Queen Victoria, who was the Empress of India during the Raj, was the first British monarch to include an Indian escort at all her major royal ceremonies and 200 years on at King Charles III’s Coronation this weekend that history would be reflected in the Commonwealth symbolism, according to a British Indian historian and author.
Shrabani Basu, the London-based author of ‘Victoria and Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen’s Closest Confidant’ – adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Dame Judi Dench as Victoria, believes the trappings around the ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Saturday will hark back to much of Queen Victoria’s love for India.
As the first monarch to make Buckingham Palace her home, the gilded carriage of King Charles and Queen Camilla will leave those very gates when it makes its way to the Abbey.
“It is with Victoria that we have such a link with India, because of her connection with Abdul Karim from whom she learnt Urdu; she was so fond of India, though she never visited due to old age,” said Basu, in an interview at the Victoria Memorial opposite Buckingham Palace in London days before the Coronation.
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“She yearned to visit India and in every ceremony that she had, she would make sure there was an Indian escort that led the procession out of Buckingham Palace towards Westminster Abbey. It was the first time that people on the streets saw Indian soldiers escorting the Queen because they were her special escorts. This time round things have changed, it’s the Commonwealth. But the link is very strong with 200 years of history behind us,” she said.
While the pomp and pageantry of the day and the concert and street parties planned over the long celebratory weekend are getting their final touches ahead of the big day on May 6, the future of the institution itself is also very much under the scanner.
“We can see the stands are going up, the palace is getting ready, the throne is being done up. Britain knows how to put up a show, they love the pomp and the pageantry, the drum rolls and the costumes, the carriages that are being given the polish for weeks,” notes Basu, also the author of ‘Kind and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18’.
“Even as we witness all this mounting excitement, a recent poll showed that while the over-60s are very enthusiastic about the monarchy, there is a decline in interest in the monarchy for the 18-25 year olds. So, it begs the question, what is the future of the monarchy; how long would it continue on this scale? Will Prince George (second in line to the throne after Prince William) have a much reduced ceremony in the years to come,” she pondered.
Prince George, 9, is lined up to play a starring role at the Coronation ceremony of his 74-year-old grandfather King Charles III along with his father William, 40, heir to the British throne as the Prince of Wales.
Meanwhile, Graham Smith, CEO of Republic – Britain’s largest anti-monarchist group, has already revealed plans for a series of #NotMyKing protests at Trafalgar Square and along the route of the Coronation procession in central London. The group campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy to make way for an elected Head of State. “India made the right choice a long time ago to get rid of the monarchy, to separate from the Crown and be a Republic, and that is a strong reminder that the Commonwealth is not linked to the Crown in that way,” he said recently.