King Charles and the Power of Pomp

King Charles and the Power of Pomp

May 3, 20233 min read

With the approach of the first coronation of a British monarch in 70 years, the world is watching, dissecting, and analyzing every element involved in the Coronation of King Charles III and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort.

Cameras, photographers and journalists from across the globe are working overtime on this historic event, as are observers and scholars, including UConn anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas, who penned a piece for the BBC where he explains the power behind the  pomp and ceremony around the crowing of Britain's new king:

On 6 May, 2023, one of the most spectacular rituals in the world will take place: the Coronation of King Charles III and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort.

Shrouded in spectacle and adorned with priceless regalia, the ceremony will be officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey and attended by a host of foreign royals and heads of state. The whole event will be broadcast around the world, with hundreds of millions of people expected to tune in. Once crowned, the royal couple will return to Buckingham Palace in the Gold State Coach, a carriage so loaded with gold that it needs eight horses to pull it. They will be escorted by thousands of troops from all branches of the armed forces, making up the largest military display in three generations.

The festivities will last all weekend – and a long weekend at that, as Monday has been proclaimed a public holiday nationwide. Events include colourful parades, public concerts, spectacular light shows, and thousands of street parties across the UK and the Commonwealth.

The scale of this undertaking might seem exuberant. After all, King Charles may have dominion over all swans, dolphins, whales and sturgeons in the UK's waters but he will wield little political power beyond a largely ceremonial role. What is more, a coronation is not even necessary to become king. In fact, Edward VIII reigned as sovereign without ever being crowned. As heir apparent, King Charles III's accession to the throne occurred automatically the moment Queen Elizabeth II died, on 8 September 2022.

... The effects of ceremonial opulence may extend well beyond the Kings’ subjects. To the world at large, they act as status symbols – what anthropologists call “credibility-enhancing displays”. Our minds intuitively link effort with value. A ceremony that requires such enormous cost and effort to organise provides tangible evidence of the importance of the institution it celebrates and people’s commitment to that institution.

At a time of political instability, with an increase in Russian aggression, the UK emerging from Brexit and a global pandemic, the British state could use some of that social glue. And above all, so could the royal family.

The last few years have been rough on the royals, to say the least. Prince Andrew lost his military titles and royal patronages as he faced allegations of sexual assault that he has consistently denied. Internationally, as the world grapples with the legacy of colonialism, more and more countries seem inclined to cut their ties to the Crown. All the while, Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have had a very public exit from the centre of royal life and their media presence has been rubbing salt to these wounds.

In light of these developments, the Coronation may play a crucial role in the Royal Family’s struggle to stay relevant. Indeed, as public support for the monarchy has been steadily declining, two recent grand ceremonies, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and funeral, have been accompanied by boosts to British attitudes towards the institution.

King Charles III's Coronation will be one of the most grandiose royal celebrations of this century. It remains to be seen whether it can help convince his subjects that he still has a role to play in British society.

Dimitris Xygalatas is an associate professor of anthropology and psychological sciences, and head of UConn's Experimental Anthropology Lab, which develops interdisciplinary methods and technologies for studying behavior in real-life settings.

He is available to speak with media, answering all your questions about coronations and their rituals and purpose. Click on his icon to arrange an interview today.

Connect with:
  • Dimitris  Xygalatas, Ph.D.
    Dimitris Xygalatas, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Anthropology

    Dr. Xygalatas' research focuses on ritual, sports, bonding, and the things that make us human.

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