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An ancient clan that moves with the times

King Charles, the ultra-traditional eco-radical. Chris Jackson/Getty

“Whenever I write about the royals, says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic, I find myself wondering how a family that owes its position to the “illegitimate son of a Norman noble invading Sussex in 1066” can so credibly claim to be at the vanguard of social change. But this ancient clan has a genius for moving with the times. Its latest chief, King Charles, has always embodied a unique blend of “eco-radicalism” and “deep traditionalism”, and the Coronation is no different. The oil used for his anointing will be vegan – he chose to spurn the traditional ambergris (derived from a whale’s guts) or civet musk (squeezed from a tree mammal’s anal glands). But tradition comes into play too: the oil will be from olives harvested from next to his grandmother Alice’s grave in Jerusalem. “It has been blessed by an Orthodox patriarch with a huge beard.”

“Coronations, like monarchies, have had to evolve for a very long time indeed,” says Hannah Rose Woods in The New York Times. George IV’s crowning in 1821, after Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic wars, was “one of the most lavish in British history” – and it became symptomatic of the “scandalous overspending” that made him deeply unpopular. In 1831, his successor William IV, “perhaps sensing the mood”, tried to skip his coronation entirely. He was eventually persuaded to have a small ceremony with no banquet and a short procession. The coronation of Victoria in 1838, “in the wake of a transatlantic financial crisis”, was restrained to the point of being disparagingly nicknamed the “penny crowning”. But it set a new trend: some 400,000 Britons turned out to watch, and there was a huge fair and fireworks display in Hyde Park.