While Charles became King on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II in September last year, the coronation is the formal crowning of the monarch. In a ceremony that is expected to last at least two hours, Charles will be officially crowned, presented with an array ceremonial objects and be recognized as King by various representatives of the British state.
Parts of central London have been gridlocked for several days, with barriers lining the route that King Charles and Queen Camilla will take in procession from Buckingham Palace, the British monarchy’s official London residence,to Westminster Abbey, the nation’s coronation church since 1066.
Huge crowds are expected to descend on the British capital, with some royal fans spending the past few days camping along the 1.3-mile (2km) route in hopes of securing the best vantage point.
Charles and Camilla will travel along the route to the abbey in a splendid coach drawn by six horses, accompanied by the Household Cavalry.
The London Metropolitan Police Service said Saturday would be the largest one-day policing operation in decades, with more than 11,500 officers on duty in London. Security around the event came into focus earlier this week when a man was arrested just outside Buckingham Palace after he allegedly threw suspected shotgun cartridges into the palace grounds.
Despite the splendor of the occasion, it has not been without controversy. Some have objected to millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being spent on a lavish ceremony at a time when millions of Britons are suffering a severe cost-of-living crisis.
The ceremony is set to begin at 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) and is expected to last around two hours – about an hour shorter than Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953.
The congregation, while including some 2,300 people, will also be much smaller than it was in 1953 when temporary structures had to be erected within the abbey to accommodate the more than 8,000 people on the guest list. Members of the royal family will be in attendance Saturday, alongside members of the House of Lords, representatives from 203 countries including dozens of heads of state, and community and charity volunteers.
The ceremony will be a profoundly religious affair, reflecting the fact that aside from being head of state of the United Kingdom and 14 other countries, Charles is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It will be led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church.
However, the Anglican service will also include “representation from other faiths to reflect the diversity of modern Britain,” according to Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, whose family has been responsible for orchestrating state occasions since 1482.
Charles will also be the first monarch to pray aloud at his coronation and, in his prayer, will ask to “be a blessing” to people “of every faith and conviction.”
Such changes aside, the coronation itself will follow a traditional template that has stayed much the same for more than 1,000 years. It will include the acts of recognition, oath, anointing, investiture and crowning, followed by enthronement and homage.
Music will play a central part in the ceremony, and five new compositions have been commissioned for the main part of the service, including an anthem by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a composer better known for West End musicals.
While most of the ceremony will be visible to the congregation and the TV cameras, the anointment, considered the most sacred part of the service, will take place behind a screen.
Charles’ consort Camilla will also be crowned in a shorter, simpler part of the ceremony.
Once done with the formalities, the newly crowned King and Queen will ride back in a much larger parade to Buckingham Palace, where they will be greeted by a royal salute.
The pomp and pageantry will conclude with the customary balcony appearance by the King and his family as they join the crowds below in watching a flypast of more than 60 aircraft.
Controversies ahead of the big day
While undoubtedly a historic occasion, the run-up to the coronation has not been without controversy.
Some voiced displeasure after Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, announced that the traditional “homage of peers” part of the ceremony would be replaced with a “homage of the people.” The palace said the British public, as well as those from “other Realms,” had been invited, for the first time, to recite a pledge of allegiance to the new monarch and his “heirs and successors.”
However, some parts of British media and public interpreted the invitation as a command, reporting that people were “asked” and “called” to swear allegiance to the King.
Republic, a campaign group that calls for the abolition of the monarchy, said the idea was “offensive, tone deaf and a gesture that holds the people in contempt.”
Jonathan Dimbleby, a veteran broadcaster and close friend of the King, told BBC Radio 4 on Friday that the initiative was “well intentioned” but “rather ill-advised.”
“I can think of nothing that he would find more abhorrent. He’s never wanted to be revered. He’s never wanted, so far as I know, to have anyone pay homage to him except in mock terms as a joke,” Dimbleby said of Charles.
There have been questions, too, over the cost of staging the state event at the time of a cost-of-living crisis.
Some eyebrows were also raised earlier this week when a controversial and widely criticized UK public order bill came into force.
Since the death of Queen Elizabeth II last year, there have been a number of instances of anti-monarchists turning up at royal engagements to voice their grievances against the institution.
The new rules, signed into law by the King on Tuesday, just days before the coronation, empower the police to take stronger action against peaceful protesters.
From Wednesday, long-standing protest tactics such as locking on, where protesters physically attach themselves to things like buildings, could lead to a six-month prison sentence or “unlimited fine,” according to the UK Home Office.
Republic said it had received a letter from the Home Office which set out the new policing powers and asked the campaign group to “forward this letter to your members who are likely to be affected by these legislative changes.” The group added that it interpreted the letter as “a passive/aggressive intimidation of a legitimate protest group” and said it would not be deterred by it.
Despite the pomp of Saturday, the King is facing serious challenges. A CNN poll has found that Britons are more likely to say their views of the monarchy have worsened than improved over the past decade.
The results of the survey, conducted for CNN by the polling company Savanta in March, show Charles’ heir Prince William is viewed with greater affection than his father.
Despite their cooler attitude towards the King, most Britons say they plan to take part in at least one event related to the coronation this weekend, the poll found, with many communities planning street parties and lunches.
Artists Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Take That will headline the “Coronation Concert” at Windsor Castle on Sunday evening and people have also been encouraged to use Monday, the final day of the long weekend, to volunteer in their communities.
CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Max Foster and Catherine Nicholls contributed to this report.