The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Realms eyeing a split from the monarchy are mostly ignoring coronation

A woman holds a sign demanding reparations as she waits for Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, to arrive in Nassau, Bahamas, in March 2022. (Toby Melville/Pool/Getty Images)
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It was days before Charles III was to be coronated in a pageantry-laden, millennium-old ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London. Some 4,700 miles away in Jamaica, one of 15 realms he nominally leads as head of state, dozens had packed a Montego Bay civic center to discuss the monarch.

The purpose of the confab, held in a square named for an enslaved Jamaican who was executed for leading a 19th-century revolt that ultimately helped spur the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, was not to celebrate Charles, who is also King of Jamaica — but to detail the government’s plans to abolish the monarchy and become a republic.

“The British Crown, the presence of Britain in Jamaica, is mixed up with the transatlantic slave trade, and with it, injustice and racism,” Marlene Malahoo Forte, Jamaica’s minister of legal and constitutional affairs, told the room.

“As a new king is to be crowned … an important constitutional event in England, we in Jamaica are also moving with an important constitutional event: to sever ties with King Charles III as our head of state.”

The not-so-celebratory mood in Jamaica echoed a broader trend across the Commonwealth realms outside Britain, where the first coronation in seven decades is being mostly met with indifference.

As Elizabeth gives way to Charles, realms consider severing ties

There are few, if any, large public celebrations or star-studded concerts. The event is not dominating news coverage. Although some subjects might be cool on Charles and his wife, Camilla, but hot on three-day weekends, public holidays appear out of the question, too.

“There is no excitement,” said Arley Gill, chairman of Grenada’s national reparations commission. “In the Caribbean, and certainly in Grenada, nobody is speaking about the coronation of King Charles III. It is not a topic. It is not an issue. People are largely disinterested.”

Claudia Alexander is among them. Not only does the 29-year-old primary schoolteacher in St. Lucia not have plans to watch the coronation, but also she doesn’t know anyone who is planning to tune in. Most St. Lucians, she said, don’t feel much of a connection to the distant royals.

“It’s not like we’re getting anything from them,” Alexander said. “It’s just a formality.”

The British monarch is the head of state of the 15 Commonwealth realms, which include not only the United Kingdom but also Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Jamaica, and several smaller nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean — the vestiges of the British Empire.

Charles III will be crowned the U.K.’s king. Who else does he reign over?

He is a represented in each by a governor general, who performs the largely symbolic role in state affairs that Charles plays in the United Kingdom. (Forty-one other nations, including India, Pakistan, Nigeria and South Africa, have severed ties with the crown but remain members of the Commonwealth.)

In many realms, Charles is less popular than his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, a unifying figure for whom many felt an emotional attachment, even if they cared little for the monarchy as an institution. Ditto Camilla, the queen consort.

Charles’s coronation, eight months after Elizabeth’s death, comes as several realms are reconsidering their ties with the monarchy — and demanding a reckoning for the legacies of British colonialism.

King Charles III’s coronation included shorter traditions and an all-Black gospel choir. But will these efforts be enough for the Royal Family to stay relevant? (Video: Naomi Schanen, Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

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Such calls have gathered momentum in the Caribbean in particular, where they’ve been turbocharged by the Black Lives Matter movement and a recent controversy over Britain’s mistreatment of migrants from the British West Indies — the Windrush Generation, whose members arrived legally to help rebuild Britain after World War II but were threatened with deportation decades later if they did not possess required documents formalizing their immigration status.

Barbados cast off the monarchy and became a republic in 2021. Several other Caribbean realms, including Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Belize, have indicated a desire to follow.

Jamaica set up a constitutional reform committee this year to start the process. At the town hall in Montego Bay, a show of hands indicated most attendees supported the move.

The royals got a firsthand taste of the disquiet last year.

Trips to the Caribbean by Prince William, Charles’s son and heir, and his wife, Catherine, as well as Prince Edward, Charles’s youngest brother, and his wife, Sophie, drew calls for reparations for the slave trade and enough local opposition to spur last-minute changes to itineraries.

Members of the royal family have condemned slavery as “abhorrent,” but they have stopped short of apologizing for the British monarchy’s role in it. Charles indicated last month that he would support research into those links.

When Charles and Camilla visited Canada on a whirlwind trip last year, they also faced calls to “acknowledge and then apologize for the Crown’s ongoing failure” to fulfill its treaty agreements with Indigenous people.

Quebec’s government wants to end mandatory oath to King Charles III

Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953 drew significant attention in Canada. Many bought their first televisions so they could watch the event — the first coronation to be televised — and Canada’s public broadcaster flew in footage from Britain.

There were parades and parties across the country, University of Toronto lecturer Carolyn Harris said, including on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, the site of a 1759 British victory over the French.

Such a celebration would be almost unthinkable today. French-speaking Quebec is the province most opposed to the monarchy. Its provincial legislature — Quebecers call it the National Assembly — passed a law last year to abolish the oath to the monarch for elected officials — a move analysts said was unconstitutional but that few have challenged.

This time, the observance in Canada will be muted. Public opinion surveys here show waning interest in remaining a constitutional monarchy and little affection for Charles. There’s an hour-long event in Ottawa with a 21-gun salute. Government buildings will be lit up in emerald green as a nod to Charles’s love of nature and advocacy for the environment.

“The celebrations are relatively subdued compared to 70 years ago, when there was a great deal of excitement,” Harris said.

Harshan Kumarasingham, a senior research fellow at the University of London’s Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said that dialed-down tone is similar “across all the realms, even though they are rather different countries themselves with different types of populations and ethnicities and problems and priorities.”

But in some realms, severing ties with the monarchy could be procedurally difficult — in Canada, it would require the approval of both houses of Parliament and the legislatures of every province and might entail renegotiating treaties with First Nations peoples. Past efforts in other countries have failed. The result is that many could end up muddling through with Charles as king, even if their populations don’t feel a strong affinity for him.

Some leaders have said casting off the monarchy isn’t at the top of their to-do lists. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Monday that he personally favors the Pacific nation becoming a republic but that he doesn’t view it as an “urgent priority right now.”

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The screen behind which Charles will be anointed will feature names of Commonwealth nations. The oath he is to swear will not mention the realms individually, perhaps to avoid drawing attention to the fact that they are less numerous than at the time of Elizabeth’s coronation.

Subjects in the Commonwealth realms have been invited for the first time to swear their allegiance to the king aloud — a “new and significant moment in the tradition of the coronation,” according to the Church of England’s liturgical commentary. The invitation, intended to make the ceremony more inclusive, has drawn a mixed reaction in Britain and beyond.

In Australia, lawmakers and members of the republican movement have urged Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, a republican himself, to stay silent during that moment. But the Australian Labor Party leader has said he plans to pledge his loyalty.

Not every lawmaker from Albanese’s party plans to do the same, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. On swearing allegiance, lawmaker Julian Hill quipped, “Well, I’m sure there will be a lot of swearing.”