Saturday, December 2, 2023

Coronation takes me back to my crowning triumph

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A seventh form ‘A’ history student (that’s Steve Wyn-Harris) on Charlie’s big day.
Archbishop Justin Welby has suggested those of us in the Commonwealth might like to pledge allegiance to King Charles III during his coronation.
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Long-time readers will be aware I like a bit of history, which I sneak in every now and then.

A score of 88% in seventh form history way back in 1977, certainly my greatest academic triumph, supplemented the 50% in the other subjects to gain me a ‘B’ bursary with access to Lincoln University and $150 for the first year to go towards accommodation, food and beer.

In that seventh form we were taught about the Tudors of England, the Norman Conquests, and for some reason the unification of Italy under Garibaldi, but little New Zealand history. They have since remedied this remnant of colonialisation and teach NZ history instead. I’ve remedied my own inadequacies by reading Michael King’s  Penguin History of New Zealand. 

That book reminds us that NZ was the last country in the world to be discovered and settled by humankind. It was also the first to introduce full democracy.

I’m no great monarchist, but will keep an eye on Charlie’s reign given my immersion in English history. (The coronation will be all over by the time you read this.)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who is the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, will be presiding over the coronation. The first archbishop was Augustine, who was sent by the Pope in Rome to England in AD 597.

Roman Catholicism was present for the next 900 years, until Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1533 to get his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. He appointed Thomas Cranmer as the first Protestant archbishop. 

Things went well for Thomas for 30 years, until Mary Tudor, Henry’s eldest daughter and Catherine’s daughter, succeeded her brother Edward’s brief reign and returned England to Catholicism in 1553. Cranmer’s fate was sealed. He was tried for treason, found guilty and burned at the stake.

Mary died five years after her reign began and her half-sister Elizabeth returned England to Protestantism, where it has remained since.

Sorry, I got sidetracked by the Tudors.

By introducing Archbishop Welby, I was going to tell you that he is recommending that all of us in the Commonwealth pledge allegiance to the new monarch.

He suggests we intone at the appropriate moment during the coronation: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

Maybe some of you will, and good for you.

I’m sure the coronation will go well, full of the pomp and splendour the British do so well.

But not every coronation has been a roaring success.

There have been 62 English monarchs over 1200 years, starting with Egbert in 827.

William the Conqueror’s coronation on Christmas Day in 1066 went awry when guards outside Westminster Abbey mistook the shouts of approval from the guests as an uprising and went on a rampage, burning nearby houses to the ground while the congregation fled, and the newly crowned king was left “trembling from head to foot”.

Making yet another appearance are the Tudors: on the coronation day of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, the crowd mocked her.

Poor old George III, known as the mad king and who probably suffered from a psychiatric illness like bipolar and would have been treated better nowadays, had a shambolic coronation where everything went wrong.

Charles is the third king by that name.

The first one didn’t do so well. He was the second Stuart king after the Tudor line fizzled out and was unpopular. He finally went to war against his own subjects in the English Civil War. He was captured, and parliament and Cromwell had his head chopped off.

Charles I and the Nine Days’ Queen, Lady Jane Grey (who was only 16), are the only monarchs to have been executed, although a good number were murdered.

Charles II was the son of the decapitated king, crowned when the monarchy was reinstated in 1660 after Cromwell’s death.

He was known as the Merry Monarch, given the liveliness and hedonism of his court.

I’d be surprised if the current court was that lively. I expect that, unlike some of the stories above, things will run smoothly and there will be disappointingly few executions.

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