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The British Coronation: A Sacrosanct Tradition or Profligate Extravagance?

Alex Coiov, XI A

In this contemporary epoch, the pervasive proclivity for republicanism – denoting the adoption of a republican-style government wherein citizens can actively participate by voting to elect their representatives – appears to transcend geographical boundaries and appeal to sundry countries worldwide. This alleged predilection stems from the purportedly democratic principles accompanying republicanism, amongst which lies the Enlightenment ideal of popular sovereignty. Accordingly, popular sovereignty entails that the ultimate authority inherently resides within the populace. Such power thus necessitates a painstaking delegation to elected officials through direct voting, hence the binding agreement or ‘social contract’ between the governed and their government. Provided the government upholds the aforementioned informal accord with its citizenry, democracy will splendidly proliferate, and societies will consequently thrive by reaping the subsequent fruits of republicanism and its related democratic ideals, such as the social contract and popular sovereignty; or so it is believed.


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However, there do exist protuberant outliers, such as the British constitutional monarchy and the People’s Republic of China, which provocatively defy the prevailing orthodoxy of democratic-republican governance. The British constitutional monarchy, in particular, presents a vexing conundrum as to whether conspicuously straying from the democratic-republican paradigm is a more advantageous course of action. In the case of the United Kingdom, the supreme head of state – whose mere existence contradicts the fundamental principles of republicanism, democracy, and a nobility-devoid society – assumes an unelected position as the country’s preeminent monarch.


Therefore, with special roles come exceptional rituals. The mere presence of distinctive societal roles (i.e., the monarch and the rest) thus warrants allegedly idiosyncratic ceremonial practices, a realm in which British monarchs have staunchly exhibited an egregious penchant for exceedingly opulent expenditures on coronations alongside similar long-standing customs that have inexorably persisted through successive generations.


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Hence, the ensuing essay will strive to expound on the imperative nature of the British coronation rituals, an exclusive event ascribed to monarchies alike. These writings will thus seek to ascertain whether such zealous and elaborate ceremonies are of an indubitable paramountcy for the country’s centuries-long cultural heritage OR merely represent an overt display of conspicuous extravagance that squanders scarce yet salient resources. Concurrently, the present essay will employ the online BBC News article titled ‘King Charles: Why does the monarch need a coronation?’ as a suitable foundation for the forthcoming arguments.


On the one hand, the monarchy incontrovertibly holds a crucial position within the fabric of British society. Albeit unelected and thus undemocratic, the country’s crowned head assumes a paramount role in both the daily lives of Britons and the national political landscape. For the dull and ordinary citizenry, the seemingly omnipotent monarch embodies the epitome of ‘Britainism’, thus encompassing the collective national identity whilst concomitantly reminding the public of its virtuous English origins and extensive historical heritage. Ergo, the Royal Family helps embolden and unify the nation, especially during harrowing and perilous times of adversity, such as warfare and bleak economic slumps, thus functioning as a ‘linkage institution’ fostering prodigious unity and a profound sense of belonging. Likewise, within the British political milieu, the country’s crowned head performs dignified and virtuous duties as the supreme head of state, wielding authority to appoint the Prime Minister, inaugurate and conclude parliamentary sessions, and bestow honours, titles, pardons, and reprieves.


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Given the aforementioned functions fulfilled by the Royal Family within the political realm and the lives of British individuals, one may contend that coronation ceremonies incontrovertibly hold a sacred and indisputable status. Moreover, one can rightfully argue that such ceremonial rituals are imperative in safeguarding the nation’s heritage and upholding its sophisticated, pure, and glamorous British traditions.


On the other hand, there is a growing sense of disenfranchisement and alienation among the British public towards the monarchy due to the monarchy’s seemingly undemocratic grip on power. Such resounding changes thus negatively impact the societal perspective of the British Royal Family. Pursuant to a recent YouGov poll referenced in the heretofore mentioned BBC News article, 48% of respondents were not very, or at all, likely to watch the British coronation. After all, the monarchy – being an all-powerful, unelected, pure-blooded, and innately superior institution – is seen as contravening the elementary principles outlined in the ‘How to Democracy’ rulebook, ranging from the direct election of representatives to equality under the law, a paucity of distinct social classes, and the inexistence of nobility titles. The British monarchy appears to infringe on all those fundamental concepts.


Consequently, the country’s citizens seem to prodigiously question the monarchy, particularly its overtly lavish inclinations. The recent focal point of perpetual stricture has thus been the coronation of King Charles III. Amounting to approximately one hundred million pounds, the coronation and its extravagant nature have raised genuine concerns, especially during this period of economic hardships and travails wherein the National Health Service (NHS) is scraping for funds, and the average Brit is seeing a considerable decline in income when adjusted for inflation. Furthermore, the overtly Anglican traditions intrinsic to the coronation and the inextricable connection between the Church and the monarch raise the vexatious question of whether state-church entanglements in the UK undermine democratic principles.


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Concurrently, a traditionally Anglican coronation no longer reflects the diverse makeup of the British electorate, as immigrants from Romania, Poland, Pakistan, India, and other countries constitute a significant and growing portion of the UK population. Accordingly, critics posit that an antiquated and one-sided ceremonial event like the British coronation is entrenching obsolete and undue practices in everyday British life, with some anti-monarchy advocates arguing for radical changes to democratise the monarchical remnants embedded in British culture and society.


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