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It’s an ancient ceremony for a TikTok generation. How will the coronation work?

By Rob Harris and Felicity Lewis

Credit:Illustration: Jo Gay

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A thousand years of history has been shaped into a two-hour televisual feast for the coronation of King Charles III. Plans for the ceremony, codenamed Operation Golden Orb, have been years in the making.

What was once an all-day affair has been slimmed down (the 1611 coronation of Charles II went on so long that diarist Samuel Pepys had to sneak out of Westminster Abbey with a “lust” to “pisse”). Enormous guest lists have been trimmed (from 8000 at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 to some 2000 for King Charles). And there will be several modern updates to proceedings.

The ceremony will be punctuated by music selected by the King, with 12 newly commissioned pieces, including one by Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Greek Orthodox music in memory of the King’s father, Prince Philip (who was prince of both Greece and Denmark upon his birth on Corfu in 1921).

There will even be audience participation for the first time.

But what does it all mean? And who does what? This, to the best of our knowledge, is an abridged version of how events will unfold.

How will Charles and Camilla get to the Abbey?

In a gold coach, of course – with air-con. The Diamond Jubilee State Coach has hydraulic suspension, electric windows and air-conditioning, and it’s laden with incredibly intricate symbolic bits, including part of a musketball from the Battle of Waterloo. 

The late Queen Elizabeth famously said her own coronation trip in a different coach, the gilt Gold State Coach, was horrible. “It’s only sprung on leather,” she said.

In fact, the newer coach is designed by Jim Frecklington from Sydney. “I have tried to encapsulate 100 years of the history of England in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, which I think is the reason that King Charles is very fond of that particular coach,” he says.

What happens first at the Abbey?

After the ride through the streets, the King is welcomed to the Abbey. He will be greeted by a young person, a Chapel Royal chorister, according to the liturgy published by the Church of England. “Your Majesty, as children of the Kingdom of God, we welcome you, in the name of the King of Kings,” the chorister will say, to which the King will reply, “In his name, and after his example, I come not to be served but to serve.”

This new inclusion is designed to set the tone, says the Church: amid all the beautiful costumes and the celebration of tradition, the King commits to “follow the Lord he serves in a life of loving service in his role as monarch”.

Charles is then presented to “the people” on the east, south, west and north sides. This is known as the Recognition. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the first who is expected to say: “I here present unto you King Charles, your undoubted King. Wherefore all you who are come this day to do your homage and service, are you willing to do the same?”

Listen out for cheers of “God save King Charles”.

This is repeated for each direction. Fanfares are expected after each Recognition, played by the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry and the Fanfare Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force.

The Crowning of a King in the Liber Regalis. Credit:Getty Images

What’s the oath?

The coronation service is set out in a medieval Latin manuscript called the Liber Regalis (or Royal Book). The Archbishop of Canterbury will ask King Charles to confirm that he will uphold the law and the Church of England during his reign. The King, with his hand on the Bible, takes the Coronation Oath (which is set out in British law). The oath takes the form of a series of questions to which the King says yes. “All this I promise to do.” At this stage, the King will be sitting in a Chair of Estate made from gilded beech.

Wait, there’s another oath?

Monarchs usually sign an Accession Declaration Oath at the opening of parliament, but because the coronation is first on the calendar, Charles III will take his oath in the Abbey.

The oath goes thus: “I, Charles, do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the throne, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law.”

An anthem will be sung while the King signs the oath. Cue a prayer and some more music. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (who is Hindu) will do a reading from the Bible (from the Book of Colossians).

The new Anointing Screen designed by New Zealander Aidan Hart.Credit:Getty Images

What’s the anointing?

This part of the ceremony is considered a moment between the sovereign and God. A screen (newly created for this coronation and, in fact, made of wool from Australia and New Zealand) is put around the King. “As was the case in 1953, this ceremony will not be visible to those watching on television (or online, nor indeed for those people in the Abbey),” says the Church. Nick Gutfreund, who led the project to build the screen, said, “The screen is there to actually provide privacy to the most sacred part of the ceremony. And previously it was a canopy over the top, which actually didn’t provide real privacy. It was more figurative. Now this three-sided screen provides absolute privacy during the process.”

The King will be sitting in a special Coronation Chair now, facing the High Altar, not the congregation. King Edward’s Chair, made of Baltic oak, has been used in coronations in the Abbey since 1399. Under it will be something else worth taking a closer look at …

But back to the anointing. The Dean pours holy oil from a special ampulla on to a special spoon. The Archbishop then dabs the oil on the King’s head, chest and hands. The oil itself was consecrated in Jerusalem, and comes from two olives groves there, including one at the Monastery of Mary Magdalene, where the King’s grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, is buried. It is perfumed with essential oils including sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon and orange blossom.

The Ampulla, in the shape of an eagle, was made for Charles II’s coronation but its shape harks back to an earlier version and a legend that the Virgin Mary appeared to St Thomas a Becket in the 12th century and gave him a golden eagle from which future kings of England would be anointed.

The Coronation Spoon is from the 12th century, having survived Oliver Cromwell’s destruction of regalia after the English Civil War ended in 1649.

So, with the anointing done, the King will be dressed in a white linen tunic called a Colobium Sindonis, simple and unadorned; over which goes a priestly style of robe, an embroidered gold Supertunica; over which goes the Imperial Mantle made in 1821 out of silk, gold thread and gold. (The priestly look is a reminder of the divine nature of kingship, says the Royal Collection Trust.)

Then comes the regalia …

The Supertunica and Imperial mantle in Buckingham Palace ahead of the big day. Credit:Getty Images

What is all the regalia?

During the Investiture, a sovereign is given objects representing his powers and responsibilities. These include a Jewelled Sword, the Spurs, the Orb, the Ring and the Glove. Also presented to the King will be the Sovereign’s Sceptre, topped with a cross representing temporal power (and containing a huge diamond cut from the world’s largest ever found, the Cullinan); and a Rod of Equity and Mercy, topped with a dove.

Senior Anglican bishops and Peers from the House of Lords present the regalia but the pieces presented by peers of non-Christian faith have been chosen because they don’t have Christian motifs on them. This is to show that the King “is invested with these instruments of state by all people, not just the Christian church”, says the Church.

The Archbishop will say: "Receive these spurs, symbols of honour and courage. May you be a brave advocate for those in need."

The ring “marries” the King to God in duty, and to the people in loving service, says the Church.

The King holds the Sceptre in a gloved hand to symbolise holding power gently, and good governance.

The rod of Equity and Mercy represents not only the Holy Spirit but the King’s pastoral care of the people.

How is the King crowned?

Now in his kingly robes, Charles will be ready to be crowned.

This is the big moment.

The Archbishop of Canterbury says a blessing and brings the crown – St Edward’s Crown – down on to the King’s head.

Charles will be only the seventh monarch to wear this crown after Charles II, James II, William III, George V, George VI and Elizabeth II, who last wore it at her coronation in 1953.

Cue cries of “God save the King”.

Trumpets will sound and gun salutes will be fired across Britain. A 62-round salute will go off at the Tower of London, with a six-gun salvo at the Horse Guards Parade. Twenty-one rounds will be fired at a further 11 locations around the UK, including Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and on deployed Royal Navy ships.

Who pays homage? How does the audience get involved?

In the final stages of the ceremony, the King will take the throne. The Archbishop exhorts him to “Stand firm …”

Just as his grandfather Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, did for his wife Elizabeth II at her coronation, Prince William will kneel before Charles, place his hands between his father’s and vow to be his “liege man of life and limb”. He will say: “I, William, Prince of Wales, pledge my loyalty to you and faith and truth I will bear unto you, as your liege man of life and limb. So help me God.”

The symbolic act, called the Homage of Royal Blood, means the heir to the throne, as liege man to the King, has a mutual obligation to the monarch.

Traditionally, a succession of royals and peers would then have paid homage by kneeling before the new king, swearing allegiance and kissing his or her right hand. At this point, there will be a new part of the service. A Homage of the People will allow “a chorus of millions of voices”, as Lambeth Palace puts it, to participate in the moment for the first time.

The Archbishop will call upon “all persons of goodwill in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other realms and the territories to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all”.

The order of service will read: “All who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, say together … I swear that I will pay true allegiance to your majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

Camilla is then anointed (without a screen) and crowned Queen (wearing Queen Mary’s Crown). The last Crowning of the Consort was that of the Queen Mother at the coronation of her husband, King George VI, in 1937.

How does it finish?

Charles and Camilla will take communion, there will be prayers and music (including Britain’s national anthem) and Charles, in another new change to the ceremony, will receive greetings from leaders of the Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist faiths, before greeting governors-general.

The King and Queen will return to Buckingham Palace along the same route by which they came, although this time in the 260-year-old Gold State Coach. The Prince of Wales’s three children, princes George and Louis and Princess Charlotte, will join the procession with their parents, in a carriage behind the Gold State Coach.

Nearly 4000 members of the UK’s armed forces will take part in what the Ministry of Defence has called the largest military ceremonial operation of its kind for a generation. They will be joined by representatives from Commonwealth countries.

Buckingham Palace is where we get the money shot – the first balcony appearance of the new King and Queen and extended family.

A flypast of 60 aircraft is bound to delight crowds in central London in a six-minute display, and will include the Red Arrows and historic Spitfires from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Meanwhile, street parties will be in full swing across Britain.

And that’s all, folks. Long live the King!

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