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What to Expect at King Charles III’s Historic Coronation

The ceremony will be a mix of tradition and religion, with a good measure of pomp and circumstance

spinner image Camilla, Queen Consort and King Charles III attend the traditional Easter Sunday Mattins Service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on April 9, 2023 in Windsor, England.
Camilla, Queen Consort and King Charles III attend the traditional Easter Sunday Mattins Service at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle in Windsor, England.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

If you haven’t a clue what happens at a British royal coronation, join the multitudes. Even Brits may be a little fuzzy on the many, many details, since there hasn’t been such an occasion since Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne some 70 years ago.

Here’s a primer of what to expect on the big day — from high-profile attendees to royal carriages to (multiple) crowns.

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What is a coronation and why does it matter?

When King Charles III is crowned May 6 in Westminster Abbey in London, it will be momentous for his family, for history and the media, the government of the United Kingdom and its allies and for millions of people around the world watching in person or vicariously.

A coronation is the formal investiture — conferral — of a monarch’s royal status and powers, such as they are in a modern constitutional monarchy. Charles, 74, became king the instant of the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Sept. 8, 2022, making him the oldest person to take the throne in 1,000 years of U.K. royal history.

The ceremony combines religious and secular meaning, blending tradition, continuity and modernity. It’s a ritual intended to bind a monarch to the people and the people to the nation as embodied by the monarch.

spinner image Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, seated on the throne, receives the fealty of the Archbishop of Canterbury, centre with back to camera, the Bishop of Durham, left and the Bishop of Bath and Wells, during her Coronation in Westminster Abbey, June 2, 1953.
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, during her Coronation in Westminster Abbey, June 2, 1953.
Associated Press

How will this coronation differ from the last one, in June 1953?

It will be shorter, less crowded, slimmed down and less expensive. A major difference: Charles’ second wife, Queen Camilla, 75, will be crowned alongside him. His father, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was not crowned in 1953 alongside Queen Elizabeth.

His mother’s coronation, which Charles attended as a 4-year-old prince, lasted nearly three hours; his will be a little more than an hour. About 8,000 guests packed the abbey to the rafters for her crowning; his guests will total slightly more than 2,000.

After the ceremony, the queen and her husband returned to Buckingham Palace in an antique coach via a 5-mile route through London and ecstatic crowds in the streets. Charles and Camilla will return the way they came, along a 1.3-mile route past the houses of Parliament and a statue of Charles I (the king executed by Parliament in 1649), past Trafalgar Square and through Admiralty Arch and down The Mall to the palace gates.

Another difference: For both processions, Elizabeth and Philip traveled in the Gold State Coach, a 260-year-old horse-drawn carriage used in every coronation since William IV’s in 1831. It’s a painted fairy-tale coach, but it’s terribly uncomfortable, described as “horrible” by the queen. Charles and Camilla will use the Gold State Coach for the procession returning to the palace, but the procession to the ceremony will be in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, built for Elizabeth’s 60th anniversary in 2012; it features air conditioning and a comfy suspension system.

spinner image The Gold State Coach passes in front of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in front of Buckingham Palace, London, on day four of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. The King and Queen Consort will travel to the coronation in the modern Diamond Jubilee State Coach and return in the historic Gold State Coach.
King Charles II and Queen Camilla will travel to the coronation in the modern Diamond Jubilee State Coach and return in the historic Gold State Coach (above).
Press Association via AP Images

Where will the coronation take place?

Westminster Abbey is a royal church where royal coronations, marriages, funerals and burials have taken place since it was built in the 11th century. All but two monarchs were crowned at the abbey; Charles will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned there since 1066.

Where will Charles sit when he is crowned?

He will be seated on King Edward’s Chair placed in the center of the abbey in front of the high altar. One of the world’s most famous pieces of furniture, it was ordered by Edward I in 1300 to encase the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, a hunk of sandstone used at Scottish coronations for centuries and stolen by the English in 1296. In 1996, the stone was returned to Scotland by the British government with the understanding it would be borrowed for coronations. It will be present under the coronation chair for Charles’ crowning, then returned to Scotland.

What is the most sacred (and private) ritual of the coronation?

Since the 16th century, a British coronation has been a Church of England ceremony, presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, because the monarch is the head of that Protestant church founded by Henry VIII.

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Before the crowning, the king will be anointed on the hands, breast and head with the Chrism oil, a specially blended olive-based oil made and consecrated at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

As happened at the 1953 coronation, this ritual is expected to take place off camera, according to multiple British media reports. The anointing originally symbolized the idea that monarchs ruled by divine right; today, it confirms that the British monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

spinner image St. Edward's Crown, the crown used in coronations for English and later British monarchs, and one of the senior Crown Jewels of Britain, during a service to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey in London on June 4, 2013.
St. Edward's Crown.
JACK HILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

How many crowns will be used in the coronation?

Charles will be crowned with St. Edward’s Crown, the crown made for King Charles II in 1661 to replace the medieval crown melted down in 1649 during the unpleasantness with Oliver Cromwell.

After crowning, as the king prepares to depart the abbey, he will take off that crown and don the Imperial State Crown, which he will wear for the return procession and when he appears on the palace balcony. This crown is worn by the monarch on ceremonial occasions such as the State Opening of Parliament and was last seen resting on the coffin of the late queen.

What crown will Queen Camilla wear?

Queen Camilla will wear a crown, too, marking the first time in the modern era that an existing crown is being used for the crowning of a consort. She will wear Queen Mary’s Crown, worn by the king’s great-grandmother at the coronation of her husband, George V, in 1911 and at the coronation of her son, George VI, in 1937. This crown has been altered by the inclusion of three famous diamonds that were part of Queen Elizabeth’s personal jewelry collection, the palace said.

spinner image In this handout image released by Buckingham Palace, King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort pose for a portrait in the Blue Room at Buckingham Palace on April 4, 2023 in London, England.
King Charles III and Camilla, Queen Consort pose for a portrait in the Blue Room at Buckingham Palace on April 4, 2023 in London, England.
2023 Hugo Burnand/Buckingham Palace

What robes will the king and queen wear at the coronation?

As the day of the ceremony approached, Buckingham Palace revealed more details about what will be worn and carried and their significance, including the “coronation robes.” There are four of these crimson or purple velvet robes: the two robes of state (to be worn on arrival) and the two robes of estate (to be worn on departure).

Like the ceremony, which blends old and new, three of the robes were used in previous coronations and needed some conservation, and one, the queen’s robe of estate, is new. Designed and hand-embroidered by the Royal School of Needlework, for which Camilla serves as patron, it features the queen’s royal cypher and themes of nature and the environment, reflecting affection for the natural world.

Which royals will play roles at the coronation?

spinner image Prince Harry to attend coronation of King Charles without Meghan
AP Newsroom

What about Harry?

The attendee the British media seem to care about most is Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, 38, Charles’ younger son, who moved to California in 2020 with his American wife, the former Meghan Markle, and has been scorching his family and the British media ever since in TV interviews, a Netflix series and a best-selling memoir, Spare.

The will-they-won’t-they speculation ended on April 12 when the palace said only Harry will attend. Duchess Meghan, 41, will remain home in Montecito, California, with their children, Prince Archie, who turns 4 on the day of the coronation, and Princess Lilibet, who turns 2 in June.

Prince George of Wales, Charles’ 9-year-old grandson, second in line to the throne after his father, Prince William, will serve as one of four pages of honor carrying the robes of prominent figures. George will be the first and youngest future king in recent history to be officially involved in a coronation service.

Queen Camilla also will have four pages, all of whom are either relatives, including her grandchildren from her first marriage, or family friends.

Prince William, 40, will play a leading role: As heir apparent, he will be the first to pay homage, kneeling before the crowned king.

All the Waleses — including Princess Kate, 41, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5 — are expected at the ceremony, in the processions and on the palace balcony. Whether this will apply to other members of the king’s family, such as his younger son, Prince Harry, his brothers, sister, nieces and nephews, is still not confirmed.

Who is invited to the coronation?

Though a final guest list has yet to be released, expect to see most members of the king’s family, including his European royal relations, plus heads of state and government, members of the British aristocracy and government, and heads of charities the king supports.

The announcement that first lady Jill Biden will represent President Joe Biden and the U.S. left some British commentators sputtering about a “snub.” However, President Dwight Eisenhower did not attend the 1953 coronation, sending four members of his Cabinet instead.

Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco, Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, and King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain are among those who have RSVP’d “Yes.” Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Andrea Bocelli are set to perform at the Coronation Concert held May 7 — the day after the big day — on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The music event is part of the overall festivities honoring Charles’ ascension to the throne and will air on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Sound. (Free tickets to the live concert have already been snatched up.)

Who will lead the procession into Westminster Abbey?

Leaders and representatives of modern Britain’s many faiths, including Jewish, Sunni and Shiite Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Baha’i and Zoroastrian communities, will lead the way, playing an active role in the ceremonies for the first time. This is in keeping with the king’s mission to show how a 1,000-year-old Christian monarchy can represent all of multicultural Britain, including Roman Catholics who are by law barred from the throne.

Charles has expressed a long-standing interest in spirituality and religious matters. Decades ago, he said he wanted to be seen as a “defender of faith,” rather than the traditional title of “defender of the faith,” meaning Christianity and the Church of England. In September, before his mother’s funeral, he met with faith leaders at a palace reception, promising them he would protect “the space for faith itself” as king.

How will people pay homage to the king?

Previous coronations included a point when, after the crowning, assembled royals, religious leaders and lords lined up to pay homage in order of rank. For the first time, the “Homage of the Peers” will be replaced by the “Homage of the People,” according to the official order of the service released by Lambeth Palace, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s London home. The archbishop will invite anyone inside the Abbey or watching at home — “a chorus of millions of voices,” the palace statement predicted — to pledge their allegiance to the “undoubted King, defender of all.”

“This is a new and significant moment in the tradition of the Coronation,” according to the palace. “Never before in our history have the general public been offered such an opportunity to join with national figures in declaring their allegiance to a new Sovereign.”

Some anti-monarchists mocked the plan as an “offensive and tone-deaf gesture.” Republic, a group that calls for dumping the monarchy, issued a statement declaring, “In a democracy it is the head of state who should be swearing allegiance to the people, not the other way around.”

spinner image Buckingham Palace is pleased to share the invitation for the Coronation, which will be issued in due course to over 2,000 guests who will form the congregation in Westminster Abbey. It is also announced today that eight Pages of Honour have been chosen to attend Their Majesties during the Coronation Service. In this handout image released by Buckingham Palace. The invitation for the Coronation has been designed by Andrew Jamieson, a heraldic artist and manuscript illuminator. Mr Jamieson is a Brother of the Art Workers’ Guild, of which The King is an Honorary Member.
The invitation for the Coronation has been designed by Andrew Jamieson, a heraldic artist and manuscript illuminator.
2023 Hugo Burnand/Buckingham Palace

What does the invitation look like?

It looks like something suitable for framing, in keeping with the king’s artistic bent. It marked the first time Charles’ wife was officially titled Queen Camilla and not Camilla the Queen Consort.

All of the guests will receive the specially designed invitation featuring a hand-painted watercolor-and-gouache on a recycled card with gold foil detailing. The design, shared by the palace, features the natural foliage, wildflowers and wildlife of the U.K., plus symbolic icons such as a lion and a unicorn. Each invitation was personalized by a team of calligraphers.

What music will be heard at the coronation?

Charles is a classical music aficionado and was closely involved in selecting and commissioning music for the coronation service, aiming to blend tradition, heritage and ceremony with new musical voices, the palace said.

Expect to hear familiar anthems from the likes of Byrd, Elgar, Handel and other composers whose music has been featured at coronations over four centuries. There will be a half-dozen different choirs, including a gospel choir, and a Byzantine chant ensemble that will perform Greek Orthodox music, a tribute to the king’s late father, who was born a prince of Greece and Denmark.

The work of celebrated living composers also will be featured, including a new coronation anthem by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who said in a statement released by the palace that it includes words adapted from Psalm 98, which is about rejoicing.

Where to Watch: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox will have live coverage of the procession and coronation on Saturday, May 6, starting at 5 a.m. ET. The BBC’s coverage begins at 2:30 a.m. ET. The royal events will be live streamed on multiple digital platforms, including Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV and Fubo TV.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 20, 2023. It has been updated to reflect new information.

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