A coronation offers an opportunity for the world to see the monarch in all their finery, but also in minute detail. Through history, successive coronations have seen monarchs embrace modernity and do something different – whether this is because the world has changed – particularly since 1953 – or because they were seeking stand out.
In the long distant past, there were some notorious coronations which included outrageous behaviour and unrehearsed disasters, some of which generated anti-royalist demonstrations, even in the 1800s. As the world moves on and ceremonies change with it, we’ve looked back at history and the PR challenges of the ceremony, but also forward to identify some of the challenges facing the royal family this weekend.
The Early Visions of a Monarch
The famous public procession through the streets of London was originally a medieval tradition. It was only reinstated in 1838 by a nervous Lord Melbourne who faced anti monarchist sentiment for Queen Victoria’s coronation. He removed the traditional staid official portrait of the monarch that toured quaint country churches, and instead introduced the chance to see her live in the flesh on the streets. Using strategic event planning, Lord Melbourne generated some excellent PR for his Queen, making her more accessible and connecting her with the population in a way no monarch had before. The public’s distrust of Victoria turned into a celebration, for the most part.
Meanwhile, Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, took it further, embracing modernity and he became the first royal monarch to have his coronation photographed. Allowing this to happen, Edward VII aligned himself with technological advancement and implied he was a forward-thinking, modern monarch who embraced societal and cultural change- qualities that defined his reign.
Queen Elizabeth II – The Televised Monarch
Televising Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation certainly aligned the young monarch with technological development as a forward-thinking modern Queen.
The broadcasting of the coronation raised the profile of coronations with the presence of TV cameras in the Abbey, ensuring that the coronation would be unique. This coronation had to be rehearsed within an inch of its life in anticipation of the cameras and their close scrutiny.
Television cameras in the Abbey showed a modern queen and captured the spirituality of this solemn event and was possibly, by bringing the Queen into our living rooms, the first step in generating the huge media scrutiny and pursuit of public figures.
Arguably, the BBC was the real winner of the decision to televise Queen II’s coronation. The BBC’s decision to align itself with the coronation provided it with the ultimate PR event to secure its status as one of the most advanced broadcasting corporations in the world. That very same day, an RAF bomber aircraft took the reels of footage to North America, where the coronation was broadcast in the evening. As the planes flew over the Atlantic, the editors worked tirelessly to cut down the live footage into a shorter TV programme. It was a very significant step in generating mass broadcasting and live footage.
What do King Charles III and Queen Camilla Need to Contend With?
As technological advancement develops at a pace, no one could have predicted in 1953 that 70 years later the monarchy no longer controls the media that documents the coronation. The ungovernable nature of social media means that every armchair social commentator online will weigh in on a momentous day and live footage from mobiles in the crowd will be what many people will watch rather than TV coverage.
With such pressure on the institution, it is no wonder that this ceremony has been in planning since well before the Queen’s funeral. However, this time, no amount of planning will place them wholly in control. With lively young members of the family likely to take centre stage again and the micro scrutiny from hand-held devices and social commentators, the strict media management of 1953 seems like distant history.