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‘Heavy lies the head that wears the crown’ – especially with 2.2kg of gold and jewels worth the GDP of Barbados

By Dr Doug Witherspoon - 14th May 2023

King Charles III

The cave-dwelling among us may have missed all the fuss over the recent coronation of King Charles III.

The oft-misquoted line in the headline from Shakespeare’s Henry IV was intended to convey a deeper meaning, but physically, the crown itself weighs upwards of 2kg, a payload made up of 2,868 diamonds, 269 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and four rubies. But the term ‘crown jewels’ does not specifically refer to the gems on the crown itself –  it refers to a wider collection of more than 100 objects and 23,000 gemstones, which have been under lock-and-key in the Tower of London for hundreds of years. That’s a lot of ‘bling’.

But there were other lesser-spotted aspects of the obscenely opulent ceremony that are worth acknowledging, regardless of how you feel about the concept of a monarchy,  or this one in particular.

Charles is 74 years of age, the oldest person ever to accede to the British throne. He was also the longest-serving heir apparent in British history, a position which he held for 70 years. It can be really frustrating waiting for that promotion to come up….

But previous coronations did not run with the same well-oiled precision as this recent event. For example, in 1714, the coronation of King George I was “really a farce”, according to a report in the Herts and Essex Observer. George I had previously held the position of Elector of Hanover and barely spoke any English – the ceremony was therefore held in Latin because his ministers could not speak German.

Skip forward to 1938 and the ceremony for Queen Victoria, a gruelling affair that lasted all of five hours, with no rehearsal involved in the preparations. The Archbishop on-call had to force the coronation ring onto Victoria’s finger and during the proceedings, an aged peer named Lord Rolle actually fell down the stairs. I’m not sure how much ceremonial wine was involved, but the Bishop prematurely announced the end of the ceremony and Victoria was forced to endure the ignominy of returning to her seat to finish it off. It’s fair to assume that one was not amused, and following the farce, a committee was put together to put a more structured plan in place for future monarchs. It was, in fact, dubbed “the last of the botched coronations”.

Of course, King Charles III needed somewhere suitably ostentatious to place his royal posterior. The man who has his shoelaces ironed each morning eased into the Coronation Chair, which is thought to be the oldest piece of furniture in the UK that is still used for its original purpose. The high-backed, 700-year-old chair was carved by master carpenter Walter of Durham and took around the same time to build as the monstrous Liberty Hall in Dublin. Make of that what you will.

The chair was given a makeover prior to Charles’s coronation. Over the years, it had been defaced with graffiti and some pieces of it had been chipped away by souvenir hunters. One message that was carved into the chair read: “P Abbot slept in this chair, 5-6 July 1800.”

What you wouldn’t see at the coronation is the anointing of Charles with a 600-year-old ‘Coronation Spoon’, a silver-gilt spoon with an oval bowl engraved with scrolls and a “stylised monster’s head” that joins the bowl to the stem, according to the Royal Collection Trust. It also features four pearls embedded into the stem, and another monster’s head toward the end of the spoon. The anointing is done in private to symbolise a private moment between the King and God with oil harvested from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This time, the oil used was vegan to adhere to Charles’s preferences.

The cost of Charles’s coronation is a column unto itself. Estimates vary at between £100 to £200 million and if you’re a British taxpayer who’s not crazy about the monarchy, it could be a little irritating to have the equivalent of a significant portion of the health budget spent on Charles’s big day.

With so many people struggling with ever-increasing food and fuel costs in the UK, it does raise the question of how relevant a monarchy is to the average hard-pressed worker in 2023.

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