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The meaning of the Coronation…

(…and at risk of annoying Natalie.)

I don’t know what it was like for other readers but I found yesterday’s coronation a bit of a chore – way too long, way too much God, way too much fancy dress. And I’m someone who likes fancy dress. Nevertheless I felt that I should at least make some attempt to understand it. So, here goes.

At some point human beings gained the ability to reason. And when they did they observed that life was pretty precarious. You could do your best, you could build something and yet all that could be wiped out by floods, storms, earthquakes, disease or pests. How to explain it? The star-gazers may have done some pretty clever things like work out when the next eclipse was likely to take place but they still haven’t cracked more down-to-earth problems (literally). No, you were going to have to go with God. He was a bit like you but a lot more powerful. And capricious. But if you did as he said – or what you thought he said – or what those blokes in fancy robes said he said – then maybe, just maybe, he’d spare you from disaster. Oh, and the eternity of hell.

And if God could explain natural disasters maybe he could explain man-made disasters like war. Maybe he was responsible for choosing your chief warrior – or “king”. If so, then you’d better obey the “king” as well because he was God’s chosen one. If you happened to be king this was really good. You were no longer some thug who was just a bit better at killing than your rival thugs. You had divine authority. It didn’t mean you couldn’t get offed – as Edward II and Richard II found out – but people would think twice about it. On the downside you had to believe this stuff – or at least give the impression that you believed this stuff. It was also pretty good if you were an official of the king’s favoured religion. You got to swan around in fancy robes, you literally didn’t have to get your hands dirty and the general population was forced to pay for you.

And this brings us to yesterday’s coronation. What we saw was that ancient bargain being renewed. Unfortunately for the participants over the centuries the stargazers upped their game. They explained the motion of the planets and then of apples. They explained smallpox and diphtheria. And cured them. They led us into a world where peace was the norm not war. They led us into a world which didn’t need God to explain it. And because they did yesterday’s ceremony looked ridiculous. It will look even more so when the stargazers get around to issuing an accurate weather forecast.

But when we do find ourselves cavilling at the absurdity we should pause to remember that our ancestors were not fools and that for them it was very much a matter of life and death.

20 comments to The meaning of the Coronation…

  • TDK

    At some point human beings gained the ability to reason.

    The problem is we are the same people who burned witches a few centuries ago and now cancel people for not using the correct pronouns. Alternatively, we are same people who sacrificed their own children in Mesoamerica to guarantee good weather and now want to impoverish our own children worldwide to guarantee good weather. The point being that if rationalism is the solution, explain the success of post modernism.

    I frankly see no difference between this country (UK) with an archaic tradition and other democracies who supposedly are saved from this by not having a hereditary head of state.

    For reference, I think Elizabeth was widely respected because (a) she went through the war and served, and retained the respect for the sacrifice of that generation and (b) she was careful to avoid controversy. I can’t say the same for her descendants and it wouldn’t surprise me if he is the last king

  • Marius

    I find the Coronation ceremony’s links between Christianity and monarchy make more sense in the days of constitutional monarchy than in the old days of the divine right. And nothing convinces me of the benefits of the monarchy like looking at the world’s presidents.

    Both republicanism and atheism are weak gruel and I have yet to see evidence that either make people any happier. The civilisation-destroying nonsense that people adhere to in the (as good as) post-Christian West makes transubstantiation and Christ rising from the dead look like plain common sense. Every time I hear someone say his option is based in science, I’m inclined to reach for the Bible.

    Christianity is explicitly irrational, but I prefer it to the cult of Global Warming & Net Zero, which grips our post-Christian elites and 99% of scientists. And said cult is a hell of a lot more sensible than the intersectional madness with which America’s left has replaced Christianity. Chesterton is as correct today as ever.

    I suspect, as TDK says, that the British monarchy will not last. Although remember that her late Majesty was terribly unpopular at times. And I’d bet the farm that whatever replaces it will be worse.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Believe it or not, I was thinking of re-posting some Old Testament anti-monarchism from the Book of Samuel that I posted as a SQotD in 2010 in the interests of balance. The shorter version:

    He [the King that the Israelites wanted to have so that they could be like other nations] will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

    And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.

    Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us

    OK, so we disagree about atheism versus religion. But in terms of the immediate point my post was making about the value of tradition for modern nations, I do not see much in your post to contradict it. However people came to have these ceremonies (and one be both religious and a constitutional monarchist while still thinking that there is a lot of truth in your psychological explanation), every people on Earth has something like this. I think it is hardwired; part of human evolution. And if you take away the time-softened traditional version from any people, they’ll instinctively, literally instinctively, seek a replacement – which probably won’t be centred about appreciation of the benefits conferred by science.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    As someone with an interest in Astrology, I think the Coronation was badly timed. The full moon means the Sun and the Moon oppose each other, meaning the public will be opposed to the monarch. Since the moon is in Scorpio, expect lots of conspiracy theories to flourish!

  • Steven R

    I think you’re overthinking it. The church being involved is just telling the layman “God approves this guy being your king or he wouldn’t be here” just like all the nobility and soldiers standing around tell everyone “and look at all the temporal power he has to make all this happen.” It’s expensive, but being able to spend that kind of cash also sends a message about just how much the state has to spend on things like raising armies to put down revolts of uppity nobles and peasants alike.

    It’s just a meaningless ceremony today but once upon a time it mattered to able to show people the next king was in charge and if you didn’t like it, tough. God and the king’s armies say he’s got the job. It was all about sending a message, which was why Napoleon crowing himself was such a big deal. He didn’t get there because God willed it; he got there because he and the people willed it.


    On a semi-related note, my mother asked why the president wasn’t there. I replied “why would he be? Elizabeth didn’t show up for any of the presidential inaugurations. We fought a long and bloody war so we didn’t need to worry about coronations.” She then asked why Mrs. Dr. Jill was there and I reminded her that normally we sent the veep for stuff like that but Kamala Harris is so goddamned stupid it is physically painful to watch her. She also mused that it was interesting to see all the media darlings and celebrities that were in attendance and how gaudy their outfits are, like they are the main event and all eyes must be on them. She was right.

  • Paul Marks

    l liked the Coronation. I have never been a fan of Charles or Archbishop Welby or the others – but I thought they all did well yesterday, so credit where credit is due.

    I understand that some people do not like religion – but then why watch a religious service?

    And I also understand that some people do not like ceremonial dress – bvt, again, why watch it?

    Go for a walk instead. Or watch something else.

    But if you are going to watch the the service then at least listen to what was said – there was nothing about the King making the laws, or us being his slaves, the service was all about the King serving the nation and upholding (upholding, defending, not making) the laws.

    I do not understand the attitude of watching a long event, but refusing to listen to anything that was said.

    Again, if anyone (the poster, the comment people – anyone) does not want watch the service that is fine (totally fine), just watch something else, or go for a walk.

    But, my dear Ladies and Gentleman, if you are going to watch a service – then listen to what is being said.

  • Paul Marks

    The left has long been known for Britain bashing – even George Orwell (a life long socialist) wrote about how overblown the leftist attacks on Britain – but now the right seems intent on Britain bashing as well (which is a bit odd). Even attacking Britain for “fancy dress” (pomp and circumstance) which is what the place is known for.

    It is easy to launch this sort of attack – for example there was a religious service in Kettering today to mark the Coronation yesterday.

    “Yuk – Paul Marks was there, at a religious service, after all the terrible things he has done – what a hypocrite!”

    And one of the prayers was specifically about how we are all sinners.

    “Oh I did not bother to listen to what was said”.

  • anothercynicaloldgit

    In my experience more or less all ceremonies are at least a bit ridiculous. For a one-off like this we might as well go for it.

    I particularly enjoyed the presentation of regalia which felt very 70s game show; but half of twitter have come over all unnecessary at the sight of Penny Mordaunt with a big sword.

  • Mr Ed

    I found yesterday’s coronation a bit of a chore – way too long, way too much God, way too much fancy dress.

    1. I will raise you a 4-hour speech by Fidel Castro, or any speech in North Korea and for your applause at the end to be measured against your colleagues…. And Charles’ coronation had been trimmed down by a couple of hours.

    2. There can’t be ‘too much God‘ in a Coronation, it is a legally-meaningless spectacle designed to show that the Monarch is boss, and boss of the Church, with a notional ‘consecration’ of the King as a sort of lay ‘Vicar on Earth’ for the Anglican communion. Seeing too much God in it is a bit like seeing too much food in a cookery show 🙂 . You might remember that Charles was quick to sign an oath to protect the Church of Scotland on his accession, which is his duty as Sovereign. The Coronoation is an English thing, with a couple of recent nods to Scotland.

    3. On the fancy dress front, there wasn’t enough. If you are going to ‘cosplay’, you need to do it all in, otherwise the suspension of disbelief is harder. There ought to have been loads of peers in their ‘flummery’. I would say that at one point, when Charles was in his golden robe, and he walked across the floor, it looked like he was in a dressing gown and he had just got out of bed, but that was my impression, YMMV.

    Where I found it lacking was that Charles looked absolutely petrified throughout, he did not look like a King receiving his due, but as if he was unsure if this was the real thing or possibly a prank TV show. However, it must have been an emotional occasion for him. The Archbishop messed up the crowning a bit, it wasn’t like a typical Formula 1 pitstop in terms of precision, and the Queen fidgeted and looked to be smirking after she was crowned, almost breaking the fourth wall.

    Perhaps the problem is that with modern broadcasting, everything could be seen close-up, it just looked mundane. The footage of Elizabeth’s coronation is rather grainy and black and white, the ceremony was altogether more serious, the Queen was a remote figure then, it still retained a bit of mystery.

    However, when he was crowned and on the throne, there was a definite echo of Charles II.

    As one for whom the preference would be a post-English Civil War Commonwealth on the Leveller model, without any pretence that government is ‘magic’ or that our rulers are special, I place a Constitutional Monarchy as second preference but ahead of a ‘Presidential’ system. Whilst the UK’s monarch is a powerless figurehead, at least the monarchy does remind politicians of their importance. I recall Tony Blair saying about when he became the PM, the Queen said to him that her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, and that was before Blair was born, and Blair said that did put him in his place a bit (with, I think, a tinge of bitterness on his part).

    Perhaps the Coronoation Oaths should include the following question to the Sovereign:
    Question: ‘Do you, …, promise to weep with grief and powerlessness, like President Kalinin when he signed the papers Stalin gave him to send his own wife to the GULAGs, as the State tramples on the freedoms, rights and liberties of your people?’.

    Answer: either A ‘Yes, I do so swear.’. or B ‘No, I care naught for them and their freedoms, rights and liberties.’

    For what it is worth, this excellent YT channel provides all the commentary and information you might ever want or need on the British coronation.

  • Martin

    Two points I particularly liked about the ceremony was the use of the 6th century Augustine gospels book and the Byzantine chants. Maybe I’m overly fond of the Medieval and Byzantine worlds but I was very impressed by these nods to the antiquity of the English church and the Greek roots of Charles’ father.

  • FrankS

    I enjoyed the bits I saw, merely out of affection for the UK. And I could see that in the faces of the ordinary public like me who were filmed on the streets or in pubs or halls – all just a bit happier for a while.

  • John

    Kind words Frank.

    For many of us that’s about what it was. I have just come back from our street party. We ate well and sung lustily but conversations were mainly about lasting affection for the previous monarch. Trepidation concerning the current and future incumbents was undoubtedly felt by many but largely left unsaid, not today anyway.

  • Unfortunately for the participants over the centuries the stargazers upped their game.

    I would have agreed with you in 2019, but if the Covid years taught me anything, a great many of the stargazers are actually full of shit. The psychology of ‘expert medical opinion’ is by and large no different than it was in 1847. The models for predicting long term weather are basically scrying by a technocratic priesthood. The opinions of modern major generals has been comically bad at predicting outcomes in Ukraine. Fuck the stargazers 😀

  • John

    Returning to yesterday I have seen many Masonic Inititiations, Exaltations and Installations but this was my first Royal Coronation. Spotting the unexpected number of similarities in the ritual helped pass the time.

    I have always considered Penny Mordant the personification of style over substance but, to be fair, she made an excellent GSwdB.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I myself got up late, having forgotten what was supposed to happen on the day. When i belatedly looked at the news on the web, i hastened to turn on the TV as Their Majesties were starting to walk out of the Abbey.

    I had a very different feeling about it than i had about the Royal funeral last year. I thought that the latter was a fitting tribute to a life of service. The coronation was kind of like the Nobel Prize to Obama: a tribute to hope, rather than experience.

    But of course, traditions have value.
    And Charles does deserve some credit for waiting so long for it.

    Some more philosophical thoughts tomorrow.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Oh, and Charles would look more Royal if he did not slump his shoulders.
    (Doing pull-ups helps with that.)

  • Fraser Orr

    @Natalie Solent (Essex)
    He [the King that the Israelites wanted to have so that they could be like other nations] will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

    My how I’d love it if they only took a tenth of my sheep… I think that a good strategy for government is a flat 10% sales tax, and a balanced budget requirement. I was laughing at Kevin McCarthy (speaker of the US House) who proposed a radical cutting budget where we ONLY borrowed $1.2 trillion dollars beyond what the government took in and, horror of horrors, asked to cap spending to last year’s amounts. $1.2 trillion dollars (that is EXTRA not the total amount) is about $15,000 for each family in the USA, or alternatively the total net worth of the richest 15 people in the world. And like I say, that is just EXTRA, per year. I’m old fashioned, I remember when a trillion dollars was considered a lot of money.

    However, regarding the OP, the purpose of all the pomp and circumstance is this:


    Then this:


    To impress the hell out of us of the power and majesty so that we don’t look at the man behind the curtain. And here I’m not talking about Charles III, even though he is a very unimpressive individual. To watch him in the coronation, mincing around, fearful he’ll trip and break a hip, so pathetic he couldn’t even memorize his lines and had to use cue cards, and, forgive me for the unPC comment, weeping like a little girl. It doesn’t really invoke images of Edward I, Richard Coer de Lyon, or Henry VIII, does it? However, the man behind the curtain here is the people who really run the country, the faceless bureaucracy, the unaccountable civil service, a cadre of Humphrey Applebys, tangling the will of the people in byzantine mazes. As Appleby one said the purpose of government is not to do good, but to maintain order, to keep things going. Why? Because when you keep things going the people at the top keep making a lot of money. It is, what we Americans call, the swamp.

    However, for England, we might temper any calls for a republic. We might want to remember the last time they we a republic. It was perhaps one of the most tyrannical times in the history of the sceptered isle. It seems the in history republics seem to end up with a strong man taking all the power. It really is the genius of the founding fathers with such ideas as federalism, different independent branches of government, constitutional limits on government power and so forth, that have prevented that from happening. And really 234 years of keeping the tyrants in check is pretty impressive, even though that seems now to be coming to an end. The modern innovation is that the tyrant is not a person, but the state itself, like an emergent personality from a million tiny minded cogs.

  • Mr Ed

    At some point human beings gained the ability to reason.

    Not just humans, some dogs I know can clearly use ‘reason’ even if they cannot articulate (to us) their reasoning, be it solving problems, playing tricks, earning treats or following instructions. Reason itself is ‘over-rated’, what matters is the one uses reasoning after starting from correct premises. After all, the entire edifice of most religions is the premise that there is a god or gods, a premise that is not falsifiable, as God never seems to appear to all but the rare few, most of whom are long gone.

    Similarly, the premise that government is good seems to be one that infects the West.

    On a side note, am I right that we got through the entire Coronoation without mentioning of the NHS?

  • On a side note, am I right that we got through the entire Coronation without mentioning of the NHS?

    Stunning if true (I admit I didn’t watch it).

  • jgh

    On a semi-related note, my mother asked why the president wasn’t there.

    Which president? The president of Germany? The president of India? The president of France? The president of Finland? The president of Greece?