in a gesture meant to reinforce the divine right of the monarch.
A few moments and several arcane bits of ceremony later, Charles sat on the coronation chair, and religious leaders presented with the sovereign’s orb, a golden globe with a cross on top, the sovereign’s ring, glove, and scepter.
Then, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, placed on Charles’ head St. Edward’s Crown—a solid gold headpiece adorned by over 400 gemstones, including rubies and sapphires. The crown, which is only used for the moment of crowning, dates back to the coronation of Charles II in 1661.
At the moment of crowning, those in the Abbey cheered “God save the king!” Gun salutes were fired meanwhile from military bases across the U.K. to mark the historic moment.
All about the music
Details of the coronation are steeped in symbolism and ritual dating back centuries, and the music is no exception.
Much of the music featured in the ceremony is specific to coronations. Parry’s “I was Glad,” for example, has been performed at every coronation since that of Charles I in 1626. The British anthem “Zadok the Priest,” which was performed during the most sacred part of the ceremony, the anointing, was first composed for the coronation of George II in 1727 and has been performed in every coronation since.
But some of the songs are specific to King Charles in particular. At the king’s request, the ceremony featured Greek Orthodox music performed by the Byzantine Chant Ensemble as a tribute to his father, the late Duke of Edinburgh, who was born in Corfu into the Greek and Danish royal families.
The king also hand-picked the Ascension Choir, who sang “Alleluia (O Sing Praises),” and was the first gospel group to perform at a coronation.
According to Buckingham Palace, the coronation was set to feature music from 12 composers, five of whom are women—marking the first time that music composed by women has been included in a coronation ceremony.
A coordinated King’s procession
The King and Queen have been crowned during an intricate ceremony. Charles and Camilla left the Abbey to embark on the ‘The Coronation Procession,” a journey that took them back to Buckingham Palace.
The Gold State Carriage looked especially opulent as it made its way down The Mall, a road connecting Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. The vehicle is built of gilt wood and topped with a gold leaf layer. Onlookers whooped and cheered as Charles, Camilla, and a diverse brigade of military personnel from the U.K. and Commonwealth traveled the 1.3 mile parade.
Beca Lewis, a 17-year-old royalist who traveled from Wales to witness the coronation, was overcome by emotion when the carriage passed by. “It’s so lovely. It’s what makes Britain Britain in a way,” she says. “I just think it’s so moving to see everyone come together after COVID.”
The royal family on the balcony
The King and Queen appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after 2 p.m. local time to observe a fly-past to conclude the day’s ceremonial events. Working members of the royal family also appeared alongside King Charles and Queen Camilla.
A throng of coronation attendees flooded outside Buckingham Palace to witness the fly-past and balcony moment.
Speculation had been rife about why the Palace had not confirmed who will appear on the balcony ahead of the coronation. Some had claimed it was to avoid headlines in the event that Harry was not invited to participate.
In the end, neither Harry nor Andrew appeared on the balcony, as both are no longer working members of the royal family.
The fly-past had been planned to include more than 60 aircraft but was scaled back because of poor weather conditions.
Brits have mixed feelings about King Charles’ coronation
Hundreds of thousands of Brits are also expected to celebrate later today at street parties and in pubs, which have been granted a special license to stay open two hours late for the occasion.
Paul Twigden traveled 55 miles from the city of Milton Keynes with his wife, Jane. Both identify as royalists, he tells TIME. “I’m 70 this year, so it’s my first coronation. And we may not see another one. So it’s kind of a unique thing. We couldn’t miss it.”
Not everyone is excited about the weekend’s events. Anti-monarchy sentiment in the U.K. has grown in recent years amid a string of royal scandals, with 25% of Brits now saying the country should have an elected head of state, up from 17% a decade ago, according to YouGov. Just 9% of people say they care “a great deal” about this weekend’s ceremony. Several protests are planned around the country, including at Trafalgar Square in London, just a mile away from Westminster Abbey. Police arrested six people at the protest, including Graham Smith, the leader of anti-monarchy group Republic, over their plans to go over the barrier as part of anti-monarchy protests.
The British royals are the last monarchy in Europe that still practices coronation ceremonies. The weekend’s official events are expected to cost U.K. taxpayers at least £100 million ($125 million), though the government and Buckingham Palace have refused to share the exact figure.
Andy Hallett, attending a coronation event in London’s Hyde Park, says the U.K.’s continued commitment to royal traditions added to a sense that the country is falling out of step with its neighbors in Europe. “We’re increasingly irrelevant and the future of Britain seems quite backward. We’re no longer in the E.U. and we’re poorer every year. All we have is for the masses to get excited about things like this.”
A pared-back ceremony
Charles became King immediately upon the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in September 2022, ending his almost three quarters of a century as Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. At 74, he is the oldest monarch ever to take the throne.
The coronation is the formal celebration of Charles’ ascent to the throne. Buckingham Palace says the event will retain the “longstanding traditions and pageantry” seen at Queen Elizabeth’s own coronation in 1953. But elements of the ceremony have also been modernized to reflect the evolved position of the monarchy in British society. The ceremony will last one hour, compared to three hours for Queen Elizabeth.
Some Brits are hopeful about Charles
For many spectators who took to the streets of London, King Charles represents the possibility of a new way. The royal has been long recognized for his vocal and comparatively progressive views concerning diversity and climate action, to name a few.
Eve and Wayne Fagin, who grew up in Ireland but have lived in the U.K. for eight years, brought their two children to Hyde Park to watch the festivities on the large screen. For Wayne, Charles is a “good example” for their children. “We like the way that he has dedicated a day to service on Monday. The charity work the royals do is impressive,” Eve adds.
Meanwhile, along the procession route, some remarked at how far Charles has come in his lifetime. “Charles was always in the background but always doing good work… and now that he’s become King, he’s come out of his shell and we’re seeing a lot more of him. He’s not being held back,” says Jim Hunter-Rae.
— CIARA NUGENT CONTRIBUTED REPORTING FROM LONDON
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