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The death of Prince Philip has its own thread and I don't want to insert this aspect into that thread. I think it's a subject worthy of its own heading and let's face it, there have been plenty of "What's it going to be like when the Queen dies" comments running all the way through discussions about Prince Philip.
So I've done a bit of digging (no funeral pun intended) to see what actually WILL happen when the Queen dies.
I’ve been looking into not only the succession of the Commonwealth, but the succession of the Crown when the sad day comes.
Firstly though, It’s worth a look back to the last time a monarch was crowned in Britain so that we can compare it to what may happen this time around…. because it’s relevant and it’s going to happen sooner or later.
Coronation Day in 1953 was, apparently, a happy day despite the rotten weather. It rained all day. A row of terraced houses in Bristol was declared the best decorated street. First prize was £75, which the residents later spent on a group beano to Weymouth.
During a boozy street party in Glasgow, a young girl named Marie sang in public for the first time. She sang “In a golden coach / there’s a heart of gold / that belongs to you and me”. In years to come she would win the Eurovision Song Contest for UK, marry a Bee Gee and have a string of top ten hits under her stage name of Lulu. She is still an occasional TV personality today.
In Westminster Abbey, a 13 year old page boy carried the coronet of the Lord Chancellor. He was Andrew Parker-Bowles. His future wife would one day divorce him and re-marry. Her second husband will succeed Elizabeth II as monarch.
The 1953 Coronation was conducted in the deepest tradition but was also the first to go out to a mass television audience. In this way, it linked history with modernity and for that reason was incredibly successful.
The Queen was crowned and then anointed. The holy oil is a concoction of orange flowers, roses, cinnamon, jasmine and sesame, with benzoin, musk and ambergris. Then all the peers took off their coronets and cried out: “God save Queen Elizabeth. Long live Queen Elizabeth. May the Queen live forever.” Well, she can’t live forever, but if the growing movement to have her recognised as Elizabeth the Great after her death has its way, I suppose that might count as immortality of a sort.
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s and the death of Diana that anybody even started to think of the Queen’s mortality. Since then Prince Charles has slowly but surely - and quite rightly - been rehabilitated in public esteem and reputation. The Queen’s decision to promote her son to the Head of the Commonwealth after her death was not only a recognition of her advanced age and increasing frailty, but also a way of stating that Charles is now trusted to assume more of her roles and responsibilities.
The code word for arrangements relating to the succession is “London Bridge” and certainly bridges are being carefully built. Detailed plans for the Queen’s funeral are already in place.
The next big question to be raised will be that of the Coronation of Charles III. The key mover in the spiritual form will be the Archbishop of Canterbury and in the temporal one, the Duke of Norfolk who is the hereditary Earl Marshall. As far as I can find, neither has so far moved. If the Queen died tomorrow, there would be no plan in place for Charles’ coronation. Perhaps the death of Prince Philip will put a rocket underneath them and they'll get their act together.
Strictly speaking though, there shouldn't be any hurry about the Coronation. Royal authority passes on succession (The Queen is dead. Long live the King). When George VI died in February 1952, Prime Minister Winston Churchill exercised the only say Downing Street had in the matter of the Coronation to decide that the nation should wait 16 months for it.
I don’t think we should wait that long next time round.
In 1952 the Queen was very young. The country had just come out of World War II and was even worse off financially than it is now. The story of hope and renewal had to be carefully crafted, and it was. It was organised down to the final detail and even unplanned events coincided to make the occasion even better, such as a British subject planting the Union Flag at the top of Everest almost as if on cue..!!
In August of 2013 though, Charles passed the point where he will become the oldest ever King to succeed to the throne. He has known much controversy and sorrow although he has also won much admiration. We are no longer as deferential as we were and the country is horribly divided on political issues........ nowhere near as united as it was when Elizabeth came to the throne. The price of getting his Coronation wrong could be high in constitutional terms.
I think the gap between succession and Coronation should be reduced. I also believe the service should be shortened. In 1953, the Service alone took well over two hours. In the 21st century, the pomp and pageantry are fine, but too many hymns and eulogies might begin to test the people’s patience. In the modern era, attention spans are not what they were (If you’ve read this far, frankly, I'll be bloody amazed..!!).
There is a more difficult issue though and that is a problem of modern culture. There have been three occasions in (relatively) recent times when this has been manifest. The death of Diana, the visit of Pope Benedict and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. In all these cases there was a gap between the trigger event and the final outcome.
Into that gap, and with worrying adroitness, stepped all those people who enjoy discord and troublemaking. They knew how to grab the microphone, how to dominate the internet (less so with Diana), particularly in their use of social networking media, and how to get the TV to aggrandise them.
They succeeded in creating an initial mood of division and anxiety. Ultimately though, they failed in their aim to disrupt the events. In Britain, traditionally, such people almost always do. In the past, the British people have been too sensible to allow these persons to get beyond their initial shock tactics and in the end there is invariably dignity, charity and healing. But there can be some pretty nasty moments along the way.
In the case of the next coronation, the early nasty moments will most likely come from the self-proclaimed republicans, but they are few, their cause is weak and it lacks public support. They can be noisy but nobody takes them seriously. They will try to disrupt and sow discord but after the initial publicity they will mooch off into the background and present no real threat.
In my opinion, the greatest genuine threat will come from those who wish to hijack the religious aspect of the Coronation for their own ends. Although the Coronation has a significant religious purpose, the people no longer believe strongly in the divine authority of Kings but, even bearing in mind my comments above about testing the patience of the public, any proposed reduction in the religious element of the service is likely to be strongly contested by our current Archbishop of Canterbury even though he is less of a medievalist than his predecessors.
Britain is now a more multicultural society than it was in 1953 and it is possible that those faiths who were barely present in Britain then, but are now significantly represented, may want to have their own liturgical features included which Canterbury may resist. These two religion based factors carry the potential for controversy and disruption which the planners would do well to take into consideration now and be ready for when the Queen dies.
The modern Coronation, I believe, should focus more on the sense of renewal and continuity rather than religious ceremony and ritual. We will be moving forward into a new reign. The key to the ongoing success of the monarchy and its connection with the people will lie in looking to the future, not sticking dogmatically to the rituals of the past.
Whenever the next one happens, it will be right to acknowledge the traditions and proprieties of the occasion, but the Coronation must be organised in a way that prevents religious factions, and the faith divisions that come with them, from disrupting the event and the run up to it.
A tricky balancing act, but a necessary one.