After King Charles’s coronation on May 6, photos from Westminster Abbey showed Prince Harry looking perplexed as he sat behind his aunt, Princess Anne, as she wore an extravagant bicorne hat with a red feather. The photos led to widespread speculation that Harry, who traveled from California to England for the event, had an obstructed view and missed most of the action. According to Mike Tindall, who is married to Harry’s cousin Zara, who was also seated in the third row of the church, the hat might not have made a difference, because everyone had a somewhat obstructed view.
On a bonus episode of The Good, The Bad, and The Rugby, the podcast Tindall hosts with his friends James Haskell and Alex Payne, he admitted that he actually wasn’t able to see too much. “You’re in the hottest spot, but it was all happening just around the corner of [a] wall that you can’t see!” Tindall said with a laugh, per People. “You do have a front-row seat.”
He added he liked his seat, even though he did have to view the action on a screen. “It was unbelievable to be sat where we were,” he said. “Quite frustrating that you couldn’t see around the corner, but you had the TV there. And obviously everything that went on sort of back and front.”
According to writer Richard Jenkyns, this is a side effect of the fact that the Abbey’s daily worship requirements and its role as a theater for royal ritual come into conflict. In his 2005 guide to Westminster Abbey, he notes that the issue was even worse before modern technology allowed for the installation of the screens that Tindall relied on. “It remains to this day that on a great occasion, the bulk of the congregation cannot see what is happening,” he wrote, “and before the age of the microphone, they could not hear much either.”
The modern-day Westminster Abbey was constructed with a cruciform floor plan in the Romanesque style in the 11th century. Though little of that original structure still remains, rebuilding over the next few centuries was primarily additive. The French gothic-inspired façade on the north transept was added in the 13th century, with a major renovation taking place in 1880. Now it’s considered an axial church, where all of the main spaces are laid out linearly from a central nave, and different parts of the coronation ritual take place in different areas of the church.
Tindall’s obstructed view seems to have been a common struggle for the members of the royal family, who were seated in the cathedral’s south transept, while the main action was happening at the high altar, which is slightly east of the central axis. Even those seated in the first row of the transept, like Princess Kate and Prince William, were occasionally shown in photos craning their necks to see action happening around the side of the wall next to them, especially when Camilla was being crowned south of the high altar. Harry was seated in the third row, behind his aunt and uncle Prince Edward, and in between Princess Alexandra, his 86-year-old cousin who is also a working royal, and Jack Brooksbank, the husband of Princess Eugenie. Mike and Zara were seated in the fourth row, in between Zara’s brother Peter Phillips and Princess Margaret’s son David Armstrong-Jones, the Earl of Snowdon.
Even though the vagaries of history denied him the perfect view during the ceremony, Tindall added that he still feels like he had the privilege of witnessing history. “It’s one of those moments,” he said. “I think the best bit of the day was the six and half hours of military footmen that were in the Buckingham Palace backyard, and they did three cheers for the King—it was like whoa, goose pimples.”
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