LONDON — While King Charles III, 74, has ruled since his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, died in September, on Saturday he will be crowned monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, also becoming the largely ceremonial head of the Commonwealth.
The U.K. is the only country in Europe to hold a lavish coronation ceremony — other countries, such as France, have either abolished the monarchy, opted for a more simple affair, such as Norway, or have never had coronations, such as the Netherlands.
This will be the 40th coronation at Westminster Abbey, a tradition dating back to 1066. Charles’ wife, Camilla, previously known as the queen consort, will officially become queen.
Elizabeth, who died at the age of 96, sat on the throne for a record-breaking 70 years. She was 27 when she was crowned in 1953 — an era-defining moment shown on the still-new medium of television for the first time. In contrast, Charles is a veteran royal who has traveled across the world many times representing the country.
Here’s what to expect on his coronation day:
Procession to Westminster Abbey
Public viewing areas along the route will be open from 6 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET). Space will be limited as many streets in and around the abbey will be closed to traffic.
Early Saturday, the military units involved in the planning and execution of the event will arrive at Waterloo Station and then move across the city to help marshal the thousands of onlookers.
In the morning, the procession will travel from Buckingham Palace to the abbey in a journey lasting an estimated 35 minutes. Charles and Camilla will be in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, first used by Elizabeth in 2014. The air-conditioned carriage, which weighs three metric tonnes and is pulled by six Windsor Grey horses, is only ever used by the sovereign, occasionally alongside a visiting head of state.
The gilded crown on the carriage roof was carved from oak from HMS Victory — Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 — and a piece of the mathematician Isaac Newton’s apple tree inscribed with his initials.
The two-hour service begins at 11 a.m. (7 a.m. ET). It is a somber and symbolic ceremony, largely unchanged in a millennium, in which Charles takes on the role of sovereign.
The traditional Anglican anthem “I was Glad” will be sung as he enters, a piece based on Psalm 122 that has been used at this moment in coronations since at least 1626.
The coronation will be presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently Justin Welby, whose role in the ceremony has remained unchanged since 1066.
Welby will deliver a liturgy, or sermon, in which he will invite the millions of Britons watching to “make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all.”
The service will for the first time include languages from around the U.K., including a prayer in Welsh and a hymn sung in Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.
Some 2,000 guests will pack the abbey, including first lady Jill Biden and Prince Harry, Charles’ younger son who has an acrimonious relationship with his father and elder brother, Prince William, and the royal establishment.
Charles will be the 10th monarch to be crowned since America’s declaration of independence in 1776, but no U.S. president has ever attended a British coronation, a tradition that continues.
The recognition and oath
After entering the abbey, Welby will call for recognition of the sovereign by the people — assembled dignitaries and senior royal household staff then acclaim the king, pledging their homage or loyalty.
Then Charles will take the coronation oath, a legal requirement since a law passed in 1689 compelled King William and Queen Mary to promise to maintain the Protestant faith. The same year, Parliament passed a law that bans any Catholic from taking the throne — a rule still in effect.
At Elizabeth’s coronation, the archbishop asked her if she would govern the people of the U.K and the Commonwealth and uphold the Anglican faith. “All this I promise to do. The things which I have here before promised, I will perform, and keep. So help me God,” she replied.
Then Charles will be anointed, blessed and consecrated by Welby, while he sits in the coronation chair, a relic first used in the coronation of King Edward II in 1308.
The process of anointing is inspired by the biblical anointing of King Solomon — it is a deeply religious moment, similar to a baptism. The oil was made with olives harvested from two groves from monasteries on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, where the Bible says Jesus prayed on the day before his crucifixion.
But this moment will be hidden from the millions watching around the world by a screen: Tradition holds that the only witnesses will be the king, the archbishop and God.
Charles will take off his crimson robes and any jewelry and wears just a simple robe as the archbishop pours oil on his head, hands and chest. As he does this, Welby will say: “… so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated King over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to rule and govern.”
Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest” will play during this ancient ritual. Shakespeare referred to the symbolism of the process in “Richard II”: “Not all the water in the rough rude sea/Can wash the balm off from an anointed king.”
Not all monarchs revered it, however: Elizabeth I referred to the sacred oil as “grease” that “smelt ill,” according to George Gross, a theologian at King’s College London.
After receiving the crown jewels, the orb and two scepters, Charles will have the St. Edward’s Crown placed on his head by Welby. The crown features a 4.9-pound solid gold frame complete with rubies, amethysts, sapphires, garnets, topazes and tourmaline gemstones. It was worn by Elizabeth during her coronation and has been refitted for her son.
At the end of the ceremony Charles will switch to the lighter Imperial State Crown for the procession back to the palace.
Gun salutes will be fired from across Britain both at land and sea.
After the service, the procession will begin, taking the new king and queen back to Buckingham Palace in a different ceremonial carriage, the Gold State Coach, on the same route around Central London that Elizabeth’s body was taken during her funeral last year.
Some 5,000 armed forces personnel from across Britain and the Commonwealth are expected to accompany the newly crowned king and queen. A further 1,200 members of the British armed forces will line the route, according to plans shared by Buckingham Palace and the British government.
The Gold State Coach was commissioned in 1760 and was first used by George III to travel to the state opening of Parliament two years later. It weighs 4 metric tonnes, needs eight Windsor Grey horses to pull and can manage no more than a walking pace.
It was used by Elizabeth on her coronation day in 1953. On that unseasonable cold June day, royal staff strapped a hot water bottle under her seat. Queen Victoria, her great-great-grandmother, was not fond of the gold coach and did not use it in seven state openings of Parliament, the Royal Collection Trust said.
The balcony moment and flypast
Charles and Camilla will head to the Buckingham Palace garden for a reception.
They are then expected to appear on the famous palace balcony alongside other senior royals — it is unclear who will appear, but likely to at least include William, and his oldest son, Prince George, who is second in the line of succession.
The final crescendo of the day’s pomp and circumstance will be a six-minute flypast of more than 60 aircraft from the Royal Air Force, the British army and the Royal Navy, followed by the Royal Air Force’s aerobatics team, the Red Arrows.
Among the aircraft will be planes that have delivered aid to Ukraine and policed NATO airspace, as well as Spitfires, the famous planes that flew during the Battle of Britain in 1940.