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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Your Coronation Briefing

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This morning, King Charles III will be crowned as sovereign of the United Kingdom in the nation’s first coronation in 70 years.

The ceremony, at Westminster Abbey in London, will confirm the role Charles has held since the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, last year.

While the rituals at the heart of coronations in Britain have remained essentially unchanged for nearly a thousand years, this ceremony will be shorter, smaller and less expensive than those of monarchs past, keeping with Charles’s vision of a slimmed-down royal family. Still, it will bring British life to a three-day halt, summoning the world’s attention and many of its leaders.

At 74, Charles is almost half a century older than Elizabeth was at her own coronation in 1953. No royal heir in British history has waited longer to ascend the throne. Now, as king, he faces a daunting challenge: Walking a tightrope between tradition and modernity, he hopes to adapt the institution to a society that finds the trappings of royalty increasingly irrelevant.

Mark Landler, our London bureau chief, has covered Britain and its royal family since 2019. I spoke to him this week about the future of the royals and what to look for in today’s festivities.

How do you think most people perceive their new king?

Mark: Charles has been at the center of the national conversation in this country for almost his entire adult life. He’s also had, of course, a much messier personal life, and his split with Princess Diana in the ’90s came close to ruining his reputation.

He has rehabilitated himself remarkably over the last two decades or so, as has Camilla, his queen consort. In some ways it’s a comeback story, but Charles will never command the popularity that Queen Elizabeth did. That contrast is going to be on everybody’s mind, and it’s going to change the mood and the atmosphere of this coronation, versus the one in 1953.

How is the national mood ahead of this coronation?

It comes at a very difficult moment for the country, economically and politically. There has also been a huge amount of internal dysfunction with the departure of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, but also a very bitter rift between Harry and both his brother, Prince William, and his father, King Charles. All of that is providing a very cloudy backdrop for this big event.

Is this an opportunity for him to bolster his popularity?

Charles has already, as Prince of Wales, shown himself to be a more accessible, more democratic figure than the queen ever did. Against that, he’s still a king, which is a fairly antiquated concept in today’s world. The tension he will face is serving in this age-old role while trying to update the monarchy and make it seem less anachronistic. Whether he pulls that off or not will be the big challenge of his reign.

What will you particularly be looking out for today?

Charles will be making an effort to make the ceremony seem more relevant to a modern society. It’s a Christian service at heart, but he is going to have representatives of Judaism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other faiths playing a part in the ceremony itself.

I’ll also be looking to see how people on the streets receive the king. Will there be a great deal of excitement and a very jubilant mood? It’s possible there will be, because it’s going to be a heck of a show, and if the weather’s nice, it will be a chance for people to unify around this tremendous, historic spectacle.

1948:The tiniest of Royal Highnesses, Princess Elizabeth’s baby, was christened this afternoon Charles Philip Arthur George.”

1981: “The Prince of Wales took as his wife today a shy and charming member of one of the kingdom’s greatest families.”

1994: “In the course of a two-and-a-half-hour television documentary, the heir to the British throne admitted that he had committed adultery.”

1997: “The body of Diana, Princess of Wales, was brought back to Britain on Sunday by Prince Charles.”

2005: “Queen Elizabeth gave her permission for, and blessing to, the engagement of her divorced son to his divorced lover.”

2022: “The queen’s death at Balmoral Castle, announced by Buckingham Palace at 6:30 p.m., elevated her eldest son and heir, Charles, to the throne.”

See Charles’s life in photographs.

Last week we asked how you think about Britain’s most famous family. Thank you to all who wrote in and shared their stories.

“Queen Elizabeth II’s 2011 visit to Ireland was very significant and did much to harmonize the relationship between our two countries. I had seen the royals as privileged figureheads until that time. Now I see the modern royals as hardworking people who have the potential to play an important diplomatic role.” — Clare Martin in County Kildare, Ireland

“Worthless, frivolous, divorced from reality. Of no relevance to society of 99.99 percent of the population over which they are claimed to RULE. I am 88 and not yet an old fart.” — Peter Gornall, in East Sussex, England

“I am disgusted and disillusioned by the ongoing Harry and Meghan stories. The family are all about their image, and Harry and Meghan have created a circus. I would never have missed any royal event in the past, but I have reached my limits! I will not watch the coronation and am ignoring everything royal.” — Nancy Moreno in France

“I was head of corporate social responsibility for a large international broadcaster and we worked with Prince Charles’s children’s charity and later his environmental charity. In both cases I was profoundly impressed by Prince Charles, who came and spoke with great knowledge, sincerity and always without notes. He had clearly written the speeches himself and spoke from the heart.” — Nick Hart in London

“The Queen was due to visit a small town in Cumbria. My grandmother was a resident in a nearby old folks’ home. As the Queen passed, an aide discreetly pointed out my grandmother, and she came over to shake her hand. This visit was just one visit of thousands that the royal family tirelessly do every day. The purpose is simple, making everybody feel they are part of the nation.” — Roger Irwin in Northallerton, England

Elizabeth’s coronation was watched on the BBC exclusively, by a nation enthralled by the novelty of television. This time around, the platforms are numerous — and the eye of the public far more critical.

Ceramics and even cereal boxes commemorate the coronation. But how about a very regal tea cozy?

Thanks for joining me for this special edition of the Morning Briefing. I’ll be back on Monday. — Natasha

Reach Natasha and the team at briefing@nytimes.com.

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