An empty space for a missing monarch and an almost-king discharging the sovereign’s duties set the scene for an unprecedented State Opening of Parliament.
The Prince of Wales, solemn and focused but at ease, read the Queen’s Speech for the first time, opening Parliament with his eldest son, the Duke of Cambridge, in a historic delegation of the monarch’s responsibilities.
Charles watched intently as the priceless and glittering Imperial State Crown was lowered gently onto the table set to his right.
He held the crown – the one he will one day carry the weight of on his own head when he opens Parliament as king – in his gaze.
It was perhaps a moment of reflection and respect for the absence of his mother and the destiny that awaits him.
The ceremony offered a glimpse into the future, to a time when Elizabeth II’s reign – now in its twilight years – will inevitably come to an end and Charles will be monarch.
For the first time in 59 years, the State Opening was without the Queen, who, at 96, is having difficulty walking.
At the behest of royal doctors, she safely watched the proceedings on television from the comfort of Windsor castle, with maybe a corgi or two at her feet.
The symbolism of the day was profound, with the monarch’s elaborate gilded Sovereign’s Throne removed from the House of Lords, leaving just the Consort’s Throne, almost identical but an inch shorter and some 30 years younger, for Charles.
The Queen’s absence was made more poignant with Imperial State Crown placed on a velvet cushion in front of the empty space where she would have sat.
But she remains head of state, and, while Charles discharged her duties, he does not yet get to sit on her throne.
The space left in the chamber by her missing throne was preserved.
Rather than move the prince’s seat to the centre, it was set strikingly to the side in its regular position under the golden canopy.
The prince, the longest serving heir to the throne, made history as he read the 874 words of the Queen’s Speech during the historic proceedings for the first time, discharging his most kingly duties to date.
This time it was not “my Government” or “my ministers” but “Her Majesty’s Government” and “Her Majesty’s ministers” as he delivered the amended version in the third person.
He began with the commanding words “My Lords, pray be seated” as he awaited delivery of the printed speech from the Lord High Chancellor, Dominic Raab.
Most of the ceremonial proceedings were familiar.
Black Rod, in her capacity as the Sovereign’s Messenger, summoned the House of Commons and demanded MPs’ presence.
The door of the chamber was slammed in her face to demonstrate the supremacy of the Lower House over the Lords, and admission was permitted after three knocks.
But there was a change to the words as Black Rod spoke: “Mr Speaker, the Queen commands this Honourable House to attend her Counsellors of State immediately in the House of Peers.”
Second in line William attended the State Opening for the first time, giving a smile as he arrived and greeted dignitaries, before biting his lip as he processed through the chamber, clasping his hands in front of him.
The Duchess of Cornwall, endorsed this year by the Queen to eventually be known as Queen Consort, wore a navy blue day dress and hat rather than a gown and tiara, and clutched a handbag and a pair of gloves, while her husband was dressed in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform.
The prince gave a broad grin to Black Rod as he arrived and appeared comfortable, chatting to dignitaries as he made his way to the Robing Room.
Charles and Camilla walked in procession behind the crown, carried on a cushion by the Lord Great Chamberlain, with William, in a morning coat and wearing his Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals and Order of the Garter star, behind them.
It is not a Regency, but the Queen has turned to the Regency Acts to task her son and grandson with their duties as Counsellors of State though a Letters Patent.
The trio – two future kings and a future queen – moved slowly and steadily, taking careful steps, through the Royal Gallery into the Prince’s Chamber and then the House of Lords, much like the monarchy as it evolves through gradual transition.
With the tasks duly carried out, questions will be asked as to whether Elizabeth II will ever be seen at a State Opening again.
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