This article is from the November 2022 issue of The Critic. To receive the full magazine, why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Aware that Queen Elizabeth I said to Robert Cecil, a man much taller than me, “Little man, little man: must is not a word for princes to use”, I hesitate to address my new Sovereign Lord with the word “shall”.
But the coronation doesn’t have to be a seriously watered-down affair. The King shows an admirable concern for public funds in these times of serious economic distress but could, if he pays attention to overly cautious advisers, miss out on one of the great strengths of the monarchy: it is a spectacle. It is a drama that speaks, in the language of sign and symbol, to the hearts of the nations that possess King Charles as their king.
On the Saturday after the Queen’s death, I went, with hundreds of others, to the proclamation of the new King in the City of London. There were musketeers and pikemen, heralds and trumpeters, guards, mounted police, the lord mayor and sheriffs.
After the Proclamation was read by Clarenceux King of Arms and everyone shouted “God Save The King”, then sang “God Save The King”, the cavalcade moved elsewhere and a French correspondent told me wondered if any of this was relevant in an age of social media and smartphones.
All the more relevant, I say (never knowingly off-brand). What was everyone doing during the proclamation? They had their phones on. They were taking photos, filming the occasion, preparing to post them on Instagram, TikTok or, if they were over 50, on Facebook. Content needs color.
The monarchy feeds on modernity
The monarchy feeds on modernity. I know this goes against everything we hear about what a fully functioning modern society needs: a president, a written constitution, proportional representation and a horseshoe parliament, but let’s be honest, everything it sounds so painfully mid-twentieth-century bland. It works when everyone notices the outward signs of your condition in the form of a 45-second clip in a ten-minute newscast.
But now? Our dark times need drama. Our social media feeds need to be filled. And amid hopelessly curated fake tans and fancy meals, there’s no better content than the ancient drama of liturgy and the genuine emotion of those who indulge in it.
And authenticity is key. This is the secret of the monarchy. You couldn’t script the outpouring of grief and love that followed the Queen’s death. The sacrifice of standing for 14, 15 or 20 hours to pay homage to our deceased ruler is social media gold because it is genuinely authentic. It’s 24 karat gold from an ersatz era.
The most watched event in human history was an Anglican liturgy using the traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer augmented by music resolutely in the classical tradition (although two pieces were composed especially for the occasion).
I think it bears repeating: the most watched event in human history was an Anglican liturgy using the traditional language.
He must not diminish the coronation
Therefore, with all due respect to my Prince, he must not diminish the Coronation. The service has what the world demands: authenticity. It dates back to Saxon times, made by my favorite saint of all: St Dunstan.
It uses visually rich symbols to speak of earthly power and remind us where that power comes from. It takes us out of our painfully embarrassing quibbles about modern politics into something that seems eternal – that is eternal. His language speaks to us of our ancestors and reassures us that we will in turn be followed.
You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the depth of meaning that flows from this age-old service; its reality, depth and authenticity speak for themselves. It is a currency that should not be carelessly depreciated.
Now obviously there are aspects that can be cut. I’m not sure anyone needs to sit down for half an hour of tributes, and court composers can be told to limit their pieces of music to a humble few minutes each. But the heart of the service, the drama, the color and the glamor should not be compromised.
That way finds an anemic investiture before a panel of granite-faced bureaucrats armed with codes of conduct promising to model best practices. No one would bother showing up in the rain to film this on their cell phone. It deserves just 45 seconds in a ten-minute newscast that no one watches anymore.
So as a little man, I beg the King’s indulgence, and ask him to consider all the other little men and women who are eager to celebrate his coronation with him, and ask him to make it a spectacle of which we can be proud to know is part of the tradition of our ancestors and will make us proud to tell our descendants in the decades to come.