What do we make of the United Kingdom’s new Monarch? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself since Queen Elizabeth died and all day during Charles’ coronation as King.
I’ve been slogging through reading The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, admittedly with difficulty trying to remember the plethora of characters on every page bearing complicated Russian names. The titled character, the “Idiot” is anything but. He’s a Prince of sorts, the victim of childhood epilepsy and mistakenly called an “idiot” in 19th century Russia due to his constant seizures. As a child he was sent away to Switzerland to heal, and when he returned to Russia years later his epilepsy had abated dramatically thereby revealing his wisdom and charismatic appeal. He had many talents not the least of which was the ability to read faces as the outward manifestations of an individual’s character, attitude, and emotions.
I borrowed the idea of attempting to read the face of the outwardly stoic King Charles as he moved through the day revealing very little of the emotion that had to have bubbled to the surface as he became the focus of all the ceremonial and thousand year-old pomp and circumstance. The pageantry of the events was eye-popping. So many participated including the top leadership (past and present) of the British government and the remaining colonial realm, thousands of armed forces many hundreds of whom rode on horseback, flags flopping in the wind and rain representing every nation in the remaining British Empire, elaborate and gorgeous costumes of every color and design, world political and religious leaders from more than one hundred nations and every religious community in Britain (including the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Efraim Mirvis), and millions upon millions of viewers watching on television. The music was magnificent, though far too much of it for me dragging the ceremony on at least an hour too long.
I attempted to glean what messages Charles’ face might have revealed about what he felt and thought about as he rode with Queen Camilla in those two remarkably beautiful centuries-old vehicles behind teams of horses, the second of which was a two-hundred and fifty year-old gold plated carriage. Pulled by eight magnificent white horses, the symbolism perhaps associates the newly crowned Monarch with a mythological sun chariot and as an end-of-time savior. As the anointed Sovereign of the British realm, the 74 year-old Charles’ identity was transformed before the eyes of the world as he assumed the burdens of the crown. The gleaming golden orb beneath the cross that he carried from the thousand year-old Westminster Abbey symbolizes his assuming, in humility and with commitment to his faith and the doing of good works (Christian virtues) and in service to his nation and the world, elevated (according to British tradition) his assuming the role of Christ on earth as the leader of Britain’s Anglican Church much like the Roman Pope is to world Catholicism.
(I’m leaving aside my thoughts about Charles’ treatment of Diana, the role of royalty and the relevance of inherited British aristocracy in today’s world – a complicated matter, to be sure. However, those protesting the continuing existence of the crown on London’s streets in light of the enmeshed power of the British Monarchy as a cultural and national tradition all ought to know that it is unlikely that any change will come relative to that old, venerated, and beloved national royal tradition.)
Charles seemed most likely to be feeling the burden of the exalted position he now assumes even as he likely feels gratified that finally he ascended to the role of Monarch. There was outward serenity about him, and by all accounts he is very happy with Camilla as Queen. Probably, he is frustrated, saddened, and disappointed that his sons don’t get along (if they ever did, assuming Harry’s memoir Spare is accurate and to be believed) and that Harry feels so alienated from him, his brother, and the royal family, though he demonstrated in the Church an appropriate and respectful demeanor. Charles may blame himself for what has transpired with Harry, though it’s difficult to know how much self-insight he has or what understanding he possesses about the impact of the projections of millions on him as King and on everyone in the royal family.
To my mind, Charles is not – taking away all the trappings of the British crown – an inspirational figure. The institution of the British Monarchy is what excites most people, not necessarily the individual man who now sits on the throne and beneath the crown. That said, the pageantry, jewels, wardrobe, Church, choirs, carriages, horses, military, world religious and political leaders, and jets streaming red, white, and blue across the British sky, had to impress even the most skeptical and cynical of inherited royalty.
Charles could surprise us with inspirational leadership, particularly with regards to his advocacy for climate change measures across the globe and other issues he always cared about such as sustainable organic farming and produce, architecture, and opportunities for young people not born on third base to get an education. He has always been a friend to the Jewish people and State of Israel having visited in 2019, and that ought to relieve those who might have suspected Queen Elizabeth’s coolness towards the Jewish state as she visited over 120 nations in her 70 years as Queen but never once to Israel. We’ll have to wait and see. The burdens of his position may be too heavy leaving him little time and energy to do anything except perform his royal duties and put aside what he cares most about. That’s what his mother did never revealing, except in the privacy of the palace and with those closest to her, what she really thought and believed about the great issues facing humankind – a sad way to live.
One last thought – though Charles is only a year older than me, he seems (at least to my eye, my gray hair turning white notwithstanding) to be so much older. Charles has the good fortune, however, of longevity on both his mother’s and father’s sides, so perhaps his years on the throne will enable him to do good beyond simply serving as an exalted national figure-head. I hope so for the sake of Britain and the world.