It’s Formal

Charles is King.

Of course he’s *been* King since his mother drew her last breath, but today’s coronation service formalized that fact. Oaths were administered and taken: not in a write-your-own-vows spirit or express-your-unique-individuality style, but oaths prescribed by centuries of ecclesiastical tradition. Oaths codified in legislation. Symbols of office were presented and accepted. Vestments heavy with tradition and just plain heavy were worn and then removed: Dressed simply and on his knees, Charles-the-man was anointed King behind a privacy screen, slightly jarring in a world in which our whole lives can be public. It reflected the sacredness of the act, at least as understood by those participating.

The participants were a remarkably inclusive group. The clerics, choristers, and members of the congregation were female and male, old and young, and came in all the shades and shapes of the human phenotype. A Hindu read part of a letter from St. Paul to the Colossians. Clerics from other Christian traditions said a prayer for, and gave a blessing to, the King. Clerics from other faiths greeted the King as he left the Abbey.

As pageantry it was above reproach but it didn’t address, much less answer, the substantive question: Is monarchy an historical relic, a defensible institution, or a privileged abomination? Opinions vary. Mine varies on different days but today my opinion is this: It is what it is.

It is a fine thing to hear “Your undoubted King” proclaimed from the four corners of the Abbey: a fact beyond politics. It is a welcome reminder that, no matter how they see themselves, politicians are not the embodiment of Canada, nor even of our government. In our constitutional monarchy, the Crown embodies our system of government and the living monarch embodies the Crown.

Is that good news or bad? On this matter, your answer might depend on what you think of Charles: Is he just a silly old man or will he be a worthy monarch? Opinions vary. Mine varies on different days but today my opinion is this: He is what he is. Just as the person in the monarch’s role can be good or bad, wise or silly, magnificent or pathetic–and maybe all of these in different ways and at different times–so, too, can we be all these things. The stories of Charles and of Canada have chapters yet unwritten. We can’t write the rest of his story, but we can write the next chapter of our own. Indeed we must and we will, whether by action or by inaction.

As we head out to do or not-do just that, there’s one more thing to consider. In a world where people make money and take power by fostering divisions, it is a fine thing when for even one moment our voices rise as one–whether that’s scripted liturgical responses by congregants, or practiced hurrahs by Commonwealth troops standing at attention in a soggy field, or spontaneous singing of God Save the King by rain-dampened crowds lining the streets.

God save the King, indeed. God save us all.

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16 Responses to It’s Formal

  1. Jim Taylor says:

    Scene: The checkout counter at my local supermarket.
    Cast: Me, a very young cashier, and an older cashier supervising.
    Older cashier: “Kind of like sending you a broken arrow.”
    Younger cashier: “Huh?
    OC: “You’ve never heard of Rod Stewart?”
    YC: “Who?”:
    Me: “Don’t be unfair. She’s probably never heard of Jerry Lee Lewis either.”
    The OC and I went into fits of laughter, recalling big names from our past: Little Richard Buddy Holly. The Big Bopper…
    YC looked blank. It turned out she had heard of Elvis and the Beatles. The rest was no more interesting than ancient British history.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Growing up, I knew many of the popular singers of my parents’ generation, but none from my grandmother’s time. And I think it’s a one-way diode, overall – I know none of the artists that my “kids” listen to.

  2. barbara carlson says:

    It is what it is, you decide.

    It has a reassuring quality of continuity, stability which is reassuring for many Brits, like a religion. Not to be questioned. Still, I watched a lot of it and always appreciate the precision of the military — sometimes quite chilling — doing things in unison.

    I watched on YouTube where I can pause the action and screen grab. I caught the delicious look Queen Camilla gave Charles: Was she thinking “Not bad, eh? We did it!” Comments about that YouTube video were not as nearby as kind to her.

    Prince Harry sculked off, alone, after the service, picked up in some unmarked car apparently. He had to “take up” (to be ridiculously polite) with a malicious narcissist. It is sad, what did he expect? After 1,200 years of worse than this this, the Firm will abide.

    But, for me, it’s all the ceremonial God Grant This and May The Lord Do That which
    seems entirely anachronistic to me — medieval & delusional.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – More and more, I agree with the folks who suggest that individuals don’t need to have a “take” on everything, especially those things that don’t impinge on them directly. That latter point is a judgement call, for sure, but I’m happier when I keep my circle-of-concern reasonably closely aligned with my circle-of-influence (h/t to Stephen Covey?).

      • barbara carlson says:

        I agree, but do like the access via the computer of the “outside world” as mine shrinks. Had a terrific day out yesterday, tho. I just learned a few days ago, my sphere of influence from 50 years ago apparently made a difference. Will tell you about it some day. 😀

      • barbara carlson says:

        As a long-time journalist my “take” on things is pretty much as an onlooker: I don’t consider events good or bad, but IS. And enjoy making written observations & opinions, predictions for any future generations — if there are any not AI robots.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Barbara – 🙂 In the 1950s Isaac Asimov wrote about future robots and assumed a (rationally set) set of rational rules governing their programming. I’m not sure what he’d make of where we are now.

  3. There is far more food for thought and temptation to opine in your thoughtful commentary than I can briefly say. When such an enormous display of human resources and attachments is shared with a world that has chosen other paths, those others might ask deep questions about its survival in Great Britain. I learned more about Charles-the-man that will inform King Charles III from the choices he made in his coronation service than I had learned from the rest of his life. And I have found aspects of that life admirable as well as trivial in the way have-nots always find the luxuries and peccadilloes of the rich despicable. I agree with your measured expectations. He hasn’t long to prove himself in the office he was born to. And neither have the rest of us. As for Harry, I could write an essay on the audio-processing deficits of the royals and their choices of partners, from the madness of Princess Alice of Battenberg to the mental wilderness of Princess Margaret. Living their lives under public scrutiny makes them seem odder than average but it’s merely one unavoidable problem that makes them average.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – They seem to me to be ordinary people in a far-from-ordinary role: a role that I would not sentence anyone (and their descendants) to, material privileges notwithstanding.

      • I agree. Royalty seems to be an inadequate idea, as the OT prophet Samuel warned the Jewish people before he capitulated to their demands to choose a king. Samuel’s own sons failed to measure up to their father’s calling. Leadership through a Prophet’s specialized type of knowledge wasn’t going to work among people who had fallen away from their belief in God. King after Queen after King in one nation after the other has proven Samuel’s wisdom. In our time, an inordinate faith has been placed in “the people.” An educated public is assumed to be more worthy of that faith. Yet, democracy already is showing its inadequacy to govern humans. It seems to me that we have come full circle: the problem is not in the leadership model but in the state of mind of the population. A prophet greater than Samuel has come. King Charles III, at least, acknowledges that fact.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          Laurna – I guess if it weren’t for people, any governance/government model would work fine. 🙂 My own view isn’t so much that the people, collectively, are smart or capable or principled, but I sure hate to concentrate power. That always seems to end badly.

  4. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – My thoughts on the coronation, having only watched the endless replays.

    I thought Charles looked like a deer in the headlights as the crown was placed on his head. Camilla was at least tempted to adjust her crown herself and then realized that that is just not done. The orb and sceptre held by Charles didn’t look out of place, the crown certainly did. I hope William goes for something a little less ostentatious when his time comes – maybe something more utilitarian like the crown worn by Henry V in Shakespeare’s play.

    My thought for the day. Charles is only 28 days older than I am, and I certainly wouldn’t want to start a new career at my age. In many ways, yesterday was like a “life sentence” for him, because his life will never be his own from now on out. That assumes his life was his own to start with.

    My last thought on the coronation. I hope King Charles III has real dogs trailing after him if he has dogs and not a bunch of Corgis.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – It is odd to think of starting much of anything at this age, much less being King. I was thinking it might have been odd for William and George, too, watching their own future.

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