[Sir Peter Marshall is a former British Diplomat and Deputy Secretary General at the Commonwealth Secretariat.]
While the ceremony relates primarily to the responsibilities entrusted to His Majesty as Sovereign of the United Kingdom and as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, central themes such as service, justice, rule of law and protection of the vulnerable apply more broadly within the wider personal responsibilities and commitment of King Charles III as Head of the Commonwealth.
His Majesty succeeded Queen Elizabeth II as Head of the Commonwealth in accordance with the agreement reached by Commonwealth Heads of Government and communicated in their Leaders’ Statement issued following the Retreat at Windsor Castle on the final day of the CHOGM 2018. In doing so collectively, on behalf of all member nations of the Commonwealth, Heads of Government stated that: ‘… we put on record our continuing gratitude for the duty and commitment Her Majesty has shown to all members of the Commonwealth over those decades. We recognise the role of The Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples’.
Tribute to The Queen by Sir Peter Marshall
A Remembrance reflection by Sir Peter Marshall
This ‘life-giving light’ – The King’s Christmas message 2022
Her Majesty had carried forward a record of service and dedication begun by her father King George VI to whom the role of Head of the Commonwealth had first been entrusted in 1949, with the London Declaration by the then Heads of Government of Commonwealth nations recognising ‘… acceptance of The King as the symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth’. The future King Charles III was at that time less than six months of age.
In the year before his birth, his mother, then a young princess, laid great emphasis on the ideal of service when in her 21st birthday broadcast from Cape Town in 1947 she said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service’.
Seventy-five years later, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, she signed her message to the Commonwealth ‘your servant Elizabeth’. King Charles has made it crystal clear in the speeches that he has made recently that he sees his high calling as being to serve. Indeed, through his many years as Prince of Wales in preparation for becoming King, his motto was ‘Ich Dien’ – ‘I serve’.
The notion of service of course is very wide ranging but its implicit logic is that it is relevant internationally, nationally, regionally and within communities. There is in fact no difference between the rendering of service one to another, from the highest to the most modest member of society. What counts is the notion itself.
There is no more dazzling array of symbols than those used in the Coronation service. These have accumulated over the ages in relation to the monarch and his or her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, yet from these inheritances there are aspects of deep significance in modern terms for the Commonwealth as a whole.
After the rituals of the Recognition, the Oath and the Anointing comes the Investing. At the Investing, the Gold Spurs symbolise courage and honour; the Sword of State justice; the Golden Bracelets sincerity and wisdom; the Orb surmounted by a Cross a righteous world order; the Ring a commitment to the people; the Sceptre with Dove is the Rod of Equity and Mercy; and the Sceptre with Cross symbolises good governance.
The Investing is followed by the Crowning, which symbolises righteousness, trust and commitment and good works; and is in turn followed by the Enthronement, symbolising vision and purpose.
That King Charles begins his reign with vision and purpose is clear, and has been well expressed in four recent speeches. In June 2022, when he deputised for the Queen at the Commonwealth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda; in his address to the Commonwealth on the Queen’s death; in the traditional broadcast at Christmas; and then his Commonwealth Day message.
These four texts replay close study as expressions by King Charles on behalf of those whom he represents of collective commitment to cooperation and coordinated action for the common good. In them, he conveys with persuasive clarity his confidence in the part the Commonwealth can play in mobilising and delivering such service globally to one another.
Notably, his 2023 Commonwealth Day Message delivered from the pulpit in Westminster Abbey concludes with the rallying call: ‘Let ours be a Commonwealth that not only stands together, but strives together, in restless and practical pursuit of the global common good’. There could be no more encouraging or uplifting prospect on which to fix our eyes and to guide our progress as we celebrate this coronation and a new reign. ‘God save The King!’