Congratulations, King Charles III. The whole world literally stood still as the major networks of the globe tuned to Westminster to report the incredible cultural spectacle of your coronation. The global community felicitated as one family with the United Kingdom, gluing its eyes to the show stopper.
Before God and man, Charles III ascended the throne of his forebears, assuming the position of King of England and the commonwealth realms. He is head of state of fifteen sovereign states — the United Kingdom, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
In addition, there are also three Crown Dependencies, fourteen British Overseas Territories and two small associated states of New Zealand: the Cook Islands and Niue. Although the British empire expired a long time ago, the British monarch still has some kind of imperial reach and significance for many people outside his immediate geographic location.
The multicultural dimension of the reach of the English throne was aptly showcased during the coronation rites. The choice of officiating personnel was thoughtful and representative. Ancient rites were incorporated into the modern ceremony with a seamless gliding between traditional superstition as encapsulated in the idea of the globe, and Christianity which is the religion of state. Kudos to the British for staging a first class spectacle.
There is something fascinating about culture. Any culture. When closely observed, one finds incredible similarities between peoples; one discovers, too, that the essential hypocrisies that separate the royal from the plebeian are basically the same, especially when both are beneficiaries of historic injustices. You torture no one but yourself when you attempt to use the measuring rod of morality to assess thrones and their occupants. If tempted to do so, remember the wise counsel of the toad: leave me out of any tale where tails are mentioned.
The beginning of every reign marks the birth of another era for good or for ill. Fate is an inveterate teaser. It taunts us with possibilities. Will the new king surpass his long=reigned mother, Elizabeth II, in royal housekeeping to ensure that the mystique surrounding the House of Windsor is not completely eroded and the sheer nakedness of the royals exposed?
In today’s world, it is not quite possible for any king to replicate the power and reach of Genghis Khan (ca. 1162–1227) whose Mongolian Empire spanned the entire Asian continent from the Pacific Ocean to modern-day Hungary in Europe. It was the largest empire ever, and the emperor had a large appetite for cruelty, conquest and destruction.
Neither is the kind of serial adultery and single minded infamy that characterised the reign of Henry VIII permissible now. But, given its history and circumstances, the coronation had its own string of ironies.
One couldn’t help remembering that the coronation was happening in a church created by King Henry VIII when the Pope refused to allow him take another wife after his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In retaliation, he broke away from the Catholic church and formed the Church of England of which he was head. He was therefore technically able to give himself permission to do as he willed. In the end he married six wives in the following order: Catherine of Aragon (the mother of the future queen Mary I), Anne Boleyn (the mother of the future queen Elizabeth I), Jane Seymour (the mother of Henry’s successor, Edward VI), Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr.
One must notice, too, the storied matrimonial circumstances of the new king and queen who are both divorcees. In another age and time, that would have counted against them, but if anyone needed evidence that some aspects of the monarchy were moving with the times, there it is.
Perhaps, Edward VIII who abdicated the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson and became known as the Duke of Windsor, would feel vindicated in his grave. His abdication speech still resounds around the world: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love…”
The British establishment seems to have now come to terms with the contemporaneous trend which is more libertarian: Marrying for love cannot be demonised. Moralists can eat their hearts out.
Symbolism aside, Charles III is ascending the throne at a time of great turmoil in the world, especially in Africa where the iniquitous policies of British colonialists of yore continue to fuel conflicts in the region. Many analysts argue that the main reasons for Africa’s poverty are the slave trade and British colonial exploitation. As head of state, the English monarch is a principal beneficiary of the wholesale looting of the African continent and the dehumanisation of the people.
How does a king begin to redress centuries of injustice in this modern era when he is no longer the chief executive of state? One of the moral scandals of modern governance is the fact that slave owners were compensated for agreeing to release their slaves during the Abolition while the slaves themselves who had suffered the dehumanisation have never been compensated to this day.
To achieve its aims on the African continent, the British unleashed many atrocities in every direction of the compass — The Mau-Mau uprising (1952) in which historian Caroline Elkins believes up to 100,000 could have died; The Iva Valley Massacre in Enugu; The Aba women’s riot in 1929; Sotik Massacre in Kenya (1905); Chilembwe uprising in Malawi (1915); and the countless atrocities in Southern Africa. There are also numerous unedifying tales from Ghana, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and other countries where British colonialism once held sway. In Asia, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation under the control of the British Empire,
It may be convenient to have historical amnesia but the truth must be told. Britain financed its Industrial Revolution and prosperity from the looting of Africa and Asia. The coronation itself was, in a way, a sad reminder of how the English monarchy appropriated gems from Africa and Asia to adorn its crown.
St. Edward’s Crown worn by King Charles III is made of 22-carat gold and 444 precious and semiprecious stones, including 345 rose-cut aquamarines, 37 white topaz, 27 tourmalines, 12 rubies, seven amethysts, six sapphires, two jargoons, one garnet, one spinel and one carbuncle.
In the same vein, Queen Camilla wore Queen Mary’s crown which has a gold-lined silver frame and 2,200 diamonds. In response to serious opposition by cultural and political activists from India, Iran and other countries, the crown did not feature the infamous Koh-i-Noor diamond, a 105.6-carat stone mined in India with a long, disputed history that is seen as a symbol of the United Kingdom’s looting past. It was reportedly fitted instead with Elizabeth II’s Cullinan III, IV and V diamonds originally from South Africa.
For those of us in the former colonies, therefore, the coronation of King Charles evoked a potpourri of emotions. Parts of the ceremony looked like slices of the coronation of the Olu of Warri in Nigeria’s Delta State despite the differences in race, history, culture , etc.
And, like in Africa, there was the sub-text of royal intrigues and gossips, with some members of the royal family and their plebeian media pugilists doing their damndest to further drive a wedge between the royal family and the estranged Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan. There’s no shortage of hate and ill-will out there.
One former Labour minister and diarist, Chris Mullin, suggests that Meghan Markle is a “cuckoo” in the royal nest and her “woke Californian hang-ups” are likely to destroy her marriage to Prince Harry, and the Duke of Sussex will “come limping home”. Talk about taking an analgesic for another person’s migraine! Calvin Miller must have had people like Mullin in mind when he famously said, “Humanity is fickle. They may dress for a morning coronation and never feel the need to change clothes for an execution in the afternoon.”
Back to the question: How does a king begin to redress centuries of injustice in this modern era when he is no longer the chief executive of state? If the king is interested in some form of reparation to former colonies (including the return of their artefacts and precious stones), he knows how to deploy his soft power to achieve his goal. That is why Providence made him understudy his mum for seven decades.
If God saves the king as the British Anthem prays, He probably will have mercy on the kingdom too. So let it be with Charles III.
- Wole Olaoye is a Public Relations consultant and veteran journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @wole_olaoye; Instagram: woleola2021