Bong bong bong bong bong bong bong: Hear that? It’s the jubilant clanging of Big Ben, London’s most British clock, signaling that a new reign — a reign of flora, fauna, and fussiness — is about to begin. King Charles III has been ruling over his United Kingdom since September, when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, abdicated her corporeal throne. But on May 6, his coronation will make it official.
Though approximately 2,000 people are expected to descend on Westminster Abbey for his coronation, Charles is said to want a shorter, somewhat more modernized ceremony compared with those of monarchs past. (His mother, by contrast, had over 8,000 guests at hers.) He is rumored to be scrapping unspecified bits of the program in service of something more “inclusive, relevant, and less archaic,” as one royal expert put it to OK! magazine. But there will still be ancient and idiosyncratic touches, such as a cameo by England’s oldest spoon and a painful jaunt in an evil (yet glamorous) stagecoach.
Below is everything we know about coronation weekend.
Very quickly, what is the schedule of events?
Via Buckingham Palace:
• Saturday, May 6: the coronation ceremony, beginning at 6 a.m. ET, preceded by a long carriage ride from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, for which interested American viewers will need to wake up unspeakably early.
• Sunday, May 7: the “Big Lunch” and concert, the latter of which “will begin mid-evening and last for approximately two to three hours” at Windsor Castle.
• Monday, May 8: the “Big Help Out” and bank holiday. The palace is encouraging Brits to spend their day off volunteering.
But isn’t Charles already king?
Yes. He defaulted into the position as soon as his mother died; his siblings had to kiss his hands about it. But it would be unseemly to have a big multiday celebration on the heels of a family funeral, so the past few months have served as a buffer period for mourning and planning. Still, protocol demands that a coronation take place within one year of the previous monarch’s death.
So what happens at the coronation?
“A coronation,” as the Royal Collection Trust defines it, “is the formal investiture of a monarch with their regal powers. It is a grand, celebratory event in which the monarch is presented with royal ceremonial objects, such as the Crown Jewels, and it is where the crown is physically placed on the sovereign’s head, in front of many thousands of very important guests.”
Charles has reportedly expressed a preference for a “shorter, sooner, smaller, less expensive” ceremony, and while we don’t yet know exactly how he plans to achieve that, we do know roughly what to expect of the day. According to the royal website, the template “has remained essentially the same for over a thousand years” and should go something like this: The King will process into Westminster Abbey and stand in the center so his subjects may view him. Then the Archbishop of Canterbury — the event’s emcee; in this case, Justin Welby — will encourage those present to shout “God save King Charles” at the king with “willingness and joy,” per the National News. This likely helps amp him up for taking his oath, the terms of which vary, but basically amounts to a promise to reign in accordance with the law.
Then Charles will be anointed, blessed, and consecrated in the most mysterious part of the ceremony: He will have to take off his robe, sit down in a celebrated chair — King Edward’s chair, a resident of the abbey since 1296, under which the Stone of Destiny (see below) will be placed — and receive a daub of supposedly sacred oil on his forehead from the archbishop. Pharmacists at John Bell & Croyden are said to be guarding samples of the oil “under lock and key.” The exact recipe is reputed to have stayed roughly the same since the year 973 and allegedly involves olives, sesame, rose, jasmine, neroli, benzoin, amber, and cinnamon — a vegan formula in keeping with the overarching theme of modernity.
The oil is applied using a geriatric, double-lobed spoon — it dates to the 12th century; no spoon has been doing it as long as this spoon — and the Telegraph reports that Charles might have commissioned a canopy with a transparent top for the anointment, potentially making him the first monarch to let his people see him get dabbed. After being blessed and consecrated, Charles will be ushered into his kingly new garments — a sort of white shift called the colobium sindonis, followed by a golden robe known as the supertunica. Next come the flashy accessories: a bejeweled sword; golden spurs; wisdom bracelets; his coronation ring, orb, and scepter; and a second robe. Finally, the archbishop pops the St. Edward’s Crown on top, and the king shuffles over to his throne to be “lifted up into it by the archbishops and bishops and other peers of the kingdom,” per the National News. If you’re having trouble envisioning all of this, or even if you’re seeing it perfectly, I recommend the reel the palace posted to Instagram during the Jubilee.
In what other ways does this coronation promise to be comparatively modern?
Per People, Charles is departing from the rule book in a few notable ways, such as:
• Inviting all Brits (including those watching and listening remotely) to join in the Homage of the People, swearing “true allegiance” to him, so help them God. Usually this is only done by the dukes and earls live at Westminster Abbey.
• Inclusion of other faith leaders — specifically, of Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths — in the service.
• Inclusion of one female bishop.
• Use of Welsh, Irish Gaelic, and Scottish Gaelic in the ceremony.
• Recitation of “a personal prayer” by the weekend’s No. 1 guy, King Charles.
• Participation of youngest-ever future king (Prince George) in the proceedings.
Why does Charles need an orb or, for that matter, a scepter?
To signal that he is the ruler of the realm, both earthly (symbolized by the scepter) and spiritual (the orb). The scepter, a.k.a. the sovereign’s “rod of equity and mercy,” was first used in 1661 for the coronation of a different King Charles. It has since been updated with the addition of a rose, thistle, and shamrock, respectively signifying England, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as a diamond known as the Great Star of Africa, I guess to signify colonialism.
While the scepter represents the governing aspect of being the monarch, the orb — which has a little cross on top — represents the “Christian world,” per the Royal Collection Trust. Usually, the orb and scepter live with the rest of the crown jewels, though you might have seen them outside their display case in September, riding atop the queen’s coffin with a spider.
The Stone of Destiny sounds grand. What is it?
A large and sacred hunk of sandstone, which now resides at Edinburgh Castle unless a monarch summons it to Westminster Abbey for a coronation. The Stone of Destiny (or Scone) was originally used for centuries to crown Scotland’s kings. But in 1296, during the First War of Scottish Independence, England’s Edward I stole it, then used it in his special chair — the one Charles will sit in on May 6. The stone stayed put until Christmas Day 1950 when a group of Scottish students broke into the abbey and briefly repatriated it. “The Stone of Destiny is Scotland’s icon,” Ian Hamilton, who led the students’ heist, later told the BBC. “In one of the many invasions by the English into Scotland, they took away the symbol of our nation. To bring it back was a very symbolic gesture.”
After spending a few months in hiding, the stone reappeared at Arbroath Abbey, the site from which Robert the Bruce wrote to the pope in 1320 to declare Scotland’s independence. The English then took back the stone and used it for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and not until 1996 did they officially give it back. Anyway, lore has it the stone will audibly groan if a true Scottish royal sits on it but stays silent if the king is a “pretender.” Listen closely!
Does Camilla get crowned too?
Yes, in a “similar but simpler ceremony,” according to the royal website. Since Charles’s coronation is likely to be in some ways simpler than the plan described above, it’s hard to speculate about what Camilla’s will entail. One thing we do know: what will be on her head.
What do the crowns look like?
The palace has announced that Camilla will recycle an existing crown, one originally designed for the coronation of Queen Mary II but reset with diamonds from Elizabeth’s collection. It says the decision was made in the “interests of sustainability and efficiency” and presumably not calling attention to the fact that the country has not returned the contested Koh-i-Noor diamond its agents stole from a boy king in India centuries ago. The last queen consort to be crowned wore the Koh-i-Noor, which purportedly carries a curse that allows only “God or a woman” to “wear it with impunity,” an interesting choice of words. Anyway, Camilla still has to hold an ivory scepter — no avoiding controversy entirely.
Charles, meanwhile, gets to wear two crowns. The most important is the St. Edward’s Crown, which is used exclusively for coronations and — because it is made of solid gold, velvet, fur, and jewels — weighs about five pounds. It looks something like this:
Owing to the St. Edward’s Crown’s punishing weight, Charles will swap it out for the procession back to Buckingham Palace for the lighter (but comparably showy) State Imperial Crown during his ride in the dreaded gilded carriage.
What is so “horrible” (Queen Elizabeth II’s words) about the gilded state coach?
Despite its glamorous exterior, the horse-drawn state coach is famously miserable to ride in. It’s so miserable, in fact, that the late queen deputized a hologram to execute that portion of her Platinum Jubilee duties for her. Built in 1762, the golden state coach is the third-oldest coach in the whole U.K. and is extremely heavy, so it clatters along at the same maximum speed as the people walking beside it. “When you’re following it, you can hear it creaking so it sounds like an old galleon [editor’s note: picture a pirate ship] going along,” Martin Oates, one of the carriage’s restorers who is tasked with trailing it on its outings as a brakeman, told ABC. He compared its movements to a washing machine’s in that it reportedly jostles its passengers all around in a constant and “distressing oscillation,” to quote Queen Victoria. Yet because it is incapable of making any real time, the gold coach allows the monarch’s subjects ample opportunities to gawk, opportunities they are owed because their tax pounds pay for the display.
Rather than riding in this baroque nightmare both ways, Charles and Camilla will take the Diamond Jubilee State Coach on a truncated, 1.3-mile jaunt from Buckingham Palace — along the Mall to the Admiralty Arch, turning toward Whitehall, then Parliament Square — to Westminster Abbey, according to the BBC. Built in 2014, the Diamond Jubilee coach has amenities that make for a smoother and more temperate user experience: a hydraulic suspension, electric windows, and air-conditioning. The coronation procession will retrace that path back to the palace, shaving nearly four miles off Queen Elizabeth II’s more arduous route. Charles will do the return trip in the gilded cage.
What would happen if someone were to throw, for example, an egg at King Charles during a processional? Would they be arrested?
As we saw in Luton last September, egging the King is an arrestable offense in the U.K., and presumably it also runs afoul of the new law against “disruption at major sporting and cultural events,” conveniently implemented days ahead of the ceremony. Per the Guardian, it makes the blocking of roads, railways, and airports punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment. It places a penalty of six months behind bars, plus an “unlimited” fine, on the linking of oneself to other people, places, or things. It also empowers police to stop and search people they believe are deliberately “setting out to cause chaos,” the Guardian reports, a category into which a spectator armed with eggs most likely falls. Groups known to have planned protests around the coronation — namely Republic, which advocates against the monarchy, and the climate-focused Extinction Rebellion — received letters from the Home Office’s Police Powers Unit advising them to warn any “members who are likely to be affected by these legislative changes.” Although some lawyers described this move as “intimidatory” to the Guardian, and although Charles is said to be a real freak for eggs, throwing them at him or his carriages would probably attract police attention.
Who will attend?
In asking this question, you are, I assume, hoping to hear whether the estranged royals H & M will attend. The complicating factor here is Prince Harry’s gossipy memoir, Spare, which blew up the fragile remnants of his family relationships when it was published in January. In over 400 pages, he described his stepmother, Queen Consort Camilla, as an opportunistic schemer intent on throwing a teenager under the tabloid bus in service of her public image. He depicted his father as kindly, if out of touch, emotionally distant, and often absent. He painted his brother, Prince William, as violently tempered, driven by jealousy, and a catalyst behind his adolescent decision to wear a Nazi uniform to a costume party (never mind that Harry himself picked it out).
All of which is to say: If Harry and Meghan RSVPed “yes,” they could expect a frosty reception. (“I hope they’ll be seated in Iceland,” one royal reportedly remarked to a Daily Mail source.) But a “no” risked deepening the divide, according to some royal experts who believe that if Harry really hopes to salvage his family ties as he says he does, he had better show up. It looks as though he’s going to: On April 12, the palace confirmed that “the Duke of Sussex will attend the coronation service,” while “the Duchess of Sussex will remain in California with Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet.” Certain tabloid sources say Harry and Charles have finally spoken and expressed a “willingness and wanting to mend on both sides.”
Who else will be there? The immediate family: regal siblings Princess Anne, Prince Edward, and Prince Andrew plus their spouses and children; future king William and Princess Kate, along with their kids, George, Charlotte, and Louis. The elder two reportedly have roles in the ceremony, while the latter — who will have only just turned 5 when his grandfather gets crowned and who appears to have a hard time sitting through long, boring displays of protocol — will not. Prince George is expected to serve as a Page of Honor, possibly alongside some of Camilla’s grandchildren. (Her kids are invited too.)
There will probably be a handful of “leading citizens from the Commonwealth” as well as various heads of state, the prime minister, MPs — that sort of thing.
Who will not attend?
U.S. president Joe Biden, for one, though not because he wasn’t invited; he purportedly has plans that day. Deadline reports that either First Lady Jill Biden or Vice-President Kamala Harris will go in his place.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duke of York’s ex-wife and forever roommate, has said she will be watching from home. “I personally will be having a little tearoom and coronation chicken sandwich and putting out the bunting, that’s what I’m going to be doing. Because that would make me very happy,” she recently told the hosts of a talk show called Loose Women. “I also love to watch it on the telly because you hear a lot on the telly. The commentators are always good. Then all the family come back.” Fergie isn’t fussed about the snub and may even have expected it. “Remember, I am divorced from him,” she continued, referring to Prince Andrew. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be divorced and then say, ‘I want this.’ You’re in or you’re out.”
Speaking of: Will Prince Andrew be involved?
The biggest problem with Prince Andrew — setting aside the supposedly boorish nature of his personality and the massive collection of teddy bears he kept at Buckingham Palace — is that he has been credibly accused of having sex with a teenager trafficked to him by old pals Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, but his mother still paid about $13 million to settle the rape lawsuit against him before it could go to trial. Andrew is at least a habitually embarrassing figure and at worst a sex offender, so Charles has reportedly been keen to sideline his little brother from public life. Though Andrew will attend the coronation, the event has reportedly been partially reconfigured specifically so he cannot participate.
As a duke (of York), Andrew would likely have had to kneel in front of Charles and pay homage if this coronation were ushering in an earlier rule. But Charles has reportedly excised that portion of the program, absolving himself of awkward encounters not only with Andrew but also with Harry, the Duke of Sussex. William will still have to perform the Homage of Royal Blood — kneeling in front of his father, holding hands with him, and swearing to remain his “liege man of life and limb” — but William is the future king (of pegging?) so that obligation makes sense.
Inconveniently, though, Andrew is a Knight of the Garter, and unfortunately, the Knights of the Garter have historically stood guard around the monarch during the anointing. To prevent him from filling such a high-visibility role, Charles is reportedly changing the order of operations specifically to exclude Andrew and barring him from wearing his Garter robes. Andrew, in turn, is said to be “furious” that he doesn’t get to wear his little outfit, an eye-catching ensemble that includes a plush velvet robe draped with golden chains and studded with large bows, plus a giant plumed hat as the pièce de résistance. As our colleagues at Intelligencer put it, “The last thing the palace wants to do is put a giant feather cap on the family member it would most like everyone to forget about.” And! Because his mother stripped Andrew of his official duties and HRH titles in the aftermath of all the Epstein stuff, he is no longer a working royal and therefore does not get to wave from the balcony after the ceremony.
What does a “Big Lunch” consist of?
The Big Lunch appeared on the itinerary for the queen’s Platinum Jubilee as well, so I understand it as a distinctly British thing, like bubble and squeak or the inborn urge to stand on line. Still, the royal website could be more illuminating in its explanation of what, exactly, a Big Lunch entails. “Neighbours and communities are invited to share food and fun together,” reads the official schedule announcement. “The Big Lunch brings neighbours and communities together to share friendship, food and fun,” advises Eden Project Communities, the organization behind the Big Lunch. My impression is that any lunch can be big if you have it outside in late spring and approach it with an attitude of largesse.
What should a person make for a Big Lunch? The king and queen suggest their specially selected beans-and-spinach coronation quiche, which appears to have polarized the masses. Some have criticized the dish for being too French, while others have expressed backhanded support. “Well done to them for choosing such an awful quiche,” reads one comment on the tweeted recipe video. Yes, congrats!
Other official recommendations include coronation aubergine, coronation lamb, coronation trifle, and coronation prawn tacos with pineapple salsa.
Sorry, beans quiche?
Yeah. As mentioned earlier, Charles is reputed to really fucking love eggs. He loves cheesy baked eggs with spinach and tomato; he loves boiled eggs, though he insists he does not demand seven of them at breakfast each morning only to pick and eat the best boiled egg of the bunch; and he rates quiche quite highly, according to a chef who claims to have made it for him “many times,” because “the king loves anything with eggs and cheese.” The thinking behind the quiche is that, even though the U.K. has been weathering an egg shortage that makes the foundational ingredient unaffordable to some, it can feed a group, be served hot or cold, and turns a spotlight on seasonal vegetables and herbs — long (i.e., fava) beans, spinach, tarragon — for which the king is also a freak. Still, people who have tried making coronation quiche largely return inauspicious reviews. “More like spinach pie,” exclaimed the Guardian. “An abomination,” complained the Toronto Star. “About as unimaginative as it gets,” London pie chef Calum Franklin told the New York Times, though I’m not sure that’s totally fair. It is at least a little imaginative to put beans in a quiche. I mean, have you ever seen beans in a quiche before?
Who is playing the coronation concert?
The invitation to play Charles’s big party has been a surprisingly tough sell if recent reports are to be believed. While we had hoped the Spice Girls would reunite for the evening, they declined in the end. Also asked and answered “no”: Harry Styles, Ed Sheeran, Adele, Elton John, Kylie Minogue, and Robbie Williams.
Maybe each of these artists has their own reason, but Rolling Stone’s report speculates that they may be hesitant to align themselves with the royal family because of all the recent controversy. “Anyone performing at the show would have to consider whether there would be a backlash from appearing amongst their fans,” publicist Simon Jones, who represents Little Mix, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson, told Rolling Stone. Another publicist said, “I don’t know what there is to gain for artists by associating with him,” meaning Charles. “With the queen, she was fab and glamorous to some people. Charles doesn’t add anything — there’s not a legacy of his that anyone would want to align with.”
The palace hasn’t released the official lineup, so we don’t yet know for sure who is willing to risk the association. The Telegraph reports that Lionel Richie, who is American but an ambassador for Charles’s charity, may open the show. According to the BBC, the palace has signed up Katy Perry, who said in a statement that she is “excited to be performing at the Coronation Concert, and helping to shine a further light on the British Asian Trust’s Children’s Protection Fund, whose work includes on-ground initiatives to fundraising, with the aim to find solutions to child trafficking.” As you probably don’t remember, Charles appointed Perry an ambassador to the trust in 2020, purportedly (or at least in part) because he wanted her to sing to his plants. Is her May 7 performance further evidence toward a quid pro quo from the King of Suspicious Deals? You tell me!
Are any British people going to play? Interesting question. Opera singer Andrea Bocelli (Italian) will duet with baritone Sir Bryn Terfel (Welsh, a win). Pianist and composer Alexis Ffrench (English, a governor and trustee of the Royal Academy of Music) will play with singer-songwriter Freya Ridings (also English). According to Variety, Tom Cruise (American, not a musician) and Winnie-the-Pooh (bear, fictional) “will appear alongside ‘Dynasty’ star Joan Collins, singer Tom Jones, adventurer Bear Grylls” — know for televised survival stunts such as drinking his own urine — “and dancer Oti Mabuse in a series of pre-recorded VTs [video tributes?] in which they will reveal ‘little-known facts about the King.’” Variety reports that Cruise and Pooh have popped up at royal events before (Princess Diana’s funeral and a 2006 garden party for children at Buckingham Palace, respectively), so their attendance may not be as surprising as you initially thought. Also allegedly unsurprising? That Nicole Scherzinger (of the Pussycat Dolls) will be involved — having participated in the Platinum Jubilee last year — as will “club DJ Pete Tong, who will play his Ibiza classics.”
Per The Telegraph, Sir Paul McCartney has been approached about performing. Three of the five original members of the ’90s pop outfit Take That — Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, and Mark Owen but not Robbie Williams — are definitely on the roster. “What a stage to come back on!” they told the BBC. “A huge live band and orchestra, a choir, military drummers, the backdrop of Windsor Castle and the celebration of a new King. We can’t wait!” Singer Ellie Goulding, whom some of you may recognize from her tweets, has expressed her support for the coronation as a concept. She has played other royal events including Will and Kate’s wedding and their 2021 Christmas concert. Maybe Charles should call her?
The evening will include orchestral moments, spoken-word interludes, dancing, songs sung by the Coronation Choir and a virtual choir, which sounds like different singers from across the commonwealth Zooming in for a number. There will be a massive light show with lasers and drones.
But how does the British public feel about Charles?
The reviews are mixed. Charles has a reputation for being finicky, snobbish, and temperamental, if emotionally intelligent, curious, and, in some ways, forward thinking — he has been focused on climate issues for over 50 years, for example. He greets the trees he meets by shaking their limbs and likes to speak to his plants, suggesting a certain sensitivity. At the same time, he has been accused of choking a valet; behaving like a big baby about leaky pens; and defenestrating furniture in arguments with his ex-wife, Princess Diana. Speaking of: Charles once went on TV and admitted to cheating on the people’s princess. Possibly more than anything else, his infidelity has remained his reputational albatross.
Still, after the queen’s funeral, he enjoyed a boost in public opinion: 63 percent of Brits surveyed in one postmortem YouGov poll said he would do a good job; fast-forward, and a YouGov poll released in early April (by an anti-monarchy group, to be clear) suggested that just over half of U.K. adults were not interested in Charles’s coronation. In a recent Ipsos poll, 42 percent of respondents said they wanted Charles to step aside and let William take over. Overall, though, younger generations report less investment in the monarchy.
But context is relevant here too: The U.K. is mired in a cost-of-living crisis. The price of utilities, groceries, rent, and other everyday expenses are all rising without wages keeping pace. Meanwhile, the cost of Charles’s supposedly economized coronation has been ballparked at around £100 million in taxpayer funds.
Is there a place where I could buy, like, cardboard cutouts of the royals with which to decorate my home?
Of course! This Amazon option comes with its own desktop-size mini-Charles. What value.
You can get him in various outfits, and you can add your favorite family members. According to Amazon, these are most often sold with the kind of scary masks that look as though someone has poked the public figure’s eyes out, which Britain seems to love:
Although the mood in the U.K. is reportedly muted ahead of the coronation, the event has nonetheless spawned all sorts of wacky souvenirs. Thanks to one enthusiastic NHS surgeon, 500 people can buy a box of Coronation Flakes, which cost $33 but come with a free scary mask built into the packaging.
The Twitter account @coronationtat has been rounding up the more spectacular examples of monarchist merch from around the web. Feast your eyes on this patriotic coronation gnome who looks more like a butt plug:
And this King Charles III “Live Laugh Love” wall hanging:
And this pharmacy’s tender throwback to Tampongate, I think:
Naturally, the brands are all over this, scrambling over one another to mark the moment with the most unsettling memorabilia possible. Uber is offering rides in a horse-drawn model of the gilded state coach. Cadbury made a replica of St. Edward’s Crown out of milk and white chocolates, while the chocolate company Celebrations had 23 kg of its product — nearly 3,000 candies — melted down and compacted into a bust of the king:
Meanwhile, Heinz released a special “Kingchup” for the big day, which feels like phoning it in.
At least it did something, though. Kleenex U.K. — which tweeted twice in memory of the queen’s death — hasn’t done anything to mark Charles’s coronation, even though he has done more for its Kleenex Velvet lavatory tissue than any other unofficial brand ambassador. Don’t worry, though. Etsy is on it:
Can I watch?
Yes. The coronation ceremony and processionals will be broadcast across the BBC for U.K. viewers and likely on North American news networks. The concert will be accessible on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 2, and BBC Sounds. Concert tickets aren’t available for purchase; prospective attendees joined a lottery for 10,000 tickets, the results of which will be announced in late April.
Is there some sort of mood-setting playlist I can listen to in order to get a sense of what I should expect, atmosphere-wise?
Also yes! Selections include Michael Bublé, Kate Bush, and the song “Daddy Cool.” Is a picture forming yet?
This article has been updated.