Regal Reflections: Exploring a New UK Web Archive Collection on King Charles III
Nicola Bingham, Lead Curator of Web Archiving, British Library
It has been 70 years since a new monarch was crowned in the UK. As we bear witness to a new era of the British monarchy and reflect on its role within the UK, the UK Web Archive is recording and preserving this momentous occasion by capturing websites in a special collection about King Charles III. Work started in earnest on this collection on 8th September 2022 when the late Queen, Elizabeth II, passed away and Charles became King, however, it also forms part of a larger series of collections about the British monarchy in the early 21st Century, curated by staff in the UK Legal Deposit Libraries.
Through this series of special collections, we can trace how the Royal Family has adopted the internet to communicate more efficiently with their supporters, members of the public, and other stakeholders as well as to promote their charitable causes and connect with younger generations who are more likely to engage with social media. As well as ‘official’ information, the UK Web Archive is also capturing user-generated content from a wide range of publishers including the general public, as recorded in websites, blogs, and social media posts, much of which is not available through traditional historical records.
In building this collection we have several priorities. As with all our collecting activity, our mission is to save ephemeral digital content ensuring it is preserved for the historical record. A good illustration of this is that the official website of Charles, Prince of Wales, published in his former position as heir apparent, no longer exists on the internet and is only available in the web archive.
Archived copy of www.princeofwales.gov.uk/ in the UK Web Archive (21/06/2019) https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20190621085304/https://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/
We hope that the collection can help to provide a more comprehensive understanding of King Charles III and his impact on society, by preserving a diverse range of viewpoints and perspectives. There is a huge groundswell of affection for the new King, and the Royal Family in general, and a great sense of celebration and optimism in the lead-up to the Coronation on 6th May, however, there is of course, opposition, skepticism, and criticism, all of which is reflected online. It is important to capture all sides of the conversation to provide a balanced view of the Royal Family and create a digital legacy that will be of interest to researchers to study, and future generations to appreciate.
Another of our aims is to represent different communities across the UK and Commonwealth in the UK Web Archive. The collection will reflect how towns, cities, and villages celebrate the Coronation. Many people will be holding street parties, such as the residents of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, where residents are encouraged to get together and make the Coronation Weekend a community celebration to remember.
In Glasgow organisations and communities are encouraged to engage in various Coronation initiatives and events in order to create a positive lasting legacy. The Big Help Out, for example, is an opportunity to highlight the positive impact of volunteering. It is hoped that the extra bank holiday for the Coronation will be remembered as a day of donating time and skills to help charities, causes, and the vulnerable.
Along with street parties, other traditions surrounding significant royal events include the manufacture and purchase of souvenirs. This article on the V&A’s website, preserved in the UK Web Archive, shows a few examples of souvenirs from past events such as the 'Jubilee' biscuit tin made in 1887 for the Carlisle-based biscuit manufacturer Carr & Co., to commemorate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and the 'Coronation Coach' biscuit tin resembling the ornate coach used by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their Coronation Day on 11 December 1936. Of course, now that online shopping is ubiquitous any type of royal-themed memorabilia or amenity can be purchased, from the more traditional such as this mug from the National Archives shop to the more esoteric such as hiring a King Charles look-a-like.
One of the more peculiar aspects of the British monarchy is that special occasions are often associated with an official dish. Queen Elizabeth had
curried chicken for her Coronation, which was a relatively exotic choice in the Britain of the 1950s while King Charles has a ceremonial quiche (disappointingly not named Quiche l’Reign) which is intended for people to cook at home as part of the Coronation Big Lunch.
Image from UK Government Twitter showing Queen’s Coronation banquet UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) / Twitter (webarchive.org.uk)]
In conclusion, the UK Web Archive is a collection affording a unique opportunity to witness and record unfolding historical events. As a historical figure, Charles III and the events that occur during his reign will be of significant interest to researchers, scholars, and the general public. Please do visit the King Charles III collection in the UK Web Archive, and if you know of a website that should be included in this collection, please nominate it here: https://www.webarchive.org.uk/en/ukwa/info/nominate