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Pomp, protest greet monarch

By XING YI in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-08 10:01

Charles III crowned as he faces modern UK struggling with economic woes

King Charles III (front center) and Queen Camilla (middle center) walk in the coronation procession in Westminster Abbey in London on Saturday. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/ASSOCIATED PRESS

As Charles III was crowned monarch of the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth realms in London on Saturday, the weather that accompanied the occasion seemed to be highly fitting: a rainy day — like the one when his mother was crowned 70 years ago.

However, the social and political climate for the king differs markedly from that of his mother — the coronation was not only bathed in pomp but also greeted with protests, as the new king faced a fractured modern Britain struggling with economic woes.

Minutes past noon, trumpets sounded inside Westminster Abbey and Charles III was crowned as the Archbishop of Canterbury placed St. Edward's Crown onto the head of the monarch before the congregation shouted "God save the king."

The thousand-year-old ceremony, designed to evoke awe and reverence among the sovereign's subjects, now functions merely as a reason for those who support the monarch to celebrate and for those against it to voice their antagonism, if not outright disgust.

According to surveys taken by the British market and data analytics firm YouGov before the coronation, about 62 percent of British people support retaining the monarch, and there is a deep generational and ethnic divide among those who express a view on the matter.

Backing for the crown stood at 79 percent among those older than 65, while only 36 percent of the young respondents said they wanted to keep the monarchy. Thirty-eight percent of ethnic minority respondents voiced their support for retaining the monarchy.

David Alessio, a longtime European royal watcher from the United States, was among the many watching the coronation ceremony on Saturday on a big screen set up in Green Park, adjacent to Buckingham Palace.

'Need to change'

"I think Charles is very much a transitional king," he said. "The late queen was very traditionalist. England is not the same place it was when the queen was coronated in 1953, and it needs to change."

Almost 20 percent of the UK population have ethnic minority roots, compared with less than 1 percent in the 1950s, and less than half of the country's people describe themselves as Christian, according to the national census in 2021.

"The monarchy needs to be inclusive of what the country is from both ethnic and economic standpoints,"Alessio said.

"If the monarchy ends up just being for a small group of old white guys it will not survive, because every person who is English pays for the monarchy."

London police, having said they would have an "extremely low threshold" for disruptive behavior during the coronation, arrested more than 50 people early on Saturday.

Many of those arrested were protesters, organized by the anti-monarchy group Republic, who were present along the route of the coronation procession holding banners and wearing yellow clothes, many with slogans saying "Not my king".

As the king met leaders of his far-flung realms on Saturday, fewer countries had the British monarch as their head of state than when Elizabeth II was crowned.

Several Commonwealth realms — countries with sovereign governments that have Charles as head of state — are reconsidering their relationships with the crown. The Caribbean island of Barbados was the latest to become a republic, in 2021.

In June last year Jamaica announced its intention to be a republic by 2025, and, just days after the queen's death, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda said that plans for his country to do the same remained on track.

John Thompson, who traveled with his family from Yorkshire, northern England, to watch the coronation, said that despite the controversies, he is very supportive of the monarchy. Royal events such as the coronation bring huge amounts of tourism to the UK as well, he said.


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