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LONDON — In a ceremony of pageantry, quirks and ancient tradition, King Charles III, Britain’s 62nd monarch, was on Saturday officially crowned head of state of the United Kingdom and 14 Commonwealth realms.
The king, who succeeds his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was coronated at London’s Westminster Abbey alongside his wife Camilla in a two-hour ceremony attended by world leaders, members of the royal family, foreign dignitaries, faith leaders, and heads of state.
The historic event was overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and punctuated with rituals, regalia, and objects dating back centuries.
These included oaths, spurs, a Jewelled Sword of Offering, various sceptres and an orb. The king was anointed with holy oil via a coronation spoon, while the watching public were offered the chance to declare their loyalty by proclaiming: “God save King Charles.”
Among the 2,000 guests were French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. First Lady Jill Biden, the wife of U.S. President Joe Biden, was also present, accompanied by her granddaughter, Finnegan. They wore blue and gold attire respectively, interpreted as support for Ukraine, whose flags share the same colors.
The U.S. president himself chose not to attend, but wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to King Charles III and Queen Camilla on their Coronation. The enduring friendship between the U.S. and the U.K. is a source of strength for both our peoples. I am proud the First Lady is representing the United States for this historic occasion.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sat beside President of the European Council Charles Michel, despite long-standing tensions between Brussels’ two most prominent politicians. European Parliament President Roberta Metsola was also in the congregation.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry was seen speaking briefly to former U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, now president for global affairs at Meta. King Charles has been a life-long campaigner on the environment.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who gave a reading during the service, was joined by senior members of his Cabinet and as well as all his living predecessors, including Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss — the latter having served in Downing Street for just 49 days last year. Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, a member of Sunak’s Cabinet, took a leading role in the ceremony, carrying the sword of state due to her ceremonial role as lord president of the privy council.
Keir Starmer, leader of the U.K.’s opposition Labour Party, sat next to the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, while leaders of the devolved nations in the U.K. were also in attendance. Prince Harry was seated among members of the U.K. royal family, though his wife, Meghan Markle, remained in California with their children.
Also present were the presidents of Germany and Italy, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Sergio Mattarella, China’s vice-president, Han Zheng, and the prime minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif. Han’s attendance had been a subject of controversy in the U.K. due to his central role in China’s repression of Hong Kong.
There were also leaders from the 14 Commonwealth nations for whom Charles is head of state, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand’s Chris Hipkins, as well as representatives from Grenada, Papa New Guinea, the Bahamas and others.
Celebrities such as singer Katy Perry, chef Jamie Oliver, actor Emma Thompson, and British TV duo Ant and Dec also took seats in the Abbey.
Britain is a constitutional monarchy, and as head of state King Charles has a ceremonial role in opening and dissolving parliament, appointing a government, and approving bills before they become law. He also meets weekly with Sunak, the prime minister.
However, the ability to make and pass legislation rests with politicians in an elected parliament.
Thousands of flag-carrying members of the public enjoyed another British tradition — light summer drizzle — as they gathered in the early hours along the procession route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey. Before the coronation, the head of the U.K.’s leading republican movement, which held a protest in Trafalgar Square, was among those arrested by police.
Members of the royal family were gathered on the Buckingham Palace balcony later Saturday afternoon ahead of a series of celebratory events taking place Sunday, including a pop concert at Windsor Castle. Monday has been designated a public holiday in Britain to mark the occasion.
This article is being updated as the ceremonies continue.