Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How King Charles III's coronation will be different than those that came before


Tomorrow is the coronation of King Charles III. The ceremony in London will be full of pomp and pageantry, but there will also be some big changes to this ritual that's more than a thousand years old. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.


PFEIFFER: The iconic boy sopranos of the Choir of Westminster Abbey have been rehearsing all week to perform at King Charles III's coronation, including 12-year-old Caspar, who spoke to reporters.

CASPAR: It's exciting. And it's quite nerve-wracking. It's almost - just quite nervous.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Aside from performing for the king, he'll have to contend with something else. This is the first coronation in which girl choristers will sing with the boys of this 14th-century choir.

ROBERT HAZELL: The role of the monarchy is to represent the nation to itself, and it must reflect, therefore, modern society in all its diversity.

FRAYER: Royal expert Robert Hazell says the ceremony will reflect King Charles' own vision for a more humble, in touch, up-to-date monarchy. He'll still arrive at the abbey in a horse-drawn carriage, but it's got power windows and AC. The parade route will be shorter than his mother's. All Britons, not just aristocrats, will be asked to swear allegiance. And there will be a mention of other faiths besides Christianity. There are some parts of this ancient right that cannot change, though, says historian Alice Hunt.

ALICE HUNT: He can't change the oath, the prayers and the liturgy. We won't know what changes have been made until we see it.

FRAYER: So there may be some surprises, but the king will still have to swear to be a faithful Protestant. He'll still carry a golden orb with a cross and two scepters encrusted with jewels. And he'll still be anointed in a secret ceremony behind a screen.

HUNT: And that is with holy oil, probably in three places - hands, breast and head. And that is when the monarch is understood to actually become king, that something changes at that moment.


FRAYER: Thousands of soldiers have been rehearsing on military bases and at 2 a.m. in central London all week...


FRAYER: ...For what will be their biggest ceremonial operation in 70 years.

LORRAINE FRANKLIN: The carriage and the horses and...

MANDY LONG: Royals all dressed in their finery and...

KAY PAGET: Proud to be British, aren't you?

FRAYER: Lorraine Franklin, Mandy Long and Kay Paget came down to Buckingham Palace to check out the decorations, but they're not the norm. Polls show a majority of Britons don't want to abolish the monarchy, but are otherwise pretty apathetic towards it.

GRAHAM SMITH: And enthusiasm for the monarchy, so the people that can reasonably be called royalists is sort of anything from 9% to 15% tops.

FRAYER: Graham Smith is the head of Republic, an anti-monarchy group that's mobilizing coronation protesters.

SMITH: So I will be on Trafalgar Square right up alongside the procession route, protesting very loudly, will be chanting not my king when Charles goes past.

FRAYER: This coronation is being held during a painful cost of living crisis. Many Britons' energy bills have doubled. Food prices are way up. A scaled-back ceremony for royals may still look over the top to taxpayers, whose bill for this weekend's events could exceed $125 million.

FERNANDO SANTOS: This one or this one or this one?

FRAYER: King Charles coronation.

SANTOS: Yes, coronation - 15 pounds today. Tomorrow, maybe change the price.

FRAYER: Fernando Santos has a kiosk across the street from Big Ben. He normally sells Union Jack magnets. Now he's selling mugs and flags with King Charles' face on them. How many have you sold - hundreds, thousands?

SANTOS: Hundred pieces selling today.

FRAYER: Is business good?

SANTOS: Business good. Alhamdulillah.

FRAYER: He sees this coronation not as a moment of national pride, but just a welcome little boost for his business. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.