LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday delegated one of her most important public duties to Prince Charles, stressing the increasingly central role of the heir to the throne as her mother prepares to celebrate 70 years on the throne.
Charles presided over the state opening of Parliament and delivered the Queen’s Speech outlining the government’s legislative agenda. The event is a symbol of the monarch’s constitutional role as head of state and is accompanied by centuries of tradition designed to demonstrate the strength of British political institutions.
The queen’s decision to delegate her role to Charles is likely to be seen by the public as proof that a transition is underway, with the 96-year-old monarch remaining on the throne but handing over more responsibilities to her eldest son.
The choreography of the day emphasized an absent and still-present queen. His throne had been removed, but in its place the Crown of the Imperial State sat propped up on a pillow. Charles, dressed in the uniform of a fleet admiral, shone with a gold braid instead of sweeping ermine robes.
He was flanked by his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, and his son, Prince William. It was, in essence, all about the dynasty.
“I think the emphasis here was clearly on continuity, a symbolic presence of Elizabeth II, if not a physical presence, and also what the future will be like,” said Ed Owens, real historian and author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Media and British public 1932-1953.
WHAT IS THE QUEEN’S SPEECH?
The speech takes place during the formal opening of each session of Parliament and sets out the government’s legislative program.
It is written by the elected government, currently led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and read at a joint meeting of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The monarch traditionally arrives at the event in a horse-drawn carriage, sits on the Sovereign’s Throne in the House of Lords, and wears the Crown of the Imperial State.
But Charles, 73, arrived by car and sat not on the throne of the sovereign, who had been removed, but on the throne of his consort, which had been used by his late father, Prince Philip. In the place where the queen’s throne is usually placed, the Crown of the Imperial State was placed on a velvet cushion.
Charles delivered the speech in the third person, using “His Majesty’s Government.”
WHY DID ELIZABETH DECIDE TO SKIP THE SPEECH?
Buckingham Palace gave no further details on what it called “episodic mobility issues”, but the Queen has had difficulty moving in recent months. She was seen wearing a cane on a few occasions and Prince Andrew accompanied her to Westminster Abbey last month for Prince Philip’s Memorial Service.
The event involves more than just reading the speech. There is a long walk to the House of Lords, the stairs to the throne and in recent years the need to get on and off the carriage. All of these obstacles can pose challenges to the sovereign.
Elizabeth, who has only recently recovered from a COVID-19 attack, is also preparing for four holidays to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee which are scheduled for June 2nd and 5th.
HAS THE QUEEN EVER LOST HER SPEECH BEFORE?
Yes. In 1959, when she was in the last stages of her pregnancy with Prince Andrew, and again in 1963 before the birth of Prince Edward.
On both occasions, Parliament was opened by a royal committee, with a speech by the President.
HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS TIME?
This year, the Queen formally asked Prince Charles to deliver the speech under rules that would allow him to delegate some of his duties to senior members of the royal family who are considered “state counselors.” Councilors of state are required to act in pairs, so Charles was accompanied by his eldest son, Prince William.
Because the duties were delegated to Charles, there were fewer interruptions in the ceremonial aspects of the day.
The public should be able to be comforted by the continuity represented by Charles’ appearance, said Robert Hazell, a professor of government and constitution at University College London.
“Yes, in fact, we are preparing for a transition,” he told The Associated Press. “The queen is in her mid-90s. She will not live forever. We are close to the last years of her reign, and during those last years, if she is no longer able to make public appearances, Prince Charles can replace her in her name.
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The Queen delegates the opening of Parliament for the first time
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