One hundred and ten years ago, in 1913 Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were planning a visit to London. More liberal in their outlook than others in their family, they were most welcome and the visit of this young couple a great success. As a result, and in return, the British Royal family were therefore invited to Vienna later the following year.
At that time, most nations in Europe were ruled by a Royal family of whom many still held an executive role. In contrast, the British Royal family had a more ceremonial role which had emerged over the centuries and perhaps most distinctly after the English civil war of 1641 to 1647. Thereafter parliament reserved the right to raise taxes or go to war with more checks and balances in power.
All these centuries of tradition and royalty in the great European Royal Houses dissolved in the mud of Flanders except that of the British Royal family, who continued and continue.
The coronation of the King, the decision of what name to take, the pageantry, the order and public display reach deep within the psyche of those who watch. It would seem that we are all trying to find anchors and roots, to be part of something, to be acknowledged for what we do and to find some sense of place and history. In return, in today’s world, the Royal family demonstrate their desire to serve and to say thank you and no one exemplified this more deeply than her Late Majesty the Queen for which she was honoured throughout the world.
Her son has now taken up the mantel with crown, mace, carriages, gowns and visible traditions. None of this is new which is, in a way, part of the spectacle. It is an ancient tradition, rooted deep in earlier kings and values. It is about age and wisdom, something we all strive to find as we get older.
This coming week we are welcoming guests to Highclere both to enjoy the castle and to think about the regalia and accoutrements of kingship in another world: the one found by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Tutankhamun’s tomb tells the story of the death of one king and the anointing of his successor King Ay. The brightly coloured wall paintings in his tomb depict the journey as the crown and power are handed over to the new monarch whilst also helping Tutankhamun pass over with all his royal regalia into the next world, the world of eternity.
Tutankhamun was buried with everything he might need for the next world, most obviously gold, silver, jewelled thrones, staffs, jewellery, crowns, papyri, garments, beds: “everywhere the glint of gold”. These may have been symbols of power but they also belonged individually to Tutankhamun. They were made for him and he took them with him as he travelled into the night.
In contrast, King Charles III inherits crowns and thrones which are “borrowed” for the coronation and which hold particular links to the past as well as different regions of the United Kingdom. Saint Edward’s crown testifies to the antiquity of the ceremony. Recreated by Charles II in 1661 following the time it was melted down by the Puritan government after the execution of his father, King Charles I, in 1649. In every way this crown itself represents the changes of fortune and re-balancing of power. The crown is named for King Edward the Confessor who was interred in Westminster Abbey and made a saint in 1161. The Abbey monks claimed they had been asked to look after his regalia for future generations. Supposedly the crown had previously been that of King Alfred the Great in the 9th century but whichever the case it is about the task of looking after the values and safety of the country over the ages.
The 5th Earl found “wonderful things” in an ancient land, wealth and works of art of kingship beyond imagination. It was a colourful world both in life, in sunlight and in the eternity of the next world to which we all travel after this life for the after life. We of course have just watched the spectacle of King Charles III being clothed in gold, receiving symbols of royalty but which above all stand for mercy, righteousness, wisdom and prosperity and grace. Were such values part of Tutankhamun’s world? I am not sure…
I am looking forward to this coming week. The theme of Egypt will once more inspire our History Festival in October – there will be Castle tours of course, but also sand, camels, excavations, early aircraft and more…