Coronation day is here. King Charles III and his wife, Queen Consort Camilla, will be formally crowned Saturday in a historic ceremony at London’s Westminster Abbey. The coronation ceremony, steeped in centuries of tradition but with a few small tweaks for the modern age, will play out in front of about 2,000 invited guests and a global audience of millions watching on TV or livestream.
Though Charles officially became king following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Sept. 8, 2022, today’s coronation ceremony consecrates and celebrates his ascent.
But in his coronation Saturday, King Charles and the royal family will officially be crowned. They are attempting to make the ceremony about “more than just about the government and the Church of England and Charles as a person, but a moment of unity and celebration, about all of the things that make the country distinctive and make being a British person like a point of pride,” said Erin Vanderhoof, a staff writer at Vanity Fair and the co-host of DYNASTY podcast.
Coronations date back to ancient times, and mark a public display of crowning or inaugurating the respective rulers to their roles. The U.K. is the only remaining country in Europe to hold a coronation ceremony for its monarch.
King Charles III will sit atop more than 1,500 years of Irish, Scottish and English history when he is crowned Saturday at Westminster Abbey.
The crown will be placed on Charles’ head as he sits in the Coronation Chair suspended over the Stone of Scone (pronounced “scoon”) — the sacred slab of sandstone on which Scottish kings were crowned. The chair has been part of every coronation since 1308.
The 2.05-meter (6 feet 9 inches) tall chair is made of oak and was originally covered in gold leaf and colored glass. The gold has long since worn away and the chair is now pocked with graffiti, including one message that reads “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800.”
Edward I had the chair built specifically to enclose the Stone of Scone, known by Scots as the Stone of Destiny, after he forcibly took the artifact from Scotland and moved it to the abbey in the late 13th Century. The stone’s history goes back much further, however. Fergus Mor MacEirc, the founder of Scotland’s royal line, reputedly brought the stone with him when he moved his seat from Ireland to Scotland around 498, Westminster Abbey said. Before that time, it was used as the coronation stone for Irish kings.
In 1996, Prime Minister John Major returned the stone to Scotland, with the understanding that it would come back to England for use in future coronations. In recent days, the stone was temporarily removed from its current home at Edinburgh Castle in a ceremony overseen by Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, then transported to the abbey, where a special service was held to mark its return.
The gold-plated silver Coronation Spoon is the only piece of the coronation regalia that survived the English Civil War. After King Charles I was executed in 1649, the rest of the collection was either melted down or sold off as Parliament sought to abolish the monarchy forever.
The spoon is central to the most sacred part of the coronation ceremony, when the Archbishop of Canterbury will pour holy oil from an eagle-shaped ampulla, or flask, into the spoon and then rub it on the king’s hands, breast and head.
The ceremony has roots in the biblical story of the anointing of King Solomon and was originally designed to confirm that the sovereign was appointed directly by God. While the monarch is no longer considered divine, the ceremony confirms his status as supreme governor of the Church of England.
The 26.7-centimeter (10.5-inch) spoon is believed to have been made during the 12th Century for either King Henry II or King Richard I, and may have originally been used for mixing water and wine, according to the Royal Collection Trust.
Three days of festivities
On Saturday morning, King Charles and Camilla will travel by horse-drawn coach along the broad, tree-lined Mall from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey as part of the King’s Procession.
The coronation service is largely a religious ceremony conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The anointing, which includes placing consecrated oil on the monarch’s hands, chest and head, has never been televised, but there has been speculation about whether that might different this time around.
After the service, King Charles and Camilla will return to Buckingham Palace in an even larger ceremonial procession. They will join the royal family on the palace balcony where the day’s public festivities will end with a military flyover and royal wave.
On Sunday, a special coronation concert produced and broadcast live by the BBC is scheduled at 8 p.m. local time or 3 p.m. ET. Held at Windsor Castle, musical icons from across the globe are expected to perform, including American pop singers Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will play a part in the proceedings, and several of his most senior ministers have also arrived for the ceremony, alongside the prime minister of Ukraine and Olena Zelenska, the wife of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Former British leaders including Liz Truss, Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair also join the thousands of other attendees inside the Abbey. U.S. First Lady Jill Biden is also among the guests after arriving in a small motorcade.
On the edge of Trafalgar Square, several anti-monarchy protesters from a campaign group called Republic were arrested as they began unloading printed signs. The London Metropolitan police force have announced that a “significant operation” is now ongoing in the city center.
Tens of thousands had started gathering hours before the procession was expected to begin. Protesters against the monarchy were also expected.
Footage posted on social media appeared to show Graham Smith, the chief executive of the group, being arrested by police alongside five other demonstrators wearing T-shirts that read “Not My King.”
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