The ceremony also laid bare the class hierarchy which still underpins British society, of which the royals sit atop. This is a family with an order of precedence.
Harry, the estranged second son, was on the same row – the third back – as his disgraced uncle. By contrast with the other men of his family, all wearing fancy dress bequeathed to them by Charles’ mummy, Harry looked normal. He was the unobtrusive guy turning up to the family event out of duty, dashing out as quickly as he could afterwards.
And yet, Harry is not normal. He allowed the designer label Dior to use him as advertising by wearing one of its suits to the event – single-handedly inventing an entire new genre of social media influencer. Not that he was alone – the oronation guest list was populated by celebrities much more interested in taking photos of themselves than of the marvellous historical event for which they had a front-row seat. This is a new kind of royal power, one aligned with the values of neo-liberalism, and Harry seems to understand it well.
Shakespeare made monarchs his great subject, but Shakespeare’s monarchs all have power, so Shakespeare’s true subject is politics, and the way power interacts with character.
Today’s monarchs have no real power, although Charles has shown signs that he would like some. He is a proponent for progressive issues like climate action and environmental preservation, and a strong supporter of too many charitable causes to name.
He reportedly clashed with Boris Johnson over the former Tory prime minister’s 2022 policy to send people seeking asylum in the UK on a plane to Rwanda for processing. At a Commonwealth summit, where he was standing in for his mother the Queen, Charles described the policy as “appalling” within earshot of Johnson or his people, according to the Spectator. Johnson and Charles also disagreed on matters of architecture and urban planning, and on the subject of genetically modified foods, all things on which Charles has strong opinions.
These opinions are what makes him modern – it seems impossible, in today’s world, with its divisiveness and sharp moral debates, to rise above social affairs, queenly, in the way his mother did. But Charles’ opinions are impotent, unable to be affected through any political power.
The best he has is influence, which we know he has tried to wield, through meetings with members of the government and letters he has written to government ministers and politicians, advocating for his causes (dubbed the “black spider memos”, for his distinctive handwriting, after they were made in public in 2015).
I doubt if the Coronation shifted public opinion in Australia in favour of a republic. We have become a nation of lazy republicans, and recent global events have sharpened focus on what a populist president might look like. Charles is perfectly fine in comparison to that. There was much Australian interest in the coronation, but interest should not be mistaken for unrestrained approval.
Food prices in Britain are at a 45-year high; real wages are falling. The week before the coronation, the Bank of England’s chief economist Huw Pill said that “what we’re facing now is that reluctance to accept that yes we’re all worse off, we all have to take our share”.
The coronation seemed largely an exercise in propping up British self-esteem – much-needed evidence to the British people that their country remains great.
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