Historic State Opening of Parliament sees Charles deliver Queen’s Speech

The last time the Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament was in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward.

The Prince of Wales delivers the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords (Alastair Grant/PA)
The Prince of Wales delivers the Queen’s Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords (Alastair Grant/PA)

The Prince of Wales made history when he opened the new session of Parliament alongside the Duke of Cambridge and gave a glimpse of his future role as head of state.

In the absence of the Queen, the heir to the throne and his son provided a sense of continuity amid the pomp and ceremony, and Charles’ reading of the Queen’s Speech was a highly symbolic occasion.

With the Queen’s advancing years, the move has been interpreted as a significant shift in the prince’s responsibilities in his role supporting his 96-year-old mother.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, with the Duke of Cambridge, back centre, proceed behind the Imperial State Crown through the Royal Gallery during the State Opening of Parliament (Hannah McKay/PA)

The monarch reluctantly pulled out on the advice of royal doctors due to her continued mobility problems and delegated her role to the prince and the duke, but watched the proceedings on television from Windsor Castle.

In his full regalia – Admiral of the Fleet uniform, medals and honour insignia – Charles, with the Duchess of Cornwall, achieved what one royal commentator described as “another part of his training”, albeit a duty he probably did not want to fulfil given the circumstances.

The speech, written by the Government and setting out the legislative priorities of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration, had been circulated in advance featuring the words “My Government” as Charles was tasked with delivering the Queen’s exact words.

But after the address was handed to him by the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, the speech was punctuated with the words “Her Majesty’s Government”.

Charles and William jointly opened Parliament on the Queen’s behalf as Counsellors of State after the monarch delegated the important duty to them.

William was attending his first State Opening of Parliament (Alastair Grant/PA)

The 73-year-old prince sat not on the sovereign’s throne, which had been removed, but on the consort’s throne, which used to be occupied by his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, and which Charles has used in recent years.

A space remained next to him, where the Queen’s missing throne is usually located, under the opulent canopy, with the monarch’s Imperial State Crown in front on a velvet cushion.

On either side of Charles were William, in a morning coat, and Camilla, wearing a day dress and hat, in the Chairs of State.

The ceremony was a first for second-in-line-to-the-throne William, 39, who will also one day be king.

The Prince of Wales looks at the Imperial State Crown (Dan Kitwood/PA)

Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, described the occasion as a “big moment in royal history”.

Mr Little said of Charles: “It must have been a hugely significant moment for him.

“It was rather telling the way that as the Imperial State Crown was placed on the table at the side of him, he looked at it for several seconds.

“You kind of wondered at the time what was going through his mind.

“As people have been saying today, we’re looking at the future.

“It was a duty that he would rather not have had to fulfil but nevertheless that’s what he and William were there for as Counsellors of State.

“It’s a big moment in royal history.”

The Prince of Wales talks to Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab after attending the State Opening of Parliament (Aaron Chown/PA)

A new Letters Patent authorised by the Queen was issued to cover the State Opening delegating to Counsellors of State the royal function of opening a new session of Parliament.

No other functions have been delegated by the Queen.

The last time the Queen missed the State Opening of Parliament was in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward, and her speech was read by the Lord Chancellor.

Constitutional expert Dr Bob Morris, of UCL’s Constitution Unit, told the PA news agency that the arrangements were unprecedented.

He added that it was “more likely than not” that the arrangements would continue for future state openings, meaning the Queen may never carry out a state opening again.

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