Pomp, Circumstance and Fashion: Highlights From an Eventful 2023 For the Royal Family

In this photo made available by Buckingham Palace, May 8, 2023, King Charles III and Queen Camilla are pictured in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace, London. Photo: Hugo Burnand/Royal Household 2023 via AP/Canadian Press

As the Royal Family sets out on the annual Christmas morning walk between Sandringham House and St. Mary Magdalene church on the grounds, we get a peek into their holiday celebrations. We imagine they will have much to ponder looking back on this year in the monarchy, and in their private lives. This was the year of King Charles’ coronation, and marked a number of firsts for his reign, from tours to state visits to the state opening of parliament. Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex will likely be missing from the ranks, as the distance between Norfolk and Montecito grows. 

Here, a look back on the most meaningful events of 2023 for the House of Windsor.


The Coronation


The biggest royal story of the year was, of course, the Coronation of King Charles III. A celebration of public service, the coronation weekend tied in a campaign to encourage everyday Britons to help out their neighbours and break bread together. The ancient rituals provided a feast of pomp and circumstance, even though festivities were scaled down to acknowledge the austerity conditions of the United Kingdom this year. The King’s genuine emotion as God Save the King was played was a touching reminder of his long journey as heir, and the recent loss of Queen Elizabeth II. The moment William, Prince of Wales kissed his father’s cheek during the ceremony stands out also for its warmth and humanity.


Prince William, Prince of Wales, kisses his father, King Charles III, wearing St. Edward’s Crown, during the King’s Coronation Ceremony inside Westminster Abbey on May 6, 2023. Photo: Yui Mok – WPA Pool/Getty Images


A New Generation


Now aged five, eight and 10, the three Wales children took their places at centre stage this year. They were seen prominently at the Jubilee celebrations last year, and George and Charlotte poignantly attended their great-grandmother’s funeral last fall, but it was at the coronation weekend that the young royals lined the front pews a demonstration of the future of the monarchy. George had a special role as attendant to the King, and Charlotte wore a miniature version of her mother’s beautiful silver headpiece. Little Louis yawned once, but held it together for the historic occasion. The five-yearold was an echo of the King himself, who was just four when he attended his mother’s coronation in 1953. 


Royal Roundup
Prince William, Prince of Wales, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis and Catherine, Princess of Wales attend the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla at Westminster Abbey on May 6, 2023. Photo: Yui Mok – WPA Pool/Getty Images; The yawn from five-year-old Prince Louis reminded some royal watchers of the boredom his grandfather, then-Prince Charles, exhibited at age four at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch/Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images


Camilla’s New Shine


It was a big tiara year at Buckingham Palace. Most recently, senior royals pulled out a load of jewels from the vaults for the state banquet the King held in honour of the South Korean president and his wife. Queen Camilla looked regal in red, with matching red rubies. But it was in fact on the royal tour to France earlier this year that Camilla wowed in a Dior gown at the Élysée Palace, drawing the first real fashion kudos of her life in public service. 

Camilla, not wanting to draw comparisons to noted fashion-plate Diana, had played it very safe to date in perfectly appropriate, if somewhat dowdy, coatdresses and sensible medium-height block heels. She left the dazzle for the younger generation, Kate (and Meghan, during her time as a working royal). But from the moment she was crowned Queen consort, Camilla has been (subtly) stepping up her fashion game. She will never be a scene-stealer, but she now has access to the most impressive jewellery collection in the world.

Royal ROundup
Queen Camilla wowed in a Dior gown at a State Banquet in France at The Palace of Versailles on September 20, 2023. Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images; Inset: Camilla in jewels from the vaults, ahead of the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace on November 21, 2023. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/Getty Images


The Environmentalist King


King Charles has always been an advocate for the environment, from his organic farm at Highgrove to his Aston Martin converted to run off cheese and wine. After being asked to sit out last year’s COP summit, he reappeared on the scene at COP28 in Dubai to deliver an impassioned address to delegates and to meet with key players in behind the scenes sidebars. Charles walks a careful line between the urgency he feels about the state of climate change and the peril the earth and its creatures are in, and his new role as a constitutional monarch, with the tradition of not interfering in politics or policy.


Regret for Colonial Past


Another area in which Charles knows he must tread lightly is on tour to former colonies of Britain. When he visited Kenya this year on royal tour, the situation was set up to be fraught. As had happened with other royal tours to Commonwealth countries in recent years, there were loud calls for apologies and reparations to address the legacy of slavery and colonial occupation. Again, as sovereign, Charles can’t interfere with, or speak for, the British government. His speech in Kenya, while impassioned, boiled down to a single word “regret” for the long-lasting effects of colonialism, as that was as far as he was able to go with the restrictions of his role.


William’s Prize


As Prince of Wales, William’s duties have expanded greatly over this past year. His signature endeavour, the Earthshot Prize, is now in its third year. The awards were held this past fall in Singapore, the centre of the climate action movement in Southeast Asia. Kate did not attend this year’s ceremony (after making a splash in Boston last year in a rented neon green dress), as Prince George had important exams at that time. William did have Cate Blanchett and Sterling K. Brown by his side to hand out prizes.


Kate’s Spotlight


This past fall saw the Princess of Wales jump into her job. With her three kids now settled into a rhythm at school in rural Windsor, she has donned a series of monochromatic pantsuits and hit towns and cities across the U.K. to highlight her signature theme education for the early years of childhood, as well as mental health initiatives. We also saw some action princess shots of her in her new armed forces patronages. 

At the end of the year, she put on the glamour for the reception of the South Korean president, wearing first an eye-popping red caped gown and then her favourite tiara, the Cambridge Lover’s Knot, for the state banquet. 

But it was perhaps her most prominent event, the carol service at Westminster Abbey, that saw Kate in a hybrid of these two images: a white trouser suit with a long white coat that instantly went viral. The family flocked to the event to support Kate as she helmed the televised happening.


The Queen of monochromatic pantsuits: Catherine, Princess of Wales during the Royal Carols, Westminster Abbey, December 8, 2023. ; Insets from top: Catherine in purple at the Design Museum in London in November and at the opening of Evelina London’s new children’s day surgery unit in December. Photos: Getty Images


The Sussexes in America


The year began with a bang on the Sussex front, the release of Spare, Harry’s memoir. A book tour and series of television appearances added the second shoe drop after the Harry & Meghan Netflix series of last year. 

By the end of the year, with a triumphant iteration of his signature Invictus Games, sprinkled with some red carpets and concert appearances for big American stars, the glow shined on the Sussex brand. 

The publication of Endgame meant a lot of bad press in England, but didn’t have the same effect across the pond. Harry and Meghan solidified their philanthropic pillar, Archewell, with a highlight reel of their good works from the past year. 

Then just in time for the holidays, Harry’s long battle against the British press came to a conclusion in his favour, when he was awarded damages with the courts concluding the Mirror Newspaper Group was guilty of “extensive and habitual” phone hacking of the prince between the years 1996 and 2009. 

For a man whose lifelong crusade has been to call the press to account for harassment of his mother and then his wife, this must be a sweet year-end gift indeed.


The Christmas Cards


It is tradition that the senior houses of the Royal Family release to the public the image from the Christmas cards they send out each year. The King went for the obvious image – of himself and the Queen in full coronation vestments – to mark the historic nature of this past year. Meanwhile, the Wales family went for a black and white studio portrait that brought to mind some of the black and white cards that Diana sent out following her divorce from then-Prince Charles. The dress was casual everyone in white shirts and jeans – marking a continuation of the off-duty approach they have taken in recent years.

This undated handout photo provided by Kensington Palace shows Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales with their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, in a photograph that features on the family’s 2023 Christmas card. Photo: Josh Shinner/Kensington Palace via AP/Canadian Press; Inset: The 2023 Christmas card of King Charles III and the Queen Camilla at Buckingham Palace, London. Photo: Press Association/Canadian Press


Endgame? Not So Much


Weighing most heavily will be the recent reveals in what the British press has dubbed the “racism rows” in the Omid Scobie book Endgame, which had a botched launch in Denmark in which an earlier version of the manuscript leaked the names of the royals accused of questioning Archie’s skin colour. Despite dire prognostications that it would damage the Royal Family and/or the Sussexes, the “row” seems to have died down and everyone has risen above it.

In the past weeks, the working core of the Royal Family has gotten on with things: from COP28 to carol concerts and a state reception for the South Korean president. As for the Sussexes, they smiled through a goodwill meeting tour and basketball games in Vancouver, released a report on the success of their Welcome Project through Archewell, and Harry won his phone hacking case. All in all, a solid end to the year for everyone.


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