No Blood-Sucking Parasitic Pie For King Charles This Year

The 2023 coronation festivities feature a pork pie, breaking from tradition.

The royal coronation of King Charles III and Camilla, which will formally establish Charles as the monarch leader of the United Kingdom, takes place this Saturday, May 6 at Westminster Abbey. The last coronation was Queen Elizabeth II's ceremony 70 years ago, and since then, times have changed (for example, the queen is dead). And while there are plenty of celebratory events scheduled throughout the week, there's one that easily sticks out as the most unique.

Many coronation traditions date back centuries (horse-drawn carriage), and some have undergone modern revisions (air-conditioned horse-drawn carriage). One of those contemporary changes is that instead of being presented with the customary celebration pie made of lamprey, King Charles was presented with a pie made of pork.

The monarchy has been known to break from tradition before, sometimes out of necessity (isn't it so annoying when all the colonies are free???). But this is a big change. The New York Times explains that lamprey pie has been a part of the proceedings for eight centuries. Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 even featured a 20-pound lamprey pie.

For the unacquainted, the lamprey is an eel-like, parasitic jawless fish that, depending on the ecosystem, can be an invasive species. They're not pretty—they have suction-cup-like mouths and teeth that latch onto other fish and suck out their fluids, which the lampreys do for a couple of years before taking time to spawn. But for all their ugliness, lampreys also taste different from your average fish, with a smoky flavor more akin to beef than seafood.

As a result, lampreys have been a pretty popular food among British royals over the centuries, both in pies and on their own. It's still a popular delicacy in other parts of Europe, and the fish also has significance for Native tribes in North America.

So, why no lampreys at the coronation this year? For one thing, they're endangered in Europe. To catch lamprey in the U.K., you'd need permission from the British government. Conservation is one of King Charles' focal points of interest; in the past, he's been outspoken against overfishing, and he eats vegetarian two days per week to reduce his environmental impact. Imported lampreys from Canada—where they're seen as pests—were featured in pies presented to Queen Elizabeth as recently as 2015, but because of Charles' environmentalism, it seemed inappropriate to have them shipped again this year. So the pork pie will suffice this year, as well as coronation quiche.

If lamprey populations surge enough so that they're no longer endangered in Great Britain, it's possible that the lamprey pie tradition could see a revival. But for now, the Brits are leaving these little blood-sucking fish alone.