LONDON – Britain witnessed a momentous event on Saturday as King Charles III and Queen Camilla were crowned in a lavish ceremony at Westminster Abbey, the first coronation in the country for seven decades.
The new king and queen, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth II after her death last September, were anointed and crowned with the ancient St Edward’s Crown, a 360-year-old gold and jewel-encrusted crown that has been used for every coronation since 1661.
The coronation service, US First Lady Jill Biden and her granddaughter Finnegan arrived in a three-car motorcade, although President Biden did not travel to the UK. French President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska were also in the abbey, as were Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and leaders of the Commonwealth countries.
The ceremony also reflected the diversity of modern Britain, with representatives of various faiths and communities taking part. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, was joined by the Chief Rabbi of Britain, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Imam of London Central Mosque.
“No other country could put on such a dazzling display – the processions, the pageantry, the ceremonies and street parties,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
The service also featured a display of pomp and pageantry that sought to marry 1,000 years of history with a monarchy fit for a new era. The ceremony included an array of historical regalia, such as golden orbs, bejeweled swords and a scepter holding the world’s largest colorless cut diamond.
After the service, King Charles III and Queen Camilla departed in the four-tonne Gold State Coach, built for George III in 1760, to ride to Buckingham Palace in a one-mile procession of 4,000 military personnel from 39 nations.
Along the route, hundreds of soldiers in scarlet uniforms and black bearskin hats lined The Mall boulevard. Gun salutes were fired at the Tower of London and across the capital, the nation, in Gibraltar, Bermuda and on ships at sea.
Tens of thousands of people ignored pouring rain to mass in a crowd more than 20 deep in some places to watch what some saw as a moment of history. Many waved flags and cheered as the newly-crowned king and queen waved from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
The coronation was also watched by millions of people on television around the world. It was only the second time that a coronation was televised, after Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953.
The coronation was seen as a milestone for King Charles III, who waited longer than any other heir apparent in British history to ascend the throne. At 74, he is also the oldest monarch to be crowned.
The coronation was also a landmark for Queen Camilla, who became the first queen consort to be crowned since Queen Elizabeth II’s mother in 1937. Camilla, who married Charles in 2005 after a long and controversial relationship, has gradually won public acceptance over the years.
The coronation was likely to be the last major royal event for at least a decade, as King Charles III’s eldest son and heir Prince William is only 40 years old.
The coronation also took place amid a cost of living crisis and public scepticism about the role and relevance of the monarchy. A recent poll showed that only 49% of Britons supported keeping the monarchy, while 25% favoured abolishing it.
However, many royal supporters say that the monarchy provides an international draw, a vital diplomatic tool and a means of keeping Britain on the world stage.
King Charles III has indicated that he intends to be an active and engaged monarch who will champion causes such as environmentalism, interfaith dialogue and social justice.
He has also vowed to uphold the values and traditions of his mother, who reigned for 69 years and was widely respected as a symbol of stability and continuity.
“God save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May the king live forever,” said Archbishop Justin Welby as he crowned him on Saturday.