The 'Grim Reaper' From King Charles' Coronation Revealed

Did you spot it? Some viewers watching the coronation of King Charles III from home noticed a black-robed figure in the background at Westminster Abbey among all the anachronistic robes, crowns, swords, and staffs. Whoever it was, many on social media noted that they looked more than a little bit like the grim reaper — or the medieval European scythe-carrying symbol of death, sometimes called a death ripper. Could the appearance of this apparition at the crowning of King Charles III foretell a short reign for Britain's new monarch or some other impending tragedy for the royal family?

As the purported grim reaper footage spread on TikTok and elsewhere, some wondered if one of those two things might be the case. Others speculated that the spirit of King Charles III's late wife, Princess Diana, who died in 1997 in a car wreck, had returned to haunt the proceedings. According to Newsweek, though, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for who it was: The seemingly shadowy character caught on camera was not the grim reaper, of course, but instead, a person who worked at the Abbey. And while they played an important part in the crowning, to anyone outside the Anglican church, the name of their role — a verger — might still sound a little sinister.

Vergers are average folks who sometimes volunteer at church events

According to The Episcopal Church website, like the grim reaper, the role of a verger — sometimes called the "protectors of the procession" — date back to the Middle Ages. But unlike a death ripper, they're nothing to be afraid of. They're typically full or part-time lay ministers or community volunteers. Traditionally, vergers dress in black robes, just like the figure briefly seen at King Charles III's coronation, and they hold a mace — the object that appeared to some like a scythe in the coronation footage.

In medieval times, vergers used that implement to make way for the church procession as it moved from the town's square to the local church for service. Today, vergers do a number of things related to the Anglican church, including outreach, theological education, facility upkeep, or just simply interacting with and maintaining the congregation. According to, the verger's role varies greatly, depending on where they work.

More than anything, though, the job of a verger is to ensure church events go off without a hitch (something like a stage manager), and there's no bigger church event than a king's coronation. In the U.K. vergers belong to The Church of England Guild of Vergers (COFGVE), founded in 1932. As writes, they're supposed to remain behind the scenes or stay "invisible," explaining why the verger at the coronation appeared to skulk by in the background. 

Theories ranged from the Grim Reaper to King Charles' mother

Though what some saw at King Charles III's crowning ceremony was not really the grim reaper, social media still had fun speculating who or what they might have seen. As mentioned, some thought it could have been the spirit of Princess Diana, or the ghost of King Charles III's mother, Queen Elizabeth II. When @realjoegreeeen shared the purported reaper footage on Twitter, someone commented (via the New York Post): "Queen Elizabeth bout take her crown back." Elsewhere, someone added, "​​Diana getting her revenge."

The real grim reaper story started in the time of the Black Death in Europe beginning around the 14th century, when the bubonic plague caused mass death on the continent. As the Post elsewhere notes, two royal "superfans," Lynne and Colin Antink — who claim to have predicted the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip — had a bad feeling about Charles in advance of the May 6 coronation. According to Lynne, she had a vision of the crown possibly falling from the king's head, but despite a visitation from someone who looked an awful like the grim reaper, everything turned out alright.