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COLUMN: Living History - The coronation of King Charles III

May 6 coronation will feature gold eagle ampulla made for King Charles II in 1661
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis picks out a hat she’ll wear on coronation day. She writes the coronation of King Charles III “will proceed with solemnity and historic symbolism.” (Photo submitted: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis)

In King Henry the Fourth (Part 2), William Shakespeare wrote, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Keeping that famous line in mind, what, I wonder, would The Bard make of the upcoming coronation of King Charles III?

The play’s key royal, Henry IV (c. 1367-1413), is buried at Canterbury Cathedral, but the ampulla, the gold eagle-shaped style of container holding the ceremonial anointing oil, would be familiar since King Henry IV was anointed with holy oil given (the tale is told) by the Virgin Mary in a similar ampulla to the legendary Archbishop Thomas Becket just before he died in 1170.

For the May 6, 2023 coronation the gold eagle ampulla made for King Charles II in 1661 will contain olive oil sourced from Israel’s Mount of Olives.

These ancient ceremonial traditions, broadcast globally in real time (picture explaining that to a 16th-century mortal), will proceed with solemnity and historic symbolism—including a lump of rock, the Stone of Scone (aka Stone of Destiny), from Scotland, the land of my birth. At least this time we won’t have to steal it back from the English!

Unlike most youngsters these days, I was brought up on history, not just at school and college, but by a family that delighted in the good, bad, mysteriousness, and hilarity of it all. Scots tend to view things on the bias through a respectful lens of destiny coupled with a healthy veneer of wry humour.

My mother, who clearly remembered the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII, said the chant of the day was, “Hark the herald angels sing. Mrs. Simpson’s pinched our king!”

With a wry smile she also recalled, “But, in the end, we got the best king.” World War II (my father was a Royal Navy officer) proved that to be true.

In 2012, I had the pleasure of covering the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee courtesy of Visit Britain. As the spectacular Jubilee flotilla cruised 7.5 miles down the Thames, good humour, laughter, camaraderie surrounded those of us despite the chill and showers.

A few days later at King’s Cross station, I bumped into a couple who’d picnicked at Buckingham Palace with the royals (Cloverdale Reporter: “Partying at the Palace,” June 20, 2012 issue). “They couldn’t have been nicer,” they said about their famous hosts.

King Charles III has ‘slimmed down’ his May 6 coronation, but even watching state occasions in recent years I’ve missed event hallmarks from days of yore.

Years ago, traditional robes of global crowned (and not so crowned) heads made the great and good easy to spot. For example, Sãlote Tupou III, Queen of Tonga, sitting opposite the Sultan of Kelatan in an open carriage enroute to Westminster Abbey was an unforgettably, heartwarming image. Although I was a child, this charismatic 6’3” monarch captured my imagination, as did the “Linger Longer, Queen of Tonga” song written in her honour for the occasion. Like other heads of state, Queen Sãlote won public hearts while encouraging onlookers to learn more about the countries she, and other dignitaries, represented.

Economics, politics, public perception, and family matters may have prompted the king to trim the ceremonial sails, but don’t discount the increased inbound revenue the pomp, circumstance,and pageantry will shower on British businesses. This is about international finance, as well as romance, which will profile Canada’s RCMP. Money can’t buy this kind of tourism publicity, and no one does it better than the British.

Monarchist, or not, travellers traverse the British Isles in search of history and genealogy—royal and personal. Even as a 12-year-old, I remember cycling to Bradgate Park, Leicestershire, with cousins Alison and Euan. Our destination was the ancestral 16th-century home of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, located within Charnwood Forest. Now populated by fallow deer and admiring visitors, the area dates back to the reign of Edward the Confessor. I was captivated (still am!) by the tragic story of the privileged young countrywoman once resident in Bradgate House. Through convoluted means, Lady Jane became Queen of England, France and Ireland (courtesy of King Edward VII) on July 10,1553.

Mary Tudor, however, had other ideas. Fickle courtiers switched alliances from Jane to Mary resulting in Lady Jane finally being imprisoned in the Tower of London’s Gentlemen Gaoler’s apartments on July 19, 1553. She was tried for high treason and executed on February 12, 1554. She was approximately 17 years old. Her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley (approximately 18 years old) was beheaded just before her.

Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from such dramas, but visitors to Britain still remain in awe of great houses, such as Derbyshire’s Hardwick Hall, Cardiff (and my favourites) Harlech and Conwy Castles in Wales, as well as Scotland’s Edinburgh, Stirling, and Culzean Castles. And, Irish history—ancient and eye-popping—simply understate that ancient land.

As I watch republics and dictatorships (some of which I’ve lived in) tearing incredible countries and populations apart based on greed and divisive politics, I’ll stick with an evolving constitutional monarchy.

But, I guess that’s an ancient battle for a different day. For now, I’ll charge my glass and say: “God Save the King! Long may he reign.” And, may all the charities, organizations, services and deserving folks who received invitations (too often only issued to politicians and film stars) to this historic occasion ultimately royally benefit them.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the former owner/managing editor of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at