In an Ambivalent Scotland, a Second Coronation for Charles

For most royals, one coronation would be enough.

But not for King Charles III, sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. On Wednesday, he took part in a second ceremony in Scotland that bore all the regal trappings of a coronation, if not the same legal status.

Charles was presented with a scepter, sword of state and the crown first worn at a coronation by Mary Queen of Scots in 1543. He and Queen Camilla participated in a solemn religious service at St. Giles’ Cathedral, gazing at the ancient Stone of Destiny, used in the inauguration of Scottish kings. Afterward, a squadron of Royal Air Force jets streaked across the cerulean skies above Edinburgh’s royal mile.

Scotland has not been a kingdom since 1707, when the Act of Union brought it together with England. So, the rituals and pageantry that played out in the Scottish capital were ceremonial rather than statutory.

But they had deep political resonance in a proud land where pro-independence passions still run deep. Like his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Charles is eager to assert his personal ties to Scotland, not just to win the support of Scots but also to bind them closer to the union. Elizabeth traveled to Edinburgh after her coronation in 1953 for a similar presentation of the Scottish crown jewels.

King Charles III and Queen Camilla were welcomed by boisterous crowds, even though polls show Scots as ambivalent, at best, about the monarchy.Credit…Kin Cheung/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is all about trying to shore up the union, which was arguably one of Elizabeth’s great successes as monarch,” said Ed Owens, a royal historian. “The challenge for King Charles is that historically he’s been more closely associated with Wales, and polls have shown there’s no great love for him north of the border.”

Protesters brandishing black-and-yellow signs that said, “Not my King” were conspicuously visible along the parade route in Edinburgh. That was in stark contrast to coronation day in May in London, when the police rounded up members of an anti-monarchy group before they could assemble near Trafalgar Square.

Charles left little to chance at the service. He and Camilla wore the ermine robes and plumed hats of the Order of Thistle, perhaps recalling his mother’s decision in 1953 to wear a businesslike dress and carry a handbag at the service, which offended some Scots, who viewed it as too casual.

Buckingham Palace reminded the news media that in 2007, Charles led investors in buying an endangered Scottish country estate, Dumfries House, which he then refurbished through his charitable foundation.

Some Scots are not at all ambivalent about the monarchy.Credit…Danny Lawson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The service showcased a diverse Scotland but also one recently torn by political upheaval. Humza Yousaf, a son of Pakistani immigrants who rose to be first minister, gave the first reading, from the Old Testament. Mr. Yousaf took his post in March after Nicola Sturgeon, the long-serving leader of Scottish National Party, abruptly resigned.

The party, which has led the campaign to break away from the United Kingdom, spiraled into scandal. Last month, the police arrested Ms. Sturgeon in an investigation of the party’s finances, releasing her several hours later without charges. The crisis has set back the cause of Scottish independence, though polls show that nearly half the population still favors another independence referendum.

The last time Scots held such a referendum, in 2014, the queen played a subtle, but arguably significant, role in the outcome. Breaking from her usual silence on political issues, she urged Scots “to think very carefully about the future.” In the end, they voted 55 percent to 45 percent to stay part of the union.

Whatever their ambivalence about the monarchy, Scots by and large embraced Elizabeth. She spent her summers at her Highlands castle, Balmoral, and after she died there in September, huge crowds lined the route to bid her farewell as a hearse bore her coffin to Edinburgh. Her body lay in state in St. Giles’ in what amounted to a dress rehearsal for the state funeral in London.

The first minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, gave a reading from the Old Testament during the ceremonial coronation of King Charles III.Credit…Pool photo by Aaron Chown

Feelings for Charles are more mixed. In a recent poll by the research firm YouGov, 46 percent of respondents expressed a positive opinion about him, while 42 percent were negative. Nearly three-quarters said they did not care about the coronation in May, while only 46 percent said Britain should continue to be a monarchy. Forty percent preferred an elected head of state, while 14 percent said they did not know.

Still, the king seemed at ease during the service, which took heed of two of his prime causes: religious diversity and climate change. Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders offered blessings. The Right Rev. Sally Foster-Fulton, a South Carolina native who is the moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said the Scottish people would join Charles in working to save the planet for future generations.

“It is our duty to return it still singing and surging and bathing, not baking to a crisp,” she said, as Charles bowed his head.

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