It was a long time coming. Over 70 years, in fact. Charles III, the longest reigning Prince of Wales ever, ended his long wait and was finally crowned King Charles III, the 62nd monarch of England and Britain. This legacy goes back over twelve hundred years.
Officially, his title is “Charles the Third, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories, King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”.
Charles I reigned from 1625 until 1649. He was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s army during the English Civil War. Tried for treason, he was eventually beheaded. Charles II was named king following the collapse of the republic. He had 13 known mistresses, numerous illegitimate children but left no heir. During his rule the Great Plague occurred in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.
At the time of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation there were approximately 100 monarchs, kings, queens, and other people of royalty that ruled over nations and territories, a number that has now shrunk to less than 20. Only the United Kingdom still has a coronation with all the pomp, circumstances, history, and rituals that occurred in the spectacle last Saturday.
My wife, Mary Lou, and my daughter, Catherine, had planned for this day as well. They both attended the University of Reading, England during their Junior years in college, spending 11 months totally immersed in all things British. Mary Lou graduated with a degree in History, with an emphasis on Western Europe. Catherine graduated with a double major in History and Art History, with an emphasis on British History.
Anglophiles both, they gathered this weekend in Auburn to celebrate and enjoy together this British ceremony that has not occurred in my lifetime. Scones were purchased, and towels and cups adorned with the Union Jack appeared from the back of closets, probably not used in decades.
The DVR was set up at the last minute after deciding that it really was not necessary to get out of bed at 4 o’clock in the morning to watch the festivities in real time. Nevertheless, the program was streaming in our den by seven in the morning, following the BBC, of course. I was up shortly after, caught up in the historical event myself.
We were all still in our robes and pajamas when noon rolled around. There were two bathroom breaks and a leisurely breakfast eaten in front of the television. Both occasionally added additional commentary to that provided by the talking heads on the BBC. It was actually quite educational for me, and a treat for them.
An added benefit was discovering that the BBC provided the program to the ceremony which could be accessed by a QR code occasionally shown on the screen. The program, which was the same being used by those in attendance, was 50 pages long. It was a huge help in understanding all that was going on, but also an indicator of how long the process would be.
Over 2,200 people attended the historic Westminster Abbey, the sight of British coronations since Christmas Day in 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned. Only two of the 40 kings and queens since then were not crowned at Westminster Abbey. Edward V, the boy king, was murdered in 1473 in the Tower of London before he could be crowned. Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II’s uncle, became king but abdicated 11 months later to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. His coronation was never held. Ironically, both King Charles III and Queen Camilla are divorced, illustrating the evolving rules surrounding the monarchy.
As massive as Charles’ coronation seemed, it was a scaled down version compared to that of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. Over 8,000 people attended that ceremony. Scaffolding was built to accommodate the thousands of people seated beyond the capacity of the building. It was such a large undertaking that railroad tracks were laid on the sanctuary floor to carry the huge amount of materials required for the temporary seating.
Mary Lou first visited England in 1974. Our first trip together was in 1981. We have been going back anytime we are “in the neighborhood”, often scheduling extended layovers when we are visiting another country in Europe.
In homage to their love for all things British, Mary Lou and Catherine, and I, along with her husband, Daaron, and our grandson, Henry, will have a private tour of Westminster in three weeks as we visit the United Kingdom yet again.
In some ways, it is a bit like going home. As many of you know, Mary Lou and I share a common ancestor, John Ponder, who emigrated from England in the 1600’s. He came from an area called Ponder’s Corner, underneath the current Heathrow Airport where we will land. Many years later, our Ponder ancestors were Tories, supporting the British during the American War of Independence.
Thankfully, we both have other ancestors that did fight for American independence in the Revolutionary War. Nevertheless, we will share with some pride the respect the British people have for their monarchy when we hear them speak for the first time in our lifetime the words, God Save the King.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com