The King’s coronation showed the world Britain treats the Jewish community with dignity and respect
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis walked to King Charles III’s coronation, in keeping with Shabbat law (Alamy)
History was made on 6 May 2023 when for the first time, representatives of non-Christian faiths were directly involved in the crowning of our Monarch. And I was one of them.
I am still finding it hard to believe that such a momentous occasion actually happened. The experience and its significance was so moving, overwhelming at times, and almost surreal.
As part of the beautiful and rich ceremony I presented the Robe Royal as a representative of the Jewish community, along with Hindu crossbench peer Lord Patel, who carried the sovereign’s ring; Lord Kamall, a Muslim Conservative peer who carried the armills (a pair of bracelets) and Lord Singh, a Sikh crossbench peer, who presented the coronation glove. It took a while for the penny to drop for me that the 3kg golden mantle I was carrying was the very robe in which King Charles III would be crowned. And it surely was.
This was an honour beyond anything I could ever have imagined. I was humbled to be making history in a coronation ceremony that validated Britain as a community of communities. Especially as, in his coronation, King Charles demonstrated his commitment to protect the space for faith and its practise through religions, cultures, traditions, and beliefs.
My participation was of deep significance and a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a day and age where the Jewish community in this country is treated with dignity and respect, something that has captured much attention globally, as well as at home. This regard and security has not always been the case, and is very much demonstrated by the changed nature of the relationship between the Crown and the Jewish community.
Scholars of history may be familiar with the terrible events which took place more than seven centuries ago, when Jewish civic leaders attempted to honour the newly crowned Richard I. Records tell of how those Jewish leaders were stripped and flogged, followed by a pogrom in London during which at least 30 Jews were murdered, Jewish properties were burned and forced conversions took place.
“How fortunate we are to live in a day and age where the Jewish community in this country is treated with dignity and respect”
Whilst King Richard I was horrified and hanged the main perpetrators, the damage had been done and a century later, Jews were expelled from these shores, not being readmitted to this country until the 1650s. It took a little over a century after that return, through the ascension of King George III, which caused the establishment of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative organisation of which I was proud to serve as chief executive prior to joining the House of Lords.
In my maiden speech in the House of Lords I reflected that my grandparents, who fled pogroms in Russia and Ukraine at the turn of the 20th century, would have been astonished that their granddaughter – not even their grandson – had become a trade union official, an MP, a government minister, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and a member of the House of Lords.
I can now add to that list, my role in the coronation – they would not have believed it either.
As an aside, the Jewish Chronicle observed that there was an additional charming “wrinkle” to the choice of this particular Baroness to carry the Robe Royal. Unknown to Buckingham Palace or the government, my paternal grandfather, born in Kyiv, was, by profession, a presser of garments while my mother, who left school at 14, became a seamstress. It’s an interesting observation that it has been put to me that tailoring and clothing are in the blood!
I have felt so much warmth, pride and support for my role in the coronation. It was a wonderful thing and has meant so much, to so many. For that, I will always be deeply grateful for such an honour of honours.
Baroness Merron is a Labour peer and shadow spokesperson for Health and Social Care.
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