A coronation is, by its nature, a celebration of hierarchy. Its entire point is to appoint one person supreme above all others in the country, however symbolic that power might be in the case of King Charles III.
It only follows, then, that the seating chart for an event like this would be an intricate exercise in power dynamics, particularly when you’re figuring out where to put the kinds of people — royals, politicians, church leaders, celebrities — who would usually be placed in prime position at any other event they attend. Throw interpersonal undercurrents into the mix (yes, we’re looking at you, Prince William and Prince Harry), and getting this right must have been a nightmare exercise for the coronation’s organizers. Earl Marshall, who also organized the late Queen’s funeral in September, had that honour.
When it came to the VIP seats, however, there was only one place to be: the so-called Coronation Theatre, the coronation equivalent of being in the pit at a concert, feet away from where the action is taking place. To make the cut for these exclusive rows of seats is a big deal, but even within this ticket block, as it were, there’s a pecking order — and it’s fascinating to look into who’s in (and who’s out) of the royal books right now.
Let’s delve into some of the more interesting seat placements.
Where would Prince Harry sit at the coronation? This was the question that everyone — especially anyone who read the explosive “Spare” — was waiting to see.
In the end, the Duke of Sussex was seated in the third row, right next to other non-working royals like his cousins, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. Harry was separated from his brother, Prince William, by a row that included the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, one of Queen Elizabeth’s cousins.
If we’re judging this purely by the standards of protocol, Harry’s placement is unremarkable. He’s not a senior royal anymore, so he doesn’t sit with the other senior royals. His status as the king’s son in this equation is irrelevant.
Of course — and here’s where things get juicy — there’s so much more to this saga than bloodless protocol. While it’s entirely possible that there was some precoronation meeting that we, the public, aren’t privy to, this is almost certainly Harry’s first public encounter with his family since he published a memoir that, well, took no prisoners amongst his family members. Even before “Spare” was published in January, though, relations had been frosty (to put it mildly) between Harry and his family.
Seating has also been a bone of contention before.
In fact, part of Harry’s reluctance to RSVP “yes” to the coronation was apparently due to the fact that negotiations over where he and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, might sit (and whether they would ride in any procession) didn’t go his way. According to royal biographer Robert Lacey, he hadn’t been happy with where they were seated at last year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, which they equated to social “Siberia.”
Looked at in that light, not only was Harry seated three rows back at the coronation, he was also several people down from his brother William and his family. This gave him a vantage point to watch his brother, and he seemed like he took advantage of that, frequently glancing his way during the coronation service. Otherwise, he was stone-faced.
Lip readers, however, did catch him saying the odd thing to his fellow guests. “Delightful,” “hello,” and “look at that” are among the anodyne things he seems to have murmured. The most revealing, however? What he (apparently) said to his seating chart neighbour, Princess Eugenie’s husband Jack Brooksbank: “I will be straight to the airport.”
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
While there wasn’t technically an empty seat beside Prince Harry, his wife’s absence was palpable at the coronation. Meghan declined to attend, with the generally accepted “official” reason being that May 6 is also their son Archie’s 4th birthday, and they wanted at least one of his parents there in California to celebrate with him. (Hence, in part, Harry’s eagerness to get out of town on the next flight out.) It’s far more likely, however, that Meghan’s decision not to attend was spurred by some combination of unwillingness to submit herself to yet another feeding frenzy by the British tabloid press and a general move to distance herself from the royal family.
Prince William, Princess Kate and family
Prince William, Kate, and their children were the VVIPS, barring King Charles and Queen Camilla themselves. William and Kate, wearing the formal best, were seated in not just the front row, but the end of the row closest to where the actual coronating occurred.
(William played a significant part in the ceremony, as he knelt and pledged allegiance to his father, the king. Charles displayed a brief flutter of emotion as his son kissed his cheek.)
Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis were seated between their parents. Louis was discreetly whisked away for a large chunk of the ceremony because, well, he’s five. Very sweetly, Louis fumbled the national anthem at the end, singing “God save the Queen” instead of king.
The second-in-line to the throne had more important things to do than sit with his parents. He served as a “page of honour,” carrying the king’s train alongside other aristocratic lads that include several of Camilla’s grandsons.
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh
Interestingly, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie made the front row. The couple were recently elevated to the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh — the Duke title had previously belonged to Prince Philip, and was recently given by Charles to his youngest brother on his birthday. Edward and Sophie’s prime position at the coronation — plus, the fact that they were also in the full regalia, one of the few other royals to be so permitted — is surely a signal that they will play an increasingly prominent part in the royal family going forward.
Queen Camilla’s family
One of the overlooked details about this coronation tends to be its significance as a “blended family” event, the first to ever involve a monarch with stepchildren, a.k.a. Camilla’s kids with her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles. Camilla’s son Tom and Laura were there — albeit not in prominent seats — and her three grandsons served as pages of honour, right alongside Prince George. After the coronation, Camilla’s grandsons appeared right next to King Charles on the balcony.
After Prince Harry’s third-row placement, where the Middletons sat has to be the most interesting placement of them all. Princess Kate’s whole family — father, Michael; mother, Carole; sister, Pippa; brother, James — were seated in the same section of the abbey as other royalty, albeit in one of the very back rows.
It’s a foreshadowing of the future, when one day the Middletons will be watching Kate’s own coronation, likely in even better seats. (And with their spouses, one would hope! Like many other guests, they didn’t get to bring them this time.)
The question of where to put Prince Andrew — forced to take early retirement from working royal duties after sexual assault allegations that were later settled out of court — was another tricky one for organizers. As with Harry, protocol came in to assist: He was seated on the end of that same third row, next to his daughters and their spouses. What was striking, however, was that Prince Andrew was wearing full regalia, including a blue robe and a red sash. As a duke, that’s his due, but it was a fascinating contrast to Prince Harry, also a duke, who apparently specifically asked the king if he could wear a suit like the other male guests.
Prince Andrew’s ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, was not in attendance.
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