King Charles' Coronation: Queen Elizabeth would be proud of the start her son has made as monarch – Christine Jardine
I am not sure if you noticed but there has been a bit of a ‘do’ going on in London this past weekend. Whether you were drawn to the capital to experience the pomp and ceremony, soaked up the TV celebrations, or headed to the pub for an alternative do with chums, there was no missing the Coronation.
And I don’t mind admitting that I was enthralled. Not just with the astonishing ceremonial, but with the very different approach from what perhaps many of us had expected. For a few days, the conversation had focused on what we all thought about being offered the option of joining in the swearing of allegiance to the King, and whether such a thing was appropriate in the 21st century.
And of course, there was the obligatory but muted objections to the Stone of Destiny travelling to the Abbey. But in the run-up to the big day, Westminster felt a lot more like a family excited about a favoured child’s wedding than institutions preparing for the nation’s most symbolic constitutional occasion.
Much of that was down to a King and Queen Consort who displayed a determination to share their joy with the public. To simply have some fun and perhaps relieve some of the gloom which we have all endured recently. It was infectious.
A few days before the Coronation, the Royal Couple invited MPs and Peers to a reception in parliament, their third visit since the passing of the late Queen. We all expected some formal presentations, a mild ceremonial approach and the chatter among MPs on the morning itself had been all about how to bow, or whether the women should curtsey.
The King, however, had other ideas. Not long before he arrived, the official greeting areas were removed and word spread that His Majesty wanted something much more informal. To simply circulate and chat. What some of us discovered is that our new monarch has a healthy disrespect for formality, a mischievous glint in his eye and a love of laughter.
It was refreshing to see the way he charmed everyone and seemed much more at home with direct personal interaction with individuals than he had been in the stiff formality of the State Opening of Parliament. And everywhere there seemed to be a much lighter touch to events than we had expected: the Prince and Princess of Wales taking the tube to visit a pub in Soho; the King and Queen waving to crowds on their way to Coronation rehearsals; and that fantastic message to commuters which made me laugh out loud with the monarch gently reminding us to “mind the gap”. You could almost hear the smile in his voice.
I appreciate that the monarchy does not have, and has never, enjoyed universal support in every part of the UK, or Commonwealth. As well as those who believe that a hereditary monarchy is anachronistic in the 21st century, there are others who feel the expense and extravagance of two days of constitutional pomp and ceremony is tone-deaf in a cost-of-living crisis.
However, a communal party and day of celebration might be just what we all need. During and following the pandemic, much was made of the positive impact on the national mood of that unique broadcast by the Queen. Then the outpouring of love and thanks which marked her platinum jubilee seemed to reinforce the belief that for 70 years she had been a force for national unity.
With King Charles’ accession to the throne, there was an element of curiosity and in some quarters perhaps apprehension. What would the new monarch be like? How would a Prince who had been outspoken on those issues he cared about cope with the transition to the impartiality and aloofness from politics demanded from a King?
Would he be able to able to capture the same sort of affection and loyalty that his late mother had so commanded? The imperatives of duty, service and loyalty which were the hallmarks of her reign might no longer be enough to ensure popular fealty. In his reign so far, and especially in the manner he approached his Coronation, however, I believe we are beginning to see the answer to our questions.
The King has lived through a very different time and preparations from those his mother experienced before she became Queen. He was a teenager in the 60s, the subject of endless speculation about his bachelor days, endured the failure of his first marriage, and most of his personal life was spent in a merciless media spotlight.
What we have witnessed this week is a monarch determined to be his own man. Not perhaps in the way he did as Prince of Wales in pursuing good causes, promoting protection of the planet and raising awareness of the threat to our wildlife and environment. More in the way he approaches that duty and service which he has dedicated himself to in his Coronation.
I get the impression that over the years of his reign, we will come to recognise King Charles as a man aware of his responsibilities and determined both to be happy in them, and to share his joy with the rest of us. I cannot help but think that her late Majesty would be proud of the start that her son has made.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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