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Multimillion-pound coronation ‘a slap in the face’

Late Elizabeth II’s coronation cost £20.5m in today’s money

Laura Elston
Tuesday 09 May 2023 07:47 BST
What happened at the last Coronation in the UK?

The King’s coronation is set to cost many millions – and it falls to taxpayers to foot the bill.

But with no budget revealed for the historic national state occasion, and the government not commenting on the expected total cost, the amount of public funds due to be spent remains unknown.

Some predictions suggest Operation Golden Orb – the crowning of Charles III and the Queen Consort – could cost the nation between £50-100m.

The late Elizabeth II’s coronation cost £912,000 in 1953 – £20.5m in today’s money – while Charles’s grandfather George VI was crowned at a cost of £454,000 in 1937 – worth £24.8m in 2023 and the most expensive coronation of the last 300 years.

Taking place amid the cost-of-living crisis facing the UK and against a backdrop of strikes by doctors, teachers and other public servants over pay, the King’s coronation has been branded a waste of taxpayers’ money by critics.

More than half of Britons do not think it should be funded by the Government, a poll has suggested.

The YouGov survey found 51 per cent of adults questioned believe the ceremony should not be funded by the Government.

Almost a third – 32 per cent – said it should, while around 18 per cent did not know.

Graham Smith, chief executive of campaign group Republic, said: “Charles is already king. There is absolutely no need to go through with this expensive pantomime.”

“At a cost of tens of millions of pounds, this pointless piece of theatre is a slap in the face for millions of people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis,” he added.

The Guardian’s research into Charles’s wealth has suggested the King has an estimated personal fortune of £1.8 billion.

Labour’s Richard Burgon, MP for Leeds East, called for a House of Commons debate on the amount of public money being spent on the coronation given the difficult economic times.

“The King has a reported personal fortune of £1.8bn, and given the monarch already benefits from not paying inheritance tax, it’s easy to see why so many people are not happy with this,” he said.

As with Jubilees and other such events, it is understood the total cost and breakdown of funding will not be available until after the May 6 event.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden has insisted the King and the Government are “mindful of ensuring that there is value for the taxpayer” and there will not be “lavishness or excess”.

But Mr Dowden also told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee at the start of the year: “It is a marvellous moment in our history and people would not want a dour scrimping and scraping.”

Scottish National Party MP Ronnie Cowan for Inverclyde highlighted the cost-of-living challenges, saying: “One in four people in my constituency, including children, are living in poverty.

People live in damp houses. People struggle to pay their electricity bills right now, on the back of Covid and Brexit.

“What evidence do you have that they think the UK government should pay for this coronation?”

Mr Dowden – MP for Hertsmere – replied that the government always pays for coronations and it was important to mark the coronation properly.

He added: “In my own constituency, which may be different to yours, Mr Cowan, people say to me that they expect the King to have a proper coronation, and that is what he will have.”

George IV’s coronation in 1821 was a great theatrical spectacle and the former Prince Regent, known for his extravagance, spent vast sums of money on it – £238,000 – or £20.9m in today’s money.

His successor, William IV, had to be persuaded to have a coronation at all in 1831 and spent so little money that it became known as “the Penny Coronation” – with the bill coming to around £43,000 – worth £3.6m today.

It did establish much of the format that remains for British coronations today with a procession in the Gold State Coach to the Abbey, but he refused to have a coronation banquet as he considered it too expensive.

Queen Victoria’s coronation festivities in 1838 were a much grander affair than her uncle’s, with three state balls, two court receptions, a drawing room and state concert, and a public procession to the Abbey.

Parliament spent around £69,000 – £6.2m in today’s money – on the 19-year-old’s celebrations.

Socialist MP Keir Hardie –  the first leader of the Labour Party in the UK parliament – condemned George V’s 1911 coronation, which cost £185,000 or £17.4m today, as “an orgy for the display of wealth and senseless spending”.

Monarchs have sometimes sought to offer support to those in need around the time of their coronations.

For Queen Victoria’s, extra rations of beef were distributed to workhouses and prisons, while on behalf of George VI in 1937, a special welfare payment was made to the unemployed, but this was not repeated in 1953.

In April, it was revealed that an £8m government-funded scheme was giving public authorities the chance to claim a free portrait of Charles III.

Councils, courts, schools, police forces and fire and rescue services are among the UK institutions which will be offered a new official portrait photograph.

But Republic called the move a “shameful waste of money”.

Security costs will also form a major part of the cost of the coronation.

The bill for policing the then-Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011 was £6.3m, while the cost of the police operation for the then-US president Donald Trump’s four-day visit to the UK in 2018 was more than £14m.

Downing Street and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment on the cost of the coronation.

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