Skip to main content

Coronation Day, 2023

Strangely moving scenes in the village churchyard yesterday, were the people of this valley gathered in the twilight among the gravestones of their ancestors to watch fireworks marking the coronation. I don’t know how many of them are ardent royalists. I know at least a few are proud republicans. Some, who hold their farms on lease from the Duchy of Cornwall, had the former Prince Charles as their landlord for decades, and may have more reason to grumble about him than most. But they weren’t there to celebrate Charles’s enthronement. They were coming together as a community to mark a national moment, which is also of course a local moment, and a personal moment.

I tend to feel that having strong opinions either way on the subject of the monarchy is the sure sign of a crank. Royal fans and ardent republicans, like Brexit enthusiasts or people with #FBPE in their Twitter handle, are best edged away from at parties. I suppose if you’d asked me when I was twenty I would have said, ‘down with the Royals, they are a vestige of a defunct and debunked class system, etc’. But when I was twenty I was trying to fit in with the cool kids, who thought any fondness for the past and its ways decidedly déclassé. Also, being young, I couldn’t fully understand the strange comfort and melancholy of recognising in the new king’s face the features of his mother, who was crowned before my parents met, and whose father was king in my grandparents’ time*, and so on back - via various colourful acts of dynastic upheaval and skullduggery - into the mists of time. I can’t imagine how a mere president, caught up in party politics and changing every four or five years, could be anything like such a powerful living symbol of the country and its history. 

Which is not to say that we must pretend it’s entirely a good or happy country, or a blameless history, or that the House of Windsor should be above criticism. I expect many of those who gathered in Widecombe churchyard last night thought that Charles III had looked rather peevish in his regalia, and awfully old. Some may have reflected on his unfortunate marital history. But all of us are peevish sometimes, and we all grow old: the human frailties and failings of the individual under the crown are a feature of the institution, not a bug. I was surprised to find the whole ceremony, with all its lovely, slightly absurd rites and rituals, confected and adapted over a thousand years, profoundly moving*. And afterwards, watching people online dismiss it all as ‘a rich bloke throwing a part to show how rich he is’ or complaining that the music was ‘boring’, I felt actual pity for them**. They are the sort of clever people whose world I wanted to be a part of when I was young. I don’t give two hoots for their opinion now. The divide between puritans and Romantic conservatives runs deep and wide through English culture, and they are on one side of it, and I am on the other, and we shall never really understand each other.

I suspect they’ll get their way, though. I don’t think we’ll see another coronation as rich in pageantry and ritual as this one. I doubt we’ll see many more coronations at all. But I think even the puritans will miss the monarchy when it’s gone. They’ll still have plenty to moan about, because once all the windy and divisive constitutional debates have run their course, the first elected president of the UK will inevitably (and hilariously) be some populist bogeyman of the Boris Johnson or Jeremy Clarkson type. But as they pin on their Not My President badges and paint their witty placards for the protest march, I think they’ll feel that something of the old magic is missing.

In the meantime, fairly un-ironically, and with certain caveats about the exact definition of ‘God’…


*My father remembers the celebrations when George VI was crowned, too - this is his third coronation. 

**My enjoyment of the coronation was much enhanced by having listened to the three very funny and informative episodes which The Rest is History podcast devoted to it. 

***Some of the new bits were a bit ropey, to be fair - yes, I’m looking at you, Lloyd-Webber. But Zadok the Priest remains an absolute banger.


Popular posts from this blog

Excalibur at Forty

It's hard to believe forty years have passed since I watched Excalibur rise from the lake. It was Sunday, July 5th, 1981, around 2.45 in the afternoon, and I was in the ABC Cinema in Brighton. I remember it as if it were yesterday. In paintings and illustrations Excalibur often emerges from the lake at an angle. Sometimes it's in a scabbard and the Lady of the Lake grasps it by the middle; you can imagine her waggling it about to get Arthur's attention. But in Excalibur it rushes straight up, the misty water parting with a ripple around the eerily green-lit blade until at last the hilt breaks the surface, scattering slow-motion droplets like seed pearls.It's like watching the launch of an Apollo rocket. From the trees at the water's edge, mission controller Merlin looks on in awe. What he's probably wondering is, what happens next? Does he have a little boat moored among the roots to get him out to the middle of the mere where the sword is waiting for him? Or

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

One of the reasons the Arthurian Legends appeal so much to writers and film makers is that there is no single original version. If there ever was, it was a tale told by some Romano-British storyteller, sitting by a fire in a damp hall, perhaps expounding on the great deeds of a local ruler or late Roman general, and spicing up the action with some motifs borrowed from old Celtic myths. In the centuries that followed, the story grew, and changed. Lots of legends about other heroes got tacked on to it. French and German poets got hold of it and added Camelot, the Grail, and Courtly Love: Malory borrowed from them all in his Morte D’Arthur . Later, everyone from Tennyson to TH White to Rick Wakeman to little me retold the stories, altering them to fit our own vision and reflect our own times. So you can do whatever you like with King Arthur: everyone else has. At least, that’s the theory. Now here's Guy Ritchie’s 2017 box office catastrophe King Arthur, Legend of the Sword to destru

Railhead A-Z

In order to save my website it became necessary to destroy it. Before I pulled the plug I rescued the longest post on my old blog. Here it is, like the lone survivor of a shipwreck: my A-Z guide to the ideas behind my novel Railhead. At the time it was written, Railhead had just been published. I'll be putting up some posts about the sequels, Black Light Express and Station Zero , in the coming days. Railhead cover art by Ian McQue A  is for Alternative Forms of Transport ‘What I need,’ I thought, when I’d been struggling on and off for a few years with my space epic (working title, ‘Space Epic’) ‘is an alternative to spaceships…’ I’ve always enjoyed space stories. I first started reading science fiction back in 1977, when the original Star Wars film made me realise that outer space could be just as good a backdrop for fantasy as Tolkien-esque worlds of myth and legend. (Actually, I didn’t see Star Wars until 1978, but its bow-wave of publicity hit these shores the p