Tuesday 10 May 2022 10:32 PM Prince Charles standing in for Her Majesty was a big moment, writes ROBERT ... trends now

Tuesday 10 May 2022 10:32 PM Prince Charles standing in for Her Majesty was a big moment, writes ROBERT ... trends now
Tuesday 10 May 2022 10:32 PM Prince Charles standing in for Her Majesty was a big moment, writes ROBERT ... trends now

Tuesday 10 May 2022 10:32 PM Prince Charles standing in for Her Majesty was a big moment, writes ROBERT ... trends now

Having sat through a seminar on constitutional history at Queen Mary and Westfield College during her visit in 1992, the Queen turned to one of our greatest authorities on the subject, Professor Peter Hennessy, and remarked: ‘The British Constitution has always been puzzling – and always will be.’

For proof of that, we only had to look at Parliament yesterday.

There, her officials, her parliamentarians and her judiciary were merrily tying themselves up in knots as they attempted to reproduce that greatest of constitutional rituals, the State Opening of Parliament, minus that crucial ingredient – the head of state.

Was this a ‘State Opening’ or an ‘Opening’? No one seemed sure.

Should we be calling this the ‘Queen’s Speech’ or not? Or even the ‘Prince’s Speech’? Again, the jury was out.

Last night, Downing Street couldn’t make up its mind and, bizarrely, had posted a transcript of the wrong speech on its website.

Such are the joys of our unwritten constitution. Little wonder the Queen finds it ‘puzzling’, given that it can befuddle so many of her senior advisers.

However, she had been very clear about one thing. In her absence, due to ‘episodic mobility’ issues, she had wanted the Prince of Wales to read her speech. And no one was minded to quibble with our longest-reigning monarch in her Jubilee year.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, sits by the The Imperial State Crown, in the House of Lords Chamber, during the historic State Opening of Parliament today

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, sits by the The Imperial State Crown, in the House of Lords Chamber, during the historic State Opening of Parliament today

Tradition and precedent dictate that, when the sovereign is absent, Parliament is opened by a panel of ‘Lords Commissioners’ with the Lord Chancellor reading the speech.

That is what happened when Queen Victoria, George V and the Queen’s father had all failed to attend for one reason or another. It is what happened on the two occasions she was absent during pregnancy.

Yesterday, the Queen had wanted to break that tradition, thus depriving Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab of his moment in the constitutional sun.

She had issued Letters Patent laying down new arrangements for her eldest son and heir to read the speech and for him to open Parliament along with the Duke of Cambridge.

This was, unquestionably, a very big moment in personal, historic and, of course, constitutional terms. Yet there was nothing remotely incongruous about hearing those deep, mellow tones reading out the Government’s new programme, instead of the more clipped diction we have heard for as long as most of us can recall.

The prince carried out his task with the polish, gravitas and confidence we might expect from the longest-serving heir to the throne in history.

Though bare-headed and not dressed in robes of state – he was in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform with Garter collar and Thistle sash – he looked and sounded the full regal part. Of course, he was born to it. But he has now been playing an active role in public life for longer than anyone else in the Chamber yesterday.

He attended his first State Opening in 1967, before many of those on parade had even been born. Sitting alongside him, in plain morning dress, the Duke of Cambridge looked older than some of the MPs at the back.

Queen Elizabeth II ahead of the Queen's Speech in the House of Lord's Chamber during the State Opening of Parliament at the House of Lords on May 11, 2021

Queen Elizabeth II ahead of the Queen's Speech in the House of Lord's Chamber during the State Opening of Parliament at the House of Lords on May 11, 2021

Cars with dignitaries leave Buckingham Palace for the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London

Cars with dignitaries leave Buckingham Palace for the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster in London

There were a few other modernising touches, including the Duchess of Cornwall’s stunning navy dress, coat and hat. For the first time, the procession boasted a female herald, Professor Anne Curry, a medieval historian from the University of Southampton. From now on, at state occasions, however, she will be known as ‘Arundel Herald Extraordinary’.

The proceedings included the Household Cavalry’s

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