Cutbacks, diversity and the end of royal handouts — how King Charles plans to overhaul the monarchy forever
The chrism oil that will be used to anoint the King on May 6 has been consecrated in Jerusalem and sent to London and the St Edward’s crown he will wear has been re-sized, as the final touches are made for the Coronation at Westminster Abbey.
King Charles hopes the ceremony will reflect his character and the times in which he reigns. It will be a much smaller service and less expensive, than his mother’s 70 years ago, with 2,000 people inside the Abbey, as opposed to 8,000, and the congregation will be much more diverse.
Charles, at 74 our oldest king to be crowned, will of course become Defender of the Faith, ironically a title first bestowed upon the tyrannical Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521 because he was a good Catholic.
Charles, as the new supreme governor of the Church of England, will promise to rule according to law, to exercise justice with mercy and to maintain the Church. He will be blessed under a canopy of golden cloth with the holy oil.
The King wants to show that he is a monarch for all his subjects, irrespective of their race or religious beliefs, and he firmly believes that inter-faith dialogue can only strengthen communities and that different faiths have “a great deal in common” with Christianity. But all the talk of him wanting to be seen as a Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith has long been abandoned. That said, Charles has made sure that leaders from different faiths will be present at his coronation.
The King has been very hands-on in the planning. Twelve newly-commissioned pieces of music will be performed showcasing talent from across the nation and Commonwealth.
His team has also been agonising over what he should wear to the Abbey. Charles has decided to break with tradition and opt for a military uniform. Having dropped the idea of wearing silk stockings and breeches, like his grandfather George VI and great grandfather George V, the choice is Admiral of the Fleet. He was apparently relaxed about wearing the traditional clothes, before settling on the uniform after talking to aides. Some thought the traditional look was too dated for a modern monarchy, sources told the Evening Standard.
There have also been moves to make it the most diverse coronation ever — although there have been disagreements about how to achieve this. In a nod to sustainability and efficiency too, the Queen Consort, who will be crowned alongside the King, will wear a recycled crown minus the controversial Koh-i-Noor diamond. The modified version of Queen Mary’s crown was made by Garrard for the 1911 coronation.
The “will they, wont they” attendance issue of Harry and Meghan, according to senior sources, is beginning to “irritate” some members of the family. As one senior palace figure put it: “They’ve been invited. It is up to them. They are not the focus.” Charles would, of course, want a united family behind him at his moment of destiny. He is, however, concentrating on his duty rather than getting involved in ultimatums or demands for apologies from his second son.
He is determined to deliver a coronation fit for the people he serves. Charles also hopes the long bank holiday weekend — with the coronation concert the following day — will be both uplifting and historic, those close to him say.
Since his accession many close to the King have noticed a change. He is at one with himself, appreciative of the warmth he has received during engagements. Gone is that sense that he has something to prove. Now the paterfamilias of “the Firm”, he is no longer in the shadow of his late mother’s mystique or his father’s dominant personality. The decisions are coming from him; and slowly he is shaping the institution he heads.
The first six months of his reign have been assured. When forced to confront his son Harry’s complaints on air and in print, he instructed family and staff to say nothing. Behind the scenes too Charles has been quietly trying to re-shape the royal household, slowly but surely bringing what was an inefficient and outdated system up to date. Major staff restructuring and efficiencies are undoubtedly on the way after the Coronation so that the household will resemble the “Clarence House way”.
Charles is keen to reduce the amount of royals dependent on him. The Duchy of Lancaster, the unique portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the sovereign and the sovereign grant, that covers the cost of the King’s travel on official engagements and travel by members of the family representing him, will be spent more effectively. In the past, under the Queen, her extended family seemed to think it was their right to have palace accommodation. Slowly but surely over time that will also change. As one senior figure put it: “The King is not some sort of housing association. He has made it clear that if his family members cannot afford where they are living, they should cut their cloth accordingly.”
Extended family who have accommodation they are not using in the palaces, or have passed it onto their children to live in, will soon face losing that perk.
“A lot of practices that have evolved over time will be changing. The King is not heartless, but for family members who are not part of the core family working for the crown, it is fair for them to house themselves,” a senior figure said.
The King’s focus, key figures say, is on making the monarchy fit for purpose over the next five years. He is working closely with William, the Prince of Wales, to achieve this.
With the Duchy of Cornwall, which generates around £24 million annually for the heir to the throne, and the Duchy of Lancaster generating roughly the same to provide a source of independent income to the sovereign, Charles wants to ensure that the monarchy is financially sound. One insider told the Standard: “The staffing is a little on the top-heavy side, with advisers to advisers and so on. That’s all going to stop. The boss wants effective people in effective positions doing effective jobs.
“The kitchens, where staff have separate chefs and staff serving them, is one area that may well be looked at. Much of what was in place doesn’t make economic sense and will be changed during the new reign,” said the source.
Politically, too, Charles is prepared to be more flexible than the Queen and has developed a good rapport with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak but was also criticised over his meeting with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen. Buckingham Palace insisted that the King acted on government advice.
Robert Jobson is author of Our King: Charles III — The Man and the Monarch (John Blake/Bonnier UK)