LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 07: Flags celebrating the upcoming Coronation of King Charles III are seen flying in Russel Square on April 07, 2023 in London, England. The Coronation of King Charles and Queen Camilla will take place on May 6, part of a three-day celebration. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Sounding Board

Pray for the republicans

Rejoice in the sheer religiosity of the Coronation

This article is taken from the May 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Brace yourselves.

While the rest of the country are enjoying the Coronation on 6 May, that small perpetually outraged huddle of Republicans and Secularists are going to go on the rampage. 

If the procession — with its bands, soldiers, golden carriages, and, worst of all, flags — isn’t enough to trigger nervous collapses across the drawing rooms of the biens pensants, the sheer unadulterated religiosity of the service is going put half the fleet of London’s helicopter ambulances on standby for a mass medical evacuation of Islington North.

…the Coronation Service is going to be epic

Because the Coronation Service is going to be epic. It is going to be a total shock to the system for a political class trained to think Bland is Better and the high point of any political system is a swearing-in service in a bleached pine office by a member of the judiciary wearing one symbol of office, ideally a black gown.

Britain, in May, is going to revel in a ritual unlike anything seen anywhere else in the world (apart from Tonga, whose de facto state church, the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, conducts a coronation for their king modelled closely on ours). 

It will be full of colour and music and pageantry and beauty. But it will also be full of Christianity. It will be, to quote Private Eye, “horribly Christian”.

Well, good. Good for layer after layer of reason. It’s good because this is how we have done it for over a thousand years. Since St Dunstan created the service we use for King Edgar — after falling out astronomically with Edgar’s predecessor for hauling him out of a threesome (with a baron’s wife and daughter) in the middle of his coronation banquet. 

The threesome didn’t make it into our liturgies, but pretty much everything else did. And so we will see the King vested almost as a priest, given an orb symbolising the power of Christ over the whole globe, crowned with a golden crown surmounted by a cross, and anointed.

Actually we won’t see the King anointed. This is the one part of the service we will not be allowed to view, even in an age when cameras catch every moment of every occasion. George VI, in the first series of The Crown (before it went trashy), put the importance of the anointing perfectly:

You have to anoint me. Otherwise I can’t be king. Do you understand? When the holy oil touches me, I am transformed; brought into direct contact with the Divine; forever changed; bound to God; it is the most important part of the entire ceremony.

Enough to bring on a fit of the vapours for even the most hardy of republican secularists.

And it should be. The anointing, in particular, and the Coronation, in general, is a rejection of the entirety of their world view — and it is something that we should rejoice in, whether or not we are Christian.

It places the monarch above the political fray. They are not there because a majority of the population disliked you less than your opponent (thank you Monsieur Macron) or because a minority of the population was better distributed than the majority (thank you Mr Trump) or because of horse-trading within the Parliament (thank you whoever the president of Germany is). 

They are there, safely outside politics. Placed there by God, or Providence, or lucky genes, or whatever you want to call it. 

They consequently owe their authority to something beyond the here-today, gone-tomorrow fights of general elections. They also owe their position to no particular group of society whom they have to reward.

But they are vested with power, and power that flows from a specifically Christian concept of authority and what to do with it.

Look at what is said when the Bishops present the King with a sword:

With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity … help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored …

Look also at the words used as the sceptre with the Dove is placed into his hands:

Receive the Rod of equity and mercy. Be so merciful that you be not too remiss; so execute justice that you forget not mercy. Punish the wicked, protect and cherish the just, and lead your people in the way wherein they should go.

Now while I would hate and despise the kind of anaemic swearing-in ceremony that would be constructed by our clipboard-bearing republicans, I would fear the power vested in our Head of State by the sources of authority they prefer to the Divine. 

The power of the people is never power for the good of all the people, just for those who have won this particular election this particular day. 

Political power is rightly wielded by politicians, sitting in Parliament, and subject to the judgement of their electorates. But I am glad they sit under a monarch whose authority comes from somewhere completely other. And long may this last.

So God Save the King. And thoughts and prayers for our republican friends during this difficult time. 

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