Ahen Charles appeared alone for the first time as representative of the monarchy at Westminster Palace and opened the parliamentary season in the House of Lords in May, there was still an empty throne next to him. All should see that the holder of the crown was alive and that he was fulfilling her constitutional duties only by proxy. On Monday there was again a second armchair on the stage, but this time his wife Camilla took a seat there as “Queen Consort”. The stage now belongs solely to the new royal couple. As the new monarch, Charles was to address both houses of Parliament at a commemoration ceremony.
The scene was Westminster Hall, the almost 1000-year-old heart of the palace. Here coronation banquets were held and trials; Charles’ namesake, King Charles I, was sentenced to death here in 1649. The Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord McFall of Alcluith, on Monday called the hall with its massive wooden ceiling a “living space that, like our great nation, has always evolved”. Important anniversaries have been celebrated here and great speeches have been given, by Charles de Gaulle and Nelson Mandela, for example. On Wednesday, Elisabeth’s coffin will be laid out here for five days.
Follow, don’t copy
Charles was brief. With a quote from Shakespeare about Elizabeth I, he tried to span the historical arc, and then paid his respects to those present: “Parliament is the living and breathing instrument of our democracy.” Again he recalled the vow of his mother and her ” example of selfless service”. He was determined to follow this “faithfully with God’s help and your advice”.
However, following does not mean copying. Already on Friday, when he made his first appearance as king, Charles had made it clear that he would be different from his mother. When he returned to London from Balmoral, he spontaneously approached mourners in front of Buckingham Palace, spoke to them and shook hands. The Queen hadn’t had that in 70 years; her style included elegant distance. In his televised speech, too, Charles struck a tone that contrasted with his mother’s style. He spoke not only as a head of state, but as a mourner. Although his emotions were unmistakable, he had not repeated the recording that had preceded his speech. There was a message in it: someone is different here – and willing to show it.
At the age of 73 when he took office, Charles can confidently set signs of change. As great as the shock of the Queen’s death was, the transition to her son’s reign has so far been almost eerily ordered. The sequence of complex transition ceremonies had been planned for decades. Although the singing of the national anthem was never rehearsed, it sounded almost natural as the audience chanted “God save our gracious King” after the King’s proclamation outside the London Stock Exchange. Charles, some believe, wants to slim down the monarchy and make it “more accessible”. It is not inconceivable that Buckingham Palace will be opened to the public in some time and this also looks like a natural development.
To the frequently asked question of what kind of king the British now expect, those who are good at assessing the situation give answers that should reassure many. Charles has “probably the longest education in history,” joked David Cameron when interviewed with two other former Prime Ministers on the BBC on Sunday. Cameron, who was often received in audience by the crown prince, called Charles a “superb diplomat” who will be “brilliant at listening, asking questions and giving wise advice”. Theresa May and Gordon Brown recalled that Charles had held governmental positions for decades and had developed personal connections through travel and visits to many heads of state and government.