King Charles and Queen Camilla have been crowned in a coronation ceremony that included plenty of pomp and a smattering of boos.
The Royal Family’s pageantry was on full display on Saturday in a coronation that Britain had not seen since 1953. From the ornate Gold State Coach to the 4,000 troops in the royal procession, 19 marching bands and a fly past of fighter jets, the day heralded a triumphant start to King Charles’s reign.
The ceremony lasted more than four hours and brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of central London, despite a steady drizzle. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor-General Mary Simon were among the 100 world leaders and heads of state in attendance. Prince Harry also made an appearance to see his father crowned, but he had no formal role in the ceremony.
“I’m so happy to be here,” said Michael Beaucage, who flew in from Ottawa and stood in the rain among thousands of observers at Trafalgar Square. “He’s our king too,” he added before showing off a crown tattoo he has on his arm.
The day began with a sombre service at Westminster Abbey where King Charles swore to “govern the peoples” of Britain and the 14 other realms, including Canada, “according to their respective laws and customs.” He also vowed to “preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England” and use his power to “cause law and justice, in mercy, to be executed.”
The service was presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is the spiritual leader of the church. He anointed King Charles with holy oil and presented him with archaic symbols of the monarch’s power, including a gold orb, ring, sceptre and the 360-year-old St. Edward’s crown.
King Charles and Archbishop Welby had been at pains to modernize the service, which hasn’t changed much in nearly 1,000 years. They included representatives from other faiths and commissioned 12 new pieces of music to reflect the diversity of the Commonwealth. A hymn was also sung in Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish Gaelic – the first time other languages had been used in a coronation.
But plans to introduce a “people’s homage” didn’t go over very well and had to be adjusted at the last minute.
Traditionally, once the king or queen is crowned by the archbishop, a group of peers and aristocrats kneel and pay homage to the monarch by swearing an oath of loyalty. King Charles wanted to replace that by asking the congregation, as well as people watching at home, to swear an oath of “true allegiance” to the king and his heirs.
But the change caused an uproar, as the 74-year old King was accused of being tone deaf and out of touch. Officials at Buckingham Palace tried to clarify the homage by insisting that the King meant it to be voluntary, not expected.
On Saturday, the order of service was altered and the archbishop only invited those inside the abbey to swear the oath of allegiance. Everyone else was asked to offer their support “with a moment of private reflection, by joining in saying ‘God save King Charles’ at the end.”
There were other hitches to the events on Saturday. Fifty-two anti-monarchy demonstrators were arrested, including the head of a group called Republic as they tried to hand out signs. The fly past also had to be scaled back because of overcast weather.
But for many of the thousands who lined The Mall and the streets around the abbey, the spectacle was a once-in-a lifetime experience, and the long wait in the rain was worth it.
“I wanted to be part of history,” said Linda Goodchild, 38, who had camped out along The Mall since Wednesday to get a good viewing spot. She’d left her husband and five-year old son in Hertfordshire and came on her own, bringing a bright pink tent, a sleeping bag and “lots of wine.”
“And all my friends thought I was crazy and they probably were right,” she said. “But what other event can you just rock up in London with a tent, camp out for free and just meet loads of people and have fun?”
Ms. Goodchild said she also came to honour the memory of her grandmother, Jean George, who died in February at the age of 100. She was a lifelong monarchist and talked about the coronation for months. “I kind of wanted to come here and have a bit of her with me,” Ms. Goodchild said.
Some others came to voice their opposition to the King and whole idea of the monarchy.
Daniel Riley, 16, became fed up with the royals after Queen Elizabeth died last September.
“I’ve never been super supportive, but after the Queen died, I couldn’t stand it anymore,” he said as he stood in Trafalgar Square with a yellow flag that read “Abolish the Monarchy.”
He added: “I don’t think it’s sustainable, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was abolished in my lifetime.”
Standing nearby, Alex Doherty, 23, waved a handmade sign that said “God Save Virginia Giuffre,” a reference to the woman who has accused Prince Andrew of sexual assault, which he has denied. The monarchy “is backwards, it’s disgusting, it needs to go,” she said.
When King Charles and Queen Camilla passed by in their golden carriage, accompanied by soldiers on horseback, Ms. Doherty and a group of Republic protesters shouted “not my king” and “what a waste of money.”
Their chants were matched by a chorus of cheers and impromptu renditions of “God Save the King” from the surrounding crowd. Many people in the square were furious that the anti-monarchists had taken up prime locations and refused to lower their signs.
“I think you can see that the monarchy has a lot of support still,” said Colin Dudley, who got into a feisty argument with Ms. Doherty. “I just find it amazing to be here and be part of the atmosphere. I feel very proud to be British. And to see these people here, it annoys me.”
Mr. Dudley’s friend, Michael James, dismissed the protesters as a privileged few who don’t appreciate Britain’s traditions.
“There are all these monarchies around the world, but ours is the best,” Mr. James said. “People are jealous.”
Rene Broadhurst, who arrived from Stratford, Ont., to watch the proceedings, shrugged off the demonstrators. She’s a firm believer in the monarchy and doubts Canada will ever give up the institution.
“Why? How can something that’s been there for that many years be that wrong?” she said, clutching a Canadian flag.
Watch King Charles III have the St Edward's Crown placed on his head by The Archbishop of Canterbury in his coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.