The Importance of Ritual

Well, that went well, didn’t it? What a coronation! The pomp and ceremony that the British do better than any other country in the world. Months in the planning, three hours max in the delivery and it’s all over until the next time.

Allowing a little time to pass since the ceremony itself, I’ve been considering and reading the pros and cons about such an event. The King himself reportedly wants to reign over a “slimmed down” version of the monarchy and his Coronation was intended to show how the Carolean age will be an example of that. Fair enough. He’s king. He’s the one who has the final decision.

Except, of course, there is the government of the day and it’s hard to imagine politicians wouldn’t want to take an opportunity to have their say so. You can just picture Palace and government officials telling His Majesty that a coronation during a cost-of-living crisis “shouldn’t be too ornate”. And you can imagine a man who we’re told is very sensitive to being seen to do the right thing, trying hard not to offend.

So, what did we get? A spectacular coach. Two to be precise. Fewer coronets and tiaras – fewer women altogether in fact – and more men (politicians) in suits. The ceremony and the music was certainly rousing and I found the part where the King was anointed and crowned surprisingly moving. Personally, I thought there was an argument for a bit more joy in the music and a little less choral, but that’s just me. It might relate to memories of singing psalms at school. I always preferred uplifting hymns.

Was everyone satisfied? The crowds certainly seemed to be as did the participants and those lucky enough to be invited to attend at Westminster Abbey. Generally, from the media reviews I’ve read and seen, it was considered a good show. A job well done.


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There are one or two remaining niggles.

First, the problem with a slimmed down monarchy is that the balcony at Buckingham Palace looked a bit bare. It’s designed for a lot of people and the 15 or 20-so royals who were there were not enough to fill the space. And where were the youth? If the Royal Family intends to continue its role as Britain’s family-in-chief, then we need the whole group, warts and all, not just those at the top of the tree.

Like all families, the royals have their own disappointments and, without naming names, I can understand why one or two of them might have been left off the balcony showstopper. Some chose to move on in a private capacity while another was deemed to have behaved too badly to be allowed on public display.

But what about the other blameless siblings, in-laws and offspring who were omitted by default? (Sarah Ferguson, btw, should have been invited to the service if Camilla’s ex was, and he was.) That seems mean. Zara and Mike Tindall, Beatrice and Eugenie and their husbands are all immediate relatives of the King. They add a bit of joy and colour – and gossip – to his subjects/citizens’ lives and we like to see them. They are part of the ritual of Charles’ life and that means they have become part of ours.

Close your eyes and imagine how it would have looked if all the royals had been on the balcony as they usually were. Our beloved one and only Queen would be missing of course and it would take a little mental reshuffling of the characters to get past that, but we’d have taken comfort in the familiarity of the main cast and accepted life moves on.

Those of us interested enough would have been able to glory in the occasion or, if we were in typical family mode and feeling a bit more bitchy, we could have criticised the dress sense and styles of those who displeased us. It’s what we do after all and it’s how family events work. Everyone’s invited and we must make the best of it.

In this case, I think King Charles was not wise to go with the political idea less is more. I don’t think so. I think more is more.

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Important parts of our lives are marked by rites of passage. Our birth, and birthdays, Christenings or alternative religious inclusions, our comings of age, our marriages, births of our children and, at the end of it all, our deaths. All marked by ritual, a vital way of trying to get our own handle and understanding on what life’s all about. Without this, many of us might feel lost.

It could be argued this sense of ritual also applies to the rhythm of therapy, a ritual where one agrees to meet the same person at the same time in the same place each week. That ritual creates the conditions for healing to take place. Ritual helps.


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So, I’d like to make a plea for the royals to remember that this is not just about them, it is about us too. And I’m not just talking about future coronations which I hope we won’t see for a while. I’m talking about celebrations, bringing a nation together, allowing us to collectively participate. We need such rituals, we deserve then and, when life is looking bleak, they are more necessary than ever. And the most glorious and over-the-top the better.

My charming, talented and artistic 94-year-old friend, who remembers the last Coronation, said she’d enjoyed this one and was glad the ceremony itself was shortened.

However, she added, she’d have liked to have seen more ladies in long dresses and more tiaras, along with “a bit more splash of colour”. She’s still got it.


Photo 1: Katie Chan – Wikimedia Commons

Photo 2: Chris Boland on Unsplash

Photo 3: Adrian Raudaschl on Unsplash

Photo 4: Armand Attard/DCMS