Readers of this column who would be surprised to learn that I spent about eight hours last Saturday morning watching – the coronation of Britain’s King Charles 111. I could imagine the reaction in some quarters, “what a waste of time!”, and “I thought he was not in favour of the monarchy”.
Well, yes, I am definitely not a monarchist, of any sort as I will explain later, but the watching exercise was not at all a waste. Very often we get very emotional to situations like these, and it clouds our reactions. We end up either getting caught up in the lavish affair, goaded by idyllic memories of past monarchs, or turn away in disgust, demonstrating our strong objections to what is in fact a ridiculous situation.
Somewhere in between we have to dig deeper. What is the purpose of such an elaborate ceremony for a 70+ who has been waiting all his life for this? Why does a family at the head of a country in social turmoil and economic hardship, with thousands of doctors, nurses, public servants and other workers on strike, spend an estimated $US 80 million plus on an outmoded coronation, just months after a hefty 45-million-pound outlay on the funeral of its last monarch?
The answer lies in the determination of the British state and ruling circles to hold on to their colonial domination which has made tiny Britain, the 78th largest country in the world, into a mighty world power, subjugating hundreds of millions of people the world over until it could boast that “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. Unfortunately, that Empire included us, at the wrong end of the scale.
Much of that has been achieved by military means, slavery, the forcible expropriation of the resources of others and attaching priority to means of dominance, beginning with the military but not limited to that area. Indeed, Britain’s success had a lot to do with religious, cultural, trade and economic approaches. While racism became a useful weapon to justify the actions of plunder, it was also necessary to convince the vanquished that we were part of this adventure, could be “saved” by religious conversion and cultural assimilation, and to even feel that we have a stake in the monarchy and the preservation of colonial values.
To their credit, the British monarchy has been far cleverer than many of its European counterparts, many of whom have lost not just their crowns and titles, but in some cases their heads as well, quite literally. In order to accomplish this, they have had to have partners, whether willing or forced. We had to be convinced that their way of life represents a more “civilized” one that ours, a lifestyle which ought to be copied and admired.
Their educational system, especially under colonialism, where only a selected few were ever permitted to enjoy the luxury of higher education, was one such. The “civil service” as it was then called was another mechanism. Of course, there were the instruments of oppression, the various “Royal” Police Forces, buttressed by an ever-present British navy with regular visits to our shores, giving an aura of invincibility. Add to this the various social institutions, starting from small- Cubs, Brownies, Guides, Scouts right up the ladder.
But the British monarchy outstripped its counterparts by joining state and religion. Ever since the lecherous Henry V111 broke with the Roman Catholic Church, the monarch of Britain became Head of the English Church, a convenient marriage of Church and State.
So, the coronation was not just a formal social undertaking, there was a religious element to it, ensuring that Charles became “the Lord’s anointed”, complete with a rub down with oil brought from Israel, oblivious to the daily murder of the Palestinian people. If that had been an African ceremony, it would have been branded “primitive” and even smacking of voodoo, but not Charles. We were told that the new monarch was in fact, chosen by God, and we should not just pay allegiance, we have to ensure that “the choicest gifts are bestowed” to him.
But 2023 is not 1923, so adjustments had to be made to give an aura of “diversity”, mere symbolism in fact. When Elizabeth 11 was crowned 70 years ago, it was unthinkable to have Black Gospel singing, no Lionel Richie performing at a “people’s Concert”. But these cannot mask the reality. They are literally playing with our marbles and expect us to engage. Imagine telling us that they are going to carry out research into the links between the monarchy and the slave trade. Research into what everyone knows? This whole sham must be ended, but we must get our act together.
Just think of our Carnival. What is the apex of success? The crowning of the Calypso Monarch, King and Queen of the Band, complete with imitation crowns and royal capes. We make mockery of ourselves. Time for a new dispensation.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.