This morning, a State Opening of Parliament took place in London that was unlike any other we’ve seen in decades, as the Prince of Wales was deputized to read the Queen’s Speech from the throne.
Because she is dealing with continued mobility issues, the Queen and her doctors decided that the State Opening of Parliament, with its stairs and its procession, would be too strenuous and difficult for her to undertake. But opening parliament is one of the Queen’s most important constitutional duties, and she can’t just ask someone else to do it for her. She had to issue Letters Patent that enabled two of her Counsellors of State—the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge—to perform the duty in her place. The Prince of Wales was deputized to read the speech on his mother’s behalf.
The Queen wasn’t present, but the Imperial State Crown—one of the most important symbols of the monarch’s power—certainly was. The crown was carried in the procession by the Lord Great Chamberlain of England, the Marquess of Cholmondeley, just as it has been in the years since the Queen stopped wearing it for the event. (As an aside: I’d wager that this is how we’ll see the Imperial State Crown appearing at the opening of parliament permanently now. I don’t think either Charles or William, or any of their descendants, will wear the crown in the future, except during their coronation ceremonies.)
The event always offers us a lovely chance to gaze on the magnificent stones set in the Imperial State Crown, including the Black Prince’s Ruby. The enormous 170-carat stone is really a large spinel, sourced from the Badakhshan region of Asia. It’s been in royal hands since the 1360s, when it was part of a conflict between two Spanish monarchs, Sultan Muhammad VI of Granada and King Pedro I of Castile. It supposedly came to England with the Black Prince (son of King Edward III) in 1367. (You can read all about how that apparently happened over here!) King Henry V supposedly wore the stone during the Battle of Agincourt, and his descendants began wearing it in their crowns.
The front of the crown also includes the enormous Cullinan II Diamond, a 317.4-carat cushion-shaped diamond that is also called “the Second Star of Africa.” The diamond has been set in the Imperial State Crown since 1909.
On the back of the crown, you’ll also be able to spot the gorgeous Stuart Sapphire. The 104-carat sapphire was originally affixed to the front of the crown, but it was moved to the reverse in 1909 when the Cullinan II Diamond was placed in the diadem. The large blue sapphire is said to be the same gem taken by King James II when he fled the country after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, and later reacquired by King George IV.
The crown sat on a cushion beside the Prince of Wales as he read the Queen’s Speech during the ceremony. Charles wore the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, the same one that was worn by his father for years for the same event. You’ll note that the orders worn with the uniform include the collar and star of the Order of the Garter, the dark green sash and star of the Order of the Thistle, and the neck badge of the Order of the Bath.
The Duke of Cambridge wore a morning suit for the ceremony rather than a military uniform. He pinned the Garter star, plus the Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee medals, to his jacket.
As she usually does, the Duchess of Cornwall also attended the ceremony alongside her husband.
The Duchess wore an elegant navy ensemble by Fiona Clare, featuring delicate white floral embroidery. She wore a matching hat and spectator pumps and carried a navy quilted Chanel handbag.
Camilla kept her jewelry very simple for the event, wearing classic diamonds and pearls. She paired her favorite diamond and pearl drop earrings with her four-stranded pearl choker necklace with the round diamond clasp. (I also see another gold chain layered beneath the pearls, but I haven’t been able to spot the pendant on that second necklace in any images.) She also wore several bracelets on her right wrist (including her blue and gold Magic Alhambra bracelet from Van Cleef & Arpels), as well as a modern electronic watch on her left wrist and her engagement and wedding rings on her left hand.
It was a strange experience to hear someone else reading the Queen’s speech this year. One photographer, Hannah McKay, snapped this evocative picture of the ceremony on a television screen, conveniently located between a statue of Queen Elizabeth I and a painting of Queen Elizabeth II. Change certainly happens, doesn’t it? It’s a sign of the times—and a hint of continuity to come.