An American Anglophile Contemplates The Coronation

The Anglophile Channel is planning a trip to cover the coronation of King Charles III. Because I am an American, and viewing the coronation as an outsider looking in, I hope you will forgive me for confessing I have some very mixed feelings and am pondering many questions. But, as my misgivings will not affect King Charles in any way whatsoever, sharing them might open up a discussion. Please know, that in these observations, no disrespect is intended. I do believe strongly in a representative government, but I also understand, after living in England, that the monarchy is a part of the fabric of Britain. Loved or hated, the monarchy is always there as an indelible part of its history and foreseeable future. Some of my British friends are great supporters of the monarchy, others wish it could be dismantled immediately. I listen to them all with respect. The concept of why a nation would want a figurehead, a role bestowed by birth and not by merit, suitability, or even desire, is something many an American might struggle to understand, not historically, but where it fits into the modern world.

It will be exciting, as to be in Britain for the coronation is an opportunity to bear witness to history. Because there is a lot of Shakespeare on my resume, I have immersed myself in British history. That’s not unusual. Many actors read up on what is true, what was dramatic license, and what was pure invention as a part of our research when preparing for these historically based roles. This research developed a craving that led me from one book to the next! Shakespeare was a man of strong opinions about the monarchs and surrounding characters as well as an intuitive writer who knew what might please the most powerful in the realm who were to be in his audience. He portrayed the British monarchs as human, imperfect, forging their own legacy through a combination of not only chance and opportunity, but talent, wisdom, conscience, bravery, compassion, or, for some, the glaring lack of these traits. They are flawed characters, blessed or cursed by the circumstances of their birth, destined to inhabit the Crown. It is an inherent cruelty in the institution of any monarchy that a familial death leads to the next monarch’s ascension. Grief and loss hang heavy in the air even as the next monarch is proclaimed. There is continuity but also emotional complexity for all involved. It is also the time when life-altering vows and decisions are being made…and fascinating to watch. The modern monarch steps up to duty, despite everything, to a life of unimaginable privilege but constantly in the spotlight with little power.

This perspective makes it interesting to see a man whose past has been scrutinized and judged by the world to take up his place upon the throne. I understand better why the British monarchy remained intensely private for so long. As with any sort of celebrity, when the public learns too much about human frailties, the luster vanishes. I wonder if this will be a fresh start? Will King Charles erase or soften the past of Prince Charles? Most of the world understands what it is to have a messy family life, but most of the world lives with the consequences of their choices in a very different way. Our private lives are not parsed by the world, but then again, neither are we taking vows of duty to the realm or to head the church. Our choices don’t reflect on a nation or its people as a whole. What exactly, then, is required of a modern monarch? It can no longer be to embody an ideal or stand as an irreproachable role model. It isn’t really to guide the nation. It’s… complicated. Expectations of the monarchy have changed dramatically even with the passing of the late Queen. King Charles can’t just “carry on” in exactly the same fashion. He’s already making carefully considered alterations.

I find it curious that the modern monarch is not supposed to share an opinion on issues or politics in a public way. Of course, that was the whole point of much earlier monarchs. History teaches us that it was, at times, a very wise policy that previous modern monarchs weren’t given their heads in political matters–I’m looking at you, King Edward VIII. What is the role of a monarch, though, if not permitted opinions, influence and a plan for the nation? The late Queen was generally discreet and subtle about politics. Prince Charles took on some global issues and worthy charitable causes, which he must now, as King, leave behind. As well as a new title and duties, his princely legacy is one of the many losses he contends with as he redefines himself as king.

Having a king instead of a queen makes a difference to me and I am still working out why. It makes me…warier. I can’t completely explain it except that it is probably a reflection of my own personal experiences. When I arrived in London in the 1980s, there was both a female head of state and a female prime minister. It was a new, incredibly empowering experience for a young girl. The politics weren’t mine but seeing women in positions of great respect was a revelation. I’m finding it difficult to warm to the idea of a king and of Charles as that king, and feelings don’t necessarily follow logic. His public persona has ranged from kind to cold, from caring to entitled. Maybe some of this is tarnished by the melancholy memory of Diana shadowing his reign. That pain of public heartache has not been forgotten. I know I would feel differently about King Charles and Queen Camilla taking their places in history if Diana were still here on earth and living her best life. The current family battles played out in the press make me grateful that my own family dramas aren’t in the public eye. No one emerges unscathed.

But despite every misgiving, I’m looking forward to the history, pageantry and overall experience of a coronation. I am determined to err on the side of positivity. The last few years have been a horribly difficult time not only for Britain, but for the world. We continue to grieve unspeakable losses. We continue to struggle. Everything has changed and many of these changes have left us adrift in a world seemingly gone mad. May this particular change, this new reign, go a long way toward making the world a better place. That is my hope for King Charles III. May this coronation be a turning point. May King Charles astonish us all.

Elyse Ashton, the author, is an actress and Los Angeles Press Club Award winning co-host of The Anglophile Channel’s Dish shows. She gives her opinions very decidedly.

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1 Response to An American Anglophile Contemplates The Coronation

  1. Roberta Stambaugh says:

    I saved this because it was so well written. Please write a post coronation essay for us to enjoy. Honestly, I found myself throughout the ceremony, and I’m just at home watching mind you, that I missed our precious Diana so very much. After all of these years she is still the rightful Queen to me. And, forever she will be my Queen of Hearts.

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