The British Royal Family don’t really ‘do’ change, so gasps of astonishment and pronounced intakes of breath today as Prince Charles accompanied his mother the Queen to the state Opening of Parliament today, the most important and symbolic constitutional event in the royal calendar.
The presence of Charles by her side – for the first time in 17 years – comes after yesterday’s revelation that she is cutting back on long-haul travel and is a clear sign that the Queen is now actively handing over many of her duties to Charles.
Charles and the Queen are effectively now sharing the job of monarch.
Charles and his wife Camilla accompanied the Queen to the pageantry-rich event which marks the start of the new Parliamentary year, and introduces the legislative program. The speech is written by HM's Government, and the Monarch is constitutionally bound to deliver it as is.
The speech is delivered in the upper chamber, the House of Lords, and when Black Rod, the Queen’s representative at Westminster, approaches the Commons to summon MPs to hear her speech, the door is slammed in his face, a symbolic reflection of the Commons’ willingness to resist the Crown in the 17th Century, before he is more cordially invited in.
Charles and Camilla travelled in their own horse-drawn carriage ahead of the Queen.
Yesterday Buckingham Palace shocked the UK with an announcement that the Queen will not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference for the first time in 40 years, sending Charles instead.
Courtiers said it was part of a review of the Queen’s long-haul travel arrangements.
Charles’ presence at Parliament today suggests that yesterday’s announcement was part of a carefully-planned decision to make public that the Queen will, from now on, be doing less, and we should get used to seeing Charles in her place.
A spokesman said yesterday: "I can confirm that the Queen will be represented by the Prince of Wales. The reason is that we are reviewing the amount of long-haul travel that is taken by the Queen. As a result of that she won't be travelling to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) later this year."
The Queen first attended Chogm in Ottawa, Canada, in 1973 – missing the first one in 1971 – and has been at every summit since.
The Queen, who still carries out in excess of 400 engagements a year, is 87, while the Duke of Edinburgh will be 92 in June.
The Queen was forced to miss the Commonwealth day observance service at Westminster Abbey on 11 March – the first time she had been absent from the event in 20 years. The Duke of Edinburgh attended the engagement alone. The last time the Queen missed the service was when she had flu in 1993.
But in a clear demonstration of her commitment to the association, the Queen attended a reception at Marlborough House the same evening to sign the new Commonwealth charter despite still recovering from the symptoms of gastroenteritis.