The coronation of Britain’s monarch is “an occasion for pageantry and celebration, but it is also a solemn religious ceremony and has remained essentially the same over a thousand years,” according to the royal website. But let’s be honest: Most of us Americans care about the coronation of King Charles III only because we’re messy ex-Brits who live for drama.
This is truly a golden era for royal gossip (if not the monarchy itself): The Crown is rehashing decades-old scandals, the royal family is still reeling from the release of Prince Harry’s tell-all memoir, Spare, and they’ve proven themselves capable of feuding over something as petty as a christening announcement. So it’s no surprise that the May 6 coronation has sparked tons of squabbling and added fuel to ancient grievances. Here’s a guide to all the biggest controversies, which we’ll keep updated through Charles’s big day and beyond.
Harry will attend, Meghan won’t.
The issue: It would be extremely awkward to have Harry and Meghan Markle front and center at the coronation months after the release of Spare, in which none of the royals come off looking great. But it would also pretty awkward if one of the king’s two children wasn’t there.
The Sussexes confirmed in early March that they’d been invited to the coronation via email, but they did not RSVP for months. There was a lot of unverified gossip about Harry and Meghan refusing to attend unless they got an apology (for how the royal family treated Meghan, not for requesting their presence at this solemn occasion via e-vite).
Status: On April 12, Buckingham Palace said Harry will attend, but Meghan will stay home.
“Buckingham Palace is pleased to confirm that The Duke of Sussex will attend the Coronation Service at Westminster Abbey on May 6th. The Duchess of Sussex will remain in California with Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet,” the palace statement said.
Harry is expected to attend his father’s crowning ceremony, but not any other events during coronation weekend, according to People.
Prince Andrew will attend.
The issue: Charles’s little brother Prince Andrew was a longtime pal of sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and alleged Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre claimed she was forced to have sex with Andrew when she was underage. Giuffre’s civil suit against the prince was settled last year. The sexual-abuse allegations led to Andrew stepping back from public duties in 2019; he also lost his military titles, his royal patronages, and the right to style himself as “his royal highness” in 2022.
Obviously, all of this is horrible and extremely embarrassing for the royal family. But unlike Harry, Andrew hasn’t self-deported and dramatically burned bridges with the family, so excluding him from the coronation entirely was never on the table.
Status: The Duke of York will be there, but you may have a hard time spotting him. The Daily Mail reported that Andrew will be barred from standing on the balcony at Buckingham Palace on May 6 as he’s not a working royal. Andrew is still a knight of the Garter, though, and they traditionally play a significant role in the coronation; four knights surrounded Queen Elizabeth II during her anointing. But it sounds like the ceremony is being changed to exclude the prince entirely. Andrew may even be banned from wearing his Garter robes to the festivities, which has reportedly left him “furious.” But 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.
Joe Biden won’t attend.
The issue: Dozens of world leaders will attend Charles’s coronation, but Joe Biden won’t be among them. Some British commentators have accused the U.S. president of snubbing the new king.
Status: On April 4 the White House confirmed that Biden will skip the coronation, with First Lady Jill Biden leading a U.S. delegation to the U.K. in his stead. American officials noted this isn’t unusual; in fact, no previous U.S. president has attended a British monarch’s coronation. But while Biden attended Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, he hasn’t met with Charles since. The White House said the president looks forward to meeting with the king “at a future date,” but he’s not expected to see him when he travels to Northern Ireland in April. So maybe he does want to show Charles who’s in charge here.
Prince George has a big role.
The issue: The palace wants Prince George, who is second in line to the throne but also 9, to have a prominent role in the coronation. Royal commentator Tom Quinn told The Express that there are disagreements behind the scenes about how much the lad can handle.
“I’ve heard from my contacts that there is a bit of an argument going on about whether George should play a more formal role,” he said. “I’ve heard that Kate and William are worried that it will be too much for him.”
Charles, who was 4 during his mother’s 1953 coronation, did not take part in any of the processions.
Status: On April 5 the palace announced that George will serve as a page to the king during the ceremony, along with three other boys. The royals decided that George and Princess Charlotte, who is 7, could handle being part of the royal-family procession behind the queen’s coffin in September, so this wasn’t a big surprise. The Times of London reported on March 17 that leaked plans show George, Charlotte, and their 4-year-old brother, Prince Louis, will join Charles and Camilla as they exit Westminster Abbey then ride back to Buckingham Palace in a carriage with their parents.
Camilla’s grandchildren will have significant roles too.
The issue: The queen consort’s five teenage grandchildren will have a role in the ceremony, and some royal commentators are upset — not because including the monarch’s step-grandchildren is a break with tradition but because this leak emerged before news about George’s role in the event.
Status: In the same April 5 announcement about George’s role, the palace confirmed that Camilla will be attended by her three grandsons and her great-nephew during the ceremony. The Times of London has described her decision to go with relatives rather than duchesses as a “bold move.”
Meghan and Harry’s kids weren’t invited.
The issue: Harry and Meghan’s email invitation didn’t mention their children, so it’s unclear if the palace meant to include Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet. Also the coronation was scheduled on the same day as Archie’s fourth birthday.
Status: The palace seemed uninterested in clarifying whether Charles’s two youngest grandchildren are welcome at his coronation. Per The Telegraph, “Asked if Archie and Lilibet were invited, one royal source simply noted that they were ‘very young.’”
On April 12, Buckingham Palace confirmed that Archie and Lilibet will not attend.
Fergie wasn’t invited either.
The issue: Approximately 2,000 people were invited to King Charles’s coronation, but Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was not among them. (Though she did get a consolation prize: she’ll be a “VIP attendee” at the Windsor Castle Concert.
While “Fergie” is one of the better-known royals in the U.S. thanks to her work as a Weight Watchers spokesperson and many media appearances, apparently she isn’t extremely popular in the royal family (possibly thanks to the Weight Watchers affiliation and her many media appearances).
Status: Fergie is taking the snub in stride. While promoting her new novel Loose Woman, she suggested she hadn’t expected to be invited, as she divorced Prince Andrew in 1996. “Remember I am divorced from him so I don’t expect … 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,” she told Hello!
“I personally will be having a little tea room and coronation chicken sandwich and putting out the bunting,” she said. “I also love to watch it on the telly because you hear a lot on the telly.”
People think the coronation invitation features a pagan symbol.
The issue: All the coronation symbols have a nature/spring vibe, but people were shocked to see the Green Man on the invitation, as it’s associated with paganism.
Status: The royal family Twitter account described the Green Man as “an ancient figure from British folklore.”
In an interview with Slate, Francis Young, a historian and folklorist, explained that’s not actually true:
I spend a lot of my time trying to debunk the idea that the Green Man is an ancient figure from British folklore. He’s a made-up figure of 20th-century folklore … he isn’t actually an ancient pagan symbol.
While a humanoid face with leaves does show up regularly in churches, cathedrals, and abbeys it was likely seen as a sort of joke in ancient times. But an article written by a prominent folklorist in 1939 erroneously linked it to other old English symbols and it became part of modern pagan mythology. The Green Man was probably included on the invitation to highlight King Charles’s love of the outdoors and his climate activism, not to send a subversive message.
Camilla is dropping ‘consort’ from her title.
The issue: It was once assumed that Camilla would be known as “princess consort” when Charles ascended to the throne. But prior to her death, Elizabeth let it be known that she wanted her son’s second wife to go by “the queen consort.”
In early 2023 the palace soft launched “Queen Camilla.” “There’s a view in the Palace that Queen Consort is cumbersome and it might be simpler for Camilla to be known just as the Queen when the time is right,” a “well-placed source” told the Daily Mail.
Status: “Consort” is no more. The palace announced in October that the coronation “will see His Majesty King Charles III crowned alongside The Queen Consort.” But “consort” was dropped from the title of a recent Camilla-repped charity project and a new edition of the Bible released for the coronation. The name change was confirmed on April 5 when the palace unveiled the invitation to the coronation of “King Charles III and Queen Camilla.”
The public is being asked to swear allegiance to Charles.
The issue: For the first time the plebs can pledge themselves to their monarch. The part of the ceremony where hereditary peers assembled in Westminster Abbey swear fealty to the new king is being replaced by an “Homage of the People.” The Archbishop of Canterbury will invite “All who so desire,” whether following the service “in the Abbey and elsewhere,” to repeat the words “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”
Status: People seem to find swearing their allegiance to Charles from their couch creepy. As the Daily Beast reports, Labour MP Clive Lewis said he thought the oath would be “either unwelcome or ignored by many.” The anti-monarchist organization Republic called the move “offensive and tone-deaf
and noted, “asking people to swear allegiance to Charles and his heirs means swearing allegiance to Andrew. In a democracy it is the head of state who should swear allegiance to us.”
Charles could be Britain’s first publicly anointed monarch.
The issue: The most sacred part of the coronation is when the archbishop of Canterbury anoints the monarch by placing holy oil on their hands, breast, and head. Traditionally, the public is not allowed to see this, but Charles may bare all. Some have worried that this will reduce the “mystery” and religious significance of the event.
Status: There’s still no official word on whether we’ll actually witness this bit of the ceremony. A gold canopy was held over Elizabeth II during her anointing, but The Telegraph reported that Charles has commissioned an “alternative canopy” with a “see-through top” to keep his options open.
Sacred oil traditionally contains intestinal wax of sperm whales and civet secretions.
The issue: In the past, the holy oil used to anoint Britain’s monarch has included ambergris (a waxy substance found in the intestines of sperm whales) and secretions from the glands of small mammals including civets. But modern audiences are more opposed to animal cruelty than past ones, and this is pretty gross.
Status: Resolved. The oil used to anoint Charles will be vegan. According to the BBC, he’s going with “olive oil scented with a mix of essential oils, sesame, rose, jasmine, cinnamon, neroli and benzoin, with orange blossom also added.”
Camilla will hold a scepter made of ivory.
The issue: The scepter used by every queen consort since 1685 contains ivory. A law that almost entirely bans the import, export, and dealing of ivory items in the U.K. went into effect last summer. Prince William has been campaigning against the ivory trade and the killing of elephants for their tusks for years.
Status: Camilla is using the traditional ivory scepter as-is. Prince William and other animals welfare advocates can just deal with it, in the palace’s view.
Camilla’s crown features an (allegedly) stolen diamond.
The issue: Previous queens and queen consorts, including Charles’s mother, have worn a crown containing the famous 105-karat Koh-i-noor diamond to coronations. It was assumed that Camilla would do the same, but that could set off an international incident. Several nations have laid claim to the diamond, and India has repeatedly demanded that Britain return it.
Status: The palace has figured out how to avoid a diplomatic crisis and a real reckoning with Britain’s colonial legacy. Camilla will wear the old crown, but it will be modified to remove the Koh-i-noor diamond. The diamond will be moved to a new display at the Tower of London that recognizes it as “a symbol of conquest” — though, to be clear, the British aren’t giving it back.
This may be a tiara-free event.
The issue: If there’s one time when it’s appropriate to wear a tiara it’s a coronation. Yet there have been reports that senior female royals may ditch the bejeweled headgear. The Times of London reported on April 30 that Catherine, the Princess of Wales (better known Stateside as Kate Middleton) may wear a floral headpiece instead.
Status: A day before the coronation, it’s unclear whether the royals will break out the tiaras. Royal commentator Daniela Elser voiced the concerns of many miffed coronation observers.
“If Kate goes down this slightly hippy dippy route, it would be hugely controversial, bucking tradition and depriving the public, Fleet Street editors and Tik Tok from getting to revel in the sight of the Princess done up like a diamond-encrusted dinner,” she wrote for news.com.au.
“This would be much more than a bit of an out-there style choice but something of a rejection of her job description.”
Nobody wants to perform at the coronation.
The issue: On May 7, “a spectacular Coronation Concert will be performed at Windsor Castle with iconic locations across the UK lit up using projections, lasers, drone displays and illuminations,” according to the coronation website. But The Guardian reports that many big names have declined invitations to perform including Adele, Ed Sheeran, Elton John, the Spice Girls, and Harry Styles.
Status: The official lineup hasn’t been announced, but it will reportedly include Lionel Richie, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Robbie Williams’s former Take That bandmates — but not Williams himself.
Nobody wants to ring church bells for Charles.
The issue: All of the U.K.’s 38,000 church bells are supposed to ring out for the coronation. But there’s a national bellringer shortage.
Status: The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers launched a “Ring for the King” campaign last fall to attract more recruits. About 1,750 people have come forward, but there is still a considerable shortfall and now it’s too late to start training new bellringers. “We might need some ringers to go to several churches in one day,” Vicki Chapman of the CCCBR told The Guardian. “We’re hoping that the bells ring at as many parish churches as is humanly possible.”
The coronation’s ‘signature dish’ looks icky.
The issue: Coronation chicken, which is basically a curry chicken salad, has been popular in Britain since it was invented for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation luncheon. So Charles needs an iconic dish for his coronation, too.
Status: The palace announced on April 17 that Charles and Camilla have personally selected a quiche made with spinach, tarragon, and broad beans (a.k.a. fava beans) as their signature dish. Britons are encouraged to serve the coronation quiche at at community lunches celebrating the coronation, but reactions have been mixed at best. People have complained that it’s too French, too expensive, too soggy, and just plain gross.
Coronations are expensive.
The issue: Dropping millions on a taxpayer-funded event celebrating the crowning of a not-terribly-popular guy who’s technically already king isn’t a great look, especially when Britain is experiencing an economic crisis.
Status: Charles wants a “slimmed down” event that’s “shorter, smaller and less expensive” than his mother’s crowning in 1953, according to the Daily Mail. Of course, the royal version of a modest coronation still includes plenty of priceless jewels and golden carriages, so some folks will be annoyed anyway.
People generally aren’t very keen on kings these days.
The issue: Monarchy? Really? In this day and age?
Status: While Elizabeth rarely encountered protesters, anti-monarchist demonstrators regularly show up at Charles’s engagements; he’s already had eggs hurled at him twice in his short reign. The anti-monarchist group Republic is planning to hold peaceful demonstrations in Parliament Square during the coronation. At least he’s used to it.
This post has been updated throughout.
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