King Charles, at the age of 74, will be formally crowned on Saturday, with all the pomp and circumstance that attends the coronation of a new British monarch.
It is a job with a long lineage in history. King Alfred the Great is considered the first occupant, and he died in 899 AD. Between his kingship and that of King Charles lies the story of British history and the overwhelming power of the monarchy to shape and change the world and every corner of it.
However, the British people seem relatively unimpressed by the latest change in their monarchy. Charles is replacing his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, one of the most popular figures in British history who reigned for an astounding 70 years.
She was an impeccable monarch devoted to her people and a life of service. While two of her children, Charles and Andrew, caused much concern over their personal lives, she herself was always considered above the fray.
Opinion polls show that 45 percent of the British people could care less if the monarchy was gone, the lowest figure in history. It’s a clear indication of how far the monarchy has fallen in modern times.
Now, the monarchy seems to exist in a bubble of scandal, such as Prince Charles imploding his marriage to the late Princess Diana, or downright anger such as when Prince Andrew gave an incredibly foolish interview to a reporter in an attempt to worm his way out of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.
So it is a monarchy at a crossroads. But Prince Charles, for all his stuffiness, has made some interesting moves in the direction of modernization.
He showed himself unafraid to get involved in the peace process in Northern Ireland, despite the killing of his favorite uncle, Lord Mountbatten, by the IRA.
He also met with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams at a critical time, and in more recent months, has made clear that he strongly supports the Windsor Framework created to deal with the Brexit logjam and make Northern Ireland self-governing again.
But the fact is that the British Royal Family has become a tabloid writer’s delight. The latest scandals involving the behavior of Charles’ second son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle give further reason to question – what is the monarchy really all about?
The British Crown, from its foundation almost, was deeply involved in Ireland. The invasion of Ireland in 1169 was led by the Anglo-Norman King Henry, and his success in many ways was the opening moment of a centuries-old conflict between the Catholic Irish and the Protestant British.
That was certainly the case in the time of King Henry VIII when the Irish refused to acknowledge his kingship which led to a massive war of attrition against the Irish and eventually the rise of Oliver Cromwell.
The monarchy was at the center of the great battle that established Protestant power in Ireland when King William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James I at the Battle of the Boyne.
So wherever you go in Ireland, or however you read the nation’s history, it is utterly identified by the conflict with successive British kings and lords.
In the modern day that has changed. But there are still many British people who believe that Northern Ireland belongs to them and the new King Charles.
It is interesting to note that Sinn Féin Northern Irish leader Michelle O’Neill will attend the coronation, an act that would have been entirely impossible just a couple of decades ago.
The coronation of the king brings to the throne a man who has spent decades in waiting to take over the job of his lifetime. It would be nice to consider Prince Charles on his merits as an environmentalist and other causes he has championed, but time will tell how his kingship unfolds.
*This column first appeared in the May 3 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.