What is the coronation oath and why is it attracting controversy?

·5-min read
King Charles III in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, ahead of the coronation  (Hugo Burnand / PA Media)
King Charles III in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, ahead of the coronation (Hugo Burnand / PA Media)

King Charles III’s coronation is happening this Saturday.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who will anoint and crown Charles at Westminster Abbey, described the service as “foremost an act of Christian worship” but said new elements reflected the “diversity of our contemporary society”, in an interview with Sky News.

But plans to ask the public to pledge allegiance to the King during the coronation have been branded “offensive, tone deaf, and a gesture that holds the people in contempt” by a pressure group.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the coronation oath?

Charles’s coronation will include the first Homage of the People — a modern addition to the ancient ceremony that will see people across the UK and overseas realms invited to swear an oath of allegiance to Charles.

The “Homage of the People” replaces the traditional “Homage of Peers”, in which a long line of hereditary peers knelt and made a pledge to the monarch in person.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will call upon “all persons of goodwill in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other realms and the territories, to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all”.

The Coronation oath in full reads: “I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.”

It will be followed by the playing of a fanfare.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will then proclaim “God Save The King”, with all asked to respond: “God Save King Charles. Long live King Charles. May the King live forever.”

A Lambeth Palace spokesman said the homage is “very much an invitation rather than an expectation or request”.

What is the history of the oath?

An important part of the coronation ceremony is the taking of the coronation oath which is required by the Coronation Oath Act of 1689.

According to the act, the monarch makes a declaration to maintain the established Anglican Protestant Church during his or her coronation ceremony.

Under this Act, Queen Elizabeth swore a coronation oath in 1953.

What was the original coronation order of service?

The Queen’s Coronation service fell into six parts: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture (which includes the crowning), the enthronement, and the homage.

For King Charles III, there will be similar main elements at Westminster Abbey: the recognition, the oath, the anointing, the investiture and crowning; and the enthronement and homage, as well as the Queen Consort’s coronation.

Why is the coronation oath attracting controversy?

Graham Smith, a spokesman for Republic, which campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy and its replacement with a directly elected head of state, said: “In a democracy. it is the head of state who should be swearing allegiance to the people, not the other way around.

“This kind of nonsense should have died with Elizabeth I, not outlived Elizabeth II.

“In swearing allegiance to Charles and his ‘heirs and successors’, people are being asked to swear allegiance to Prince Andrew. too.

“This is clearly beyond the pale,” Mr Smith added.

The Labour MP Clive Lewis said of the proposed oath: “The Church of England exhorts lots of things. Some of them on compassion in politics and wider society and others on the dangers of inequality and greed. These statements I agree with. I can also see how they connect with the broader teachings of Christian teaching. But this is the ‘high church’ making this pronouncement and I think it’s one that will either be unwelcome or ignored by many.

“As Jesus is said to have said: ‘Give unto Caesar what is his.’ And this ain’t it.”

Lambeth Palace said it was hoped the significant change to the historic service will result in a “great cry around the nation and around the world of support for the King” from those watching on television, online, or gathered in the open air at big screens.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper and Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator Shabana Mahmood both told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that they would make the pledge, while Green Party co-leader Adrian Ramsay suggested he would opt out.

Mr Harper told the programme: “When His Majesty became King, most Members of Parliament actually retook the oaths that we take to His Majesty and I am very happy to do that again.

“I think the coronation is going to be a fantastic moment for the country, to bring the country together to unite around the Crown and I think a fantastic advertisement for our nation across the entire world with hundreds of dignitaries coming to the country.

“It is a big opportunity for Britain.”

Ms Mahmood, an MP, added: “I think it is a lovely idea to involve the people and instead of a homage of the peers, as it used to be, it is now a homage of the people.

“Like all Members of Parliament, I have already sworn my allegiance to the King.

“I am a practising Muslim, I did that on my holy book. I was very proud to do so and I will be joining in at the weekend as well.”

Mr Ramsay said: “I will watch it because I think it is a key time for the nation but I think that the idea of a pledge is possibly somewhat outdated.”

Where can I watch the coronation?

The coronation will be broadcast live on TV across the world.

Channels across the BBC network (BBC One, Two, and iPlayer) will broadcast live from the ceremony.

Sky News and ITV1 will also provide extensive coverage of the ceremony and its processions, and viewers can also stream the event on ITVX or the Sky News YouTube channel.

Radio coverage will also happen on Radio 2, Radio 4, 5 Live, Radio 3, World Service, and BBC Sounds.

If you’re in the capital, there’s several places where you can watch the event along with other festivities.