As the UK continues with its cautious exit from lockdown, so too have Royal Family members begun making a return to in-person duties. Today, the Queen has attended the historic State Opening of Parliament – albeit a reduced one on account of coronavirus restrictions.
It constitutes the monarch’s first major public duty since the death of her late husband, Prince Philip, who passed away last month aged 99. Significantly, it was historically an event that the Queen would attend in the company of the Duke of Edinburgh. While the Queen has conducted a number of official engagements virtually since the end of the two-week royal mourning period, today’s event will mark the first time that she’s left Windsor Castle to carry out a duty in public.
At the State Opening, the monarch ushered in the start of the parliamentary session by giving the Queen’s Speech, in which she laid out the government’s legislative plans. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were also present. The heir apparent has been in attendance at the last three State Openings, which took place in December 2019, October 2019 and June 2017. The 2017 iteration marked Charles’s debut at the event, the same year that his late father officially retired from public royal life.
Traditionally an occasion complete with much pomp and ceremony, it was understandably pared back on account of the pandemic. According to BBC News, the monarch, wearing day dress and a hat, was taken from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in a Bentley limousine, as opposed to the customary carriage. MPs and members of the House of Lord in attendance were required to wear masks (unless they have exemption), and all those present had to have taken a Covid test and received a negative result.
In typical years, up to 600 people would be in attendance. This time there were just 108, with no non-parliamentary or diplomatic guests. There was also be a reduced number of politicians and peers present, with a total of 74 people in the chamber. These included the Queen, Charles and Camilla, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, opposition leader leader Sir Keir Starmer, and Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, as well as selected representatives from the House of Lords and House of Commons, plus those taking part in the ceremonial procession. There were a further 17 MPs and 17 members of the Lords in the Royal Gallery.
In a further change, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland placed the Queen’s Speech on a table, rather than giving it to the monarch by hand, as is traditionally the case. Much of the typical grandeur was also dispensed with, including the military street liners, lining of the sovereign’s staircase, the military band outside the Palace of Westminster and the Guard of Honour during the procession from Buckingham Palace.
One element that remained however, was the involvement of the Black Rod; a historic tradition during which a person dressed black and wearing a grand gold chain, carrying a ceremonial black and gold staff, knocks on the door of the House of Commons to call on MPs hear the Queen’s Speech. Black Rod then has the Commons slammed in his or her face, and has to knock two more times before gaining entry. Black Rod is officially the Monarch’s representative in the Lords, with the strange display symbolising the Commons’ independence from the Crown. The post is currently held by Sarah Clarke OBE, Lady Usher of the Black Rod.
The 95-year-old Queen also did not wear the Imperial State Crown this year. Made up of over 3,000 gemstones, with a hefty weight of two pounds and 13 ounces, the monarch last wore the heavy crown for the 2016 State Opening. This year, as in 2019, it was carried on a cushion and set on a nearby table instead.
Throughout her 69-year tenure as the UK’s longest-reigning sovereign, the Queen has only been absent from the State Opening on two occasions. Once in 1959, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew, and in 1963, when she would soon give birth to Prince Edward.
See more photographs from today’s iteration of the event below.