Today, the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III takes place. Although he became Monarch immediately on the death of his Mother, Queen Elizabeth, the Coronation will be the formal investiture of his regal powers. It will be the first such ceremony in the United Kingdom since that of the late Queen in 1953. Of course, Britain in 2023 is a very different place to that of seventy years ago and the thousand-year-old ceremony will attempt to reflect that.
One of the many differences between now and 1953 is that there are many more Britons who would declare themselves republicans. Overall, they are still a minority although the figures are no doubt very different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Further, age is a major factor with older people more likely than the young to support the Monarchy.
In 1867, the great writer on the British constitution, Walter Bagehot, called Britain “a disguised republic.” Comparing monarchism with republicanism, Bagehot wrote:
…so long as the human heart is strong and the human reason weak, Royalty will be strong because it appeals to diffused feeling, and Republics weak because they appeal to the understanding.
Whatever one thinks of the institution of Monarchy, it would be churlish to deny that Queen Elizabeth led a remarkable life of service. While no intelligent person can produce a logical case for Royalty, life is full of such oddities, including perhaps an interest in long-dead rowers and boats that use an outdated propulsion system.
As the (picture above) shows, Prince William, like all boys at Eton school, was given the chance to try rowing and sculling but it seems that he much preferred soccer and rugby. The same applies to his brother, Prince Harry, and there appear to be very few members of the British Royal Family who have taken an active interest in the sport. It is true that they will attend rowing events as part of their Royal duties but I am sure that there is a more genuine enthusiasm from the older ones for sporting occasions involving horses and from the younger ones for contests featuring popular ball games.
As to aquatic representation at the Coronation, the King’s Bargemaster and some accompanying Royal Watermen will have a central role when the King and Queen return to Buckingham Palace from the ceremony at Westminster Abbey. A release from the Royal Household states:
Their Majesties will travel in the Gold State Coach. The coach, last seen during the Pageant of the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in June 2022, was commissioned in 1760…
(The Coronation Procession will) include Armed Forces from across the Commonwealth and the British Overseas Territories, and all Services of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, alongside The Sovereign’s Bodyguard and Royal Watermen.
Having Royal Watermen in the land based procession is a reminder of the days when the Royal persons would have been carried by river, once much safer and more comfortable than roads.
Returning to republicanism, anti-monarchists often argue that royalty somehow holds back progressive reform. However, it is interesting to note that what are generally accepted as some of the world’s most progressive and successful countries, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, are also monarchies. Even better, some of their royals have been rowers.
The current Prince of Monaco coxed and comes from the great line of Olympic sculling champions, the Kelly’s. The last Emperor of Japan also coxed.