When it comes to sheer extravagance, few things can touch the British royal family’s Gold State Coach. It’s quite the sight! This remarkable vehicle has been tied to the monarchy for generations, boasting a truly fascinating history. But with King Charles III’s coronation fast approaching, it’s been revealed that a second carriage will be involved in the proceedings as well.
A momentous day
It’s going to be a big moment, to say the least: this is the first royal coronation in seven decades, with the last one coming in 1953. For that reason, the eyes of the world will be on Charles throughout May 6, 2023.
And as a result, his jaw-dropping modes of transport are sure to garner plenty of interest from the public, too.
Tradition and history
After all, when Charles takes his seat inside the Gold State Coach, he’ll be continuing a near 200-year-old tradition. But by calling upon the second carriage, the King will also be making a bit of history himself.
He’s set to be the first monarch to use the Diamond Jubilee State Coach for a coronation. It’s the more modern of the two, and it boasts some pretty unusual features!
The creation of the Gold State Coach
As it’s relatively new, though, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach has some way to go before it can match the history of the Gold State Coach. The opulent carriage was initially dreamed up back in 1760; this was roughly 12 months ahead of the coronation of King George III.
William Chambers was responsible for the blueprint, while Samuel Butler pieced it all together.
A missed deadline
So what materials did Butler use, then? Was he really building this thing out of solid gold? Nope! Instead, he went with wood that had a coating of gold leaf on top. You wouldn’t know that looking from a distance.
Yet despite his best efforts, the coach wasn’t ready for George’s big day in 1761. It’d be another year until the monarch could ride in it.
As it turned out, the British public got their first view of the Gold State Coach in November 1762 when George traveled to oversee the Opening of Parliament. Not quite as glamorous as a coronation, right? In fact, the extravagant coach had to wait nearly 70 years before it could be used for such an occasion: the day finally arrived in 1831..
Starting a tradition
At that point, King William IV called upon the Gold State Coach for his ceremony. And each monarch since then has followed his lead, with Charles looking to keep the run going in May 2023.
Mind you, the eye-catching carriage isn’t only utilized for coronations. It often makes appearances during jubilee celebrations as well.
The Golden and Platinum Jubilees
For instance, the late Queen Elizabeth II took a seat in the Gold State Coach for her Golden Jubilee back in 2002. Then, in a really cool moment, the carriage was brought back out again to mark the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022.
But Elizabeth wasn’t actually present on that occasion: instead, a holographic image filled out the windows. It was footage from the 1953 coronation.
The Diamond Jubilee State Coach
Talk about combining old with the new! Speaking of which, let’s switch our focus back to the Diamond Jubilee State Coach now. When did that carriage first crop up? Well, Elizabeth welcomed it into the family in 2014 following its construction in Australia.
Much like the Gold State Coach, it’s a true sight to behold, yet they’re far from identical.
For one thing, there’s far less gold on the Diamond Jubilee State Coach’s exterior. It’s still prominent, but the main body of the carriage has a sleek black coating.
As for the interior, though, that’s where the differences really start to stack up. Like we noted earlier, the 2014 coach has a bevy of distinctive features inside that you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
To go into more detail, a curator at The Royal Collection spoke to BBC News in April 2023. Sally Goodsir revealed, “The interior [of the Diamond Jubilee State Coach] is inlaid with specimen woods from places such as Balmoral Castle, from Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, but also from places and people associated with British and world history.”.
“Florence Nightingale’s dress”
“There’s a fragment of Florence Nightingale’s dress [inside], for example,” Goodsir continued. Plus, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach is equipped with an air-conditioning system, modern suspension, and electric-powered windows, too.
Unsurprisingly, you won’t find any of those features on the Gold State Coach. And the curator had more to say about the 2014 carriage.
Goodsir noted, “It’s significantly taller than any car on the road today, and it has this huge gold crown on the top, amazingly carved with oak from HMS Victory.” She also added, “[The carriage itself] is made of aluminium, which is quite unusual, because most of them are made of wood.” As we’ve already established, the Gold State Coach comes under that umbrella. But don’t dismiss it..
The Gold State Coach might not be able to match the Diamond Jubilee State Coach’s more cutting-edge features, but it does boast gorgeous details of its own. The inside of the carriage is full of satin and velvet, while images of Roman gods adorn the lower half of the exterior.
In addition, four sculptures in the image of the Greek god Triton overhang the wheels, and a trio of cherubs sit atop the roof.
One big problem
Mind you, as beautiful as the Gold State Coach is, the royals have always had one big problem with it. King William IV compared journeys inside the carriage to “tossing in a rough sea,” while Elizabeth had some stern words, too.
Touching on it in TV documentary The Coronation, she said, “[It’s] horrible, it’s not meant for traveling at all. [It’s] not very comfortable.”
What’s the plan?
Maybe that’s why Charles has chosen to use the Diamond Jubilee State Coach for part of his big day! It certainly appears to be more passenger-friendly. But how will the two carriages be used during the coronation on May 6? Which portions of the journey are they actually going to cover? Well, the plan seems fairly straightforward..
For the first leg of the procession, which will take Charles from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, he’ll be in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. Then, for the trip back to the royal residence after the ceremony, the monarch will jump into the Gold State Coach.
He won’t be alone, either, as Queen Consort Camilla is also set to be on board during the two rides.
In total, the journey is roughly 1.3 miles both ways. Just don’t expect it to be quick, though.
The Gold State Coach alone weighs nearly 9,000 pounds. Goodsir told BBC News, “Because of that, it can only be used at a walking pace.” The “head coachman” provided some additional details regarding the logistics on the day as well.
Horses at the ready!
Matthew Powers explained, “We’ve got eight horses that will be strapped to the Gold Coach, four postilions, and walking grooms all the way around. And we’re all there to make sure that the King gets there safely and returns safely.” Watching that journey unfold is sure to be one of the coronation’s most memorable moments: the pictures will last a lifetime.
But then what?
The Royal Mews
Yet when all’s said and done, what will happen to the two carriages afterwards? Well, both the Gold State Coach and the Diamond Jubilee State Coach are kept inside the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. Once the coronation’s over, they’ll no doubt go back.
Mind you, we wouldn’t be shocked if there’s an influx of visitors dropping by in the following weeks and months!
Out on the crown
Golden coaches may seem pretty extravagant, but according to experts, this is actually a pretty stripped-back version of a coronation for a British monarch. In years gone by, these royal events have been much grander, with no expense spared.
But Charles is doing things a little bit differently.
Heavy is the head
Britain is going through a tough time right now, and the new King is well aware of that. According to those in the know, he’s worried that having an overly ostentatious coronation might negatively impact his reputation.
After all, no one wants to be the “let-them-eat-cake” royal! So, a few of the usual lavish traditions might be cut.
A more “streamlined” coronation
In October 2022, a month after Elizabeth II’s passing, royal editor Russell Myers talked about the coronation possibilities on British television. He told the ITV network, “King Charles apparently wants a very streamlined coronation, potentially to do with the cost-of-living crisis.
He’s very aware of the fact that a man prancing around in a jeweled crown is probably not the best look when everybody is struggling to pay their bills at the moment.” He added, “Some people are saying that we can show off the splendor of Britain in one of these big majestic occasions. But I don’t know, a big debate I think.”
First televised coronation
Showing off “the splendor of Britain” was certainly something that Elizabeth’s coronation did. Hers lasted nearly three hours, and those who watched it on TV would have seen the monarch wear no fewer than three extraordinary crowns: the George IV State Diadem, the St.
Edward's Crown, and the Imperial State Crown. She was also handed a symbolic orb of gold, jewels, and pearls. But what about Charles?
Charles may not want to end up “prancing around in a jeweled crown,” but he doesn’t actually have a lot of choice when it comes to the coronation regalia. Like his mother, he’ll almost certainly have to wear the St.
Edward’s Crown, a 5-lb beauty of a headpiece that features 444 gems. It’s already been removed from the Tower of London to get it ready for the new monarch.
And the new monarch will also have to wear the Imperial State Crown, which is arguably the one most associated with the late Elizabeth. Not only did she wear it at her coronation, but it was also placed on her coffin for her State Funeral.
It’s one of the “newer” royal crowns, since it was only made in 1937 — but it’s a truly remarkable creation.
Also like Elizabeth, Charles gets to wear a grand total of six robes, one for each stage of the coronation. The names of these, in order of appearance, are as follows: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture, the enthronement, and the homage.
A couple of these robes will be historic pieces, but most of them will have been made especially for Charles.
Other items, of varying weirdness, may have to be made for the new King too. One of the best examples? A traditional food enjoyed by the royals at special events is the less-than-appetizing lamprey pie.
This delicacy is a pastry filled with the meat from eel-like fish called lampreys. These pies were provided at both the Queen’s 2012 and 2017 jubilees… though her reaction to them has sadly not been recorded.
King and queen
Charles will have more things to worry about at the coronation beyond weird pies, though. For starters, his spouse will be crowned alongside him, something Elizabeth never had to deal with.
Prince Philip was a male consort, so the rules were different: rather than getting a crown, he simply had to pledge to be “liege man of life and limb” to his wife.
But Camilla will be Queen Consort, so she gets a crown as well. But which crown? Well, predictions indicate that there could be some controversy ahead there.
Some royal experts have suggested that she might wear the Queen Mother’s Koh-i-Noor crown, named after a diamond with a very unpleasant backstory.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond is one of the most famous jewels in the world, and once upon a time it belonged to Queen Victoria. But where she got it from is more problematic.
She was given it during the time of British colonial rule in India, and for a long time now India has demanded its return.
“A stone that might have looked acceptable on the Queen Mother’s head in the Britain of 1937 would look utterly indefensible on Camilla’s, next May,” The Guardian wrote in October 2022. It’s hard to argue with that, but if Charles and Camilla really did want the Koh-i-Noor crown for their coronation, they would surely get it regardless..
Star of Africa
That’s not all. The Imperial State Crown and the royal scepter both hold pieces of a diamond called the Star of Africa, and that, too, was also a product of colonial rule.
Immediately after Elizabeth’s death in 2022, groups in South Africa demanded that the gem be returned to its country of origin and not used for future British coronations.
Choosing a date
So Charles has a decision to make here, clearly. But it’s not the only call he’s had to make in the run-up to the coronation.
There was a lot of discussion about exactly when the event would be held. At first, experts speculated that it would happen in June, because that was when Elizabeth had hers.
A very poignant date
But as it turned out, the date of the coronation was eventually set for May 6, 2023. And that’s a date that holds a lot of significance for the members of the royal family — and one member in particular.
You might be forgiven for thinking the date was specifically chosen because of Prince Harry, in fact. But May 6 holds many historic echoes for the royal family.
King Edward VII, the eldest son of Victoria and Charles’ great-great grandfather, died on that day in 1910. Fifty years later, Princess Margaret married her husband Antony Armstrong-Jones on the same date.
And there’s also precedent for May coronations, as that’s the month King George VI chose.
Sounds good, except… May 6 also happens to be the birthday of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s son, Archie. And there were rumors about whether Harry would want to attend the coronation of his father — or be allowed to attend, for that matter.
Was that date chosen to give him an excuse to stay away?
Are Harry and Meghan invited?
Still, “Will Harry and Meghan be there or not?” has been the question on everyone’s lips. Royal biographer Angela Levin told British newspaper The Sun in December 2022, “It’s an important occasion, and it can’t just be all about [Harry and Meghan] — and if they do come it will be all about them.
I think William will say, ‘Absolutely not, you cannot come.’” But now the royal family has confirmed the verdict.
One attending, one staying
On Wednesday, April 12, Buckingham Palace announced that Harry, Duke of Sussex, will indeed be at the coronation of his father, King Charles, at Westminster Abbey in London on May 6th. The statement confirmed, however, that Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, will not attend the event.
She will stay at their home in California with their children, Archie and Princess Lilibet, to celebrate Archie’s fourth birthday.
Expectations of family tensions
Prince Harry, then, will attend the historic event alone. It will be the first time the public has seen him with other members of the royal family since the publishing of his bombshell memoir, Spare.
According to a friend of Harry’s, he was eager to be there for his father on this monumental occasion. Since the Duke of Sussex is no longer a working royal, it is unclear exactly what kind of role he will play in the ceremony. His brother, William, meanwhile, is expected to play a key part as the Prince of Wales.
But let’s assume for the moment that Charles is too busy worrying about coronation planning to focus too much on his younger son’s escapades. As noted, there will be a lot going on on the day, including some traditions that are downright weird.
Will he be able to make his big day both “streamlined” and yet as memorable as his mother’s?
The coronation planning committee operates under the grand name of “Operation Golden Orb” in case you were in any doubt about how seriously Britain takes these things. Everything involved in the coronation must be held to the highest possible standards, and some of the things that Charles will use on the day — not even just the jewels — are absolutely invaluable..
“A lot less fuss”
In February 2022, before Elizabeth had passed and Charles had become King, an anonymous source told the Daily Mail newspaper, “Compared to the last coronation, there will be a lot less fuss. Last time, special green chairs were commissioned, and guests were able to have them delivered to their homes afterwards.
You won’t see that sort of thing this time.”
A very special throne
But there will still be special chairs involved. In order to be crowned, Charles must sit on an ancient seat called King Edward’s Chair, and when we say ancient we really do mean ancient.
King Edward I had it made sometime around 1300 to house Scotland’s Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996 but it revisits England for coronations, and the chair itself has been used for crownings since at least 1399.
Stealing the stone
The Stone of Scone was a matter of some contention between Scotland and England for a while. Even though both places are part of the United Kingdom, there’s some bloody history between them.
And, just as is the case with the countries who originally owned some of the gems which festoon the Crown Jewels, Scotland wanted it back. Some university students even stole the stone back in 1950.
And now a man who calls himself a “psychic medium” has been speaking to the British newspapers about Charles’ use of the Stone of Scone. A 68-year-old called Craig Hamilton-Parker told the Metro newspaper at the beginning of 2023 that he believed there would be misfortune for the new King if the stone came back to England..
Hamilton-Parker informed the paper, “The Stone of Scone was used during the old coronation of the Scottish kings… [it] was stolen by Edward and brought back to Westminster and only in recent years was it given back to the Scots. I have weird feelings about Scotland, some kind of protest or someone trying to steal the stone.” .
But security on the day will certainly be on the lookout for any stone-stealers — and worse. Obviously, there will be armed guards present, and that’s got people talking about Harry yet again.
According to some commentators, the comments the estranged royal made in his memoir were so inflammatory it’d be safer for everyone if he didn’t come. But now we know that’s not going to happen.