For the first time in over 70 years, the State Opening of Parliament was carried out by a King. It was Charles’ first time as Monarch in attending the event, since his late mother died in September 2022.
The State Opening of Parliament sees The Monarch read out a speech, outlining the government’s proposed legislation and policies for the forthcoming parliamentary session. The speech is prepared by His Majesty’s government, and not The King or his staff.
Charles and Camilla travelled from Buckingham Palace the short distance to Westminster in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach, as part of a large ceremonial military procession.
His Majesty wore his uniform as Admiral of the Fleet, Royal Naval Number 1 Dress with cap and sword. For the ceremony, Charles added his Robe of State to his outfit. The robe was originally made for George VI’s Coronation in 1937.
His Majesty also wore the Imperial State Crown, which was originally made in 1937 for the coronation of George VI. It is set with a staggering 2868 diamonds and a further 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds and 269 pearls; three other large stones (one diamond, one sapphire and one ruby) are set mounted the frame – a total of 3168 stones.
The crown, unsurprisingly, is rather heavy, weighing 1.06kg (roughly 2.3lb) and standing 31.5 cm (12.4 in), and travels in its own coach to Parliament ahead of the royal party.
Queen Camilla wore the dress made for her Coronation. The dress was designed by one of her favourite couturiers, Bruce Oldfield. In white silk, following tradition, the dress was almost a coat dress, with underskirt, bracelet-length sleeves and a v-neckline.
It is covered with gold and silver embroidery of wildflowers: daisies, forget-me-nots, celandine and scarlet pimpernel flowers, to reflect her love of gardening and flowers. The hemline features UK floral emblems – a rose, a thistle, a daffodil and a shamrock.
Personal elements can also be seen with Camilla’s cypher front and centre near the hem of the skirt, and two embroidered dogs to reflect her own rescue Jack Russells, Bluebell and Beth. The names of her children and grandchildren are also stitched on the dress.
Queen Camilla chose the George IV Diadem, which features 1,333 diamonds, including a four-carat pale yellow brilliant in the centre of the front cross and depicts the floral emblems of the UK. It was commissioned by George IV in 1820 at a cost of £8,216.
After arriving at Westminster, Camilla added her Robe of State, which originally belonged to Elizabeth II.
It is one of the few occasions The Queen’s Companions joined her, replacing the centuries-old ladies-in-waiting.
In His Majesty’s speech, Charles noted how he is ‘mindful of the legacy of service and devotion to this country’ that his late mother gave to this country as he delivered the first King’s Speech in over 70 years.
The King’s Speech acknowledged how impact of COVID and the war in Ukraine have created significant long-term challenges for the United Kingdom and the ‘Government’s priority is to make the difficult but necessary long-term decisions to change this country for the better’.
The speech highlighted some of the proposed laws which ministers intend to pass in the coming parliamentary session, including:
– new legal frameworks to support the safe commercial development of emerging industries, such as self-driving vehicles and introduce new competition rules for digital markets
– ways to cut waiting lists and transform the long-term workforce of the NHS
– bringing forward a bill which will reform the housing market by making it easier for leaseholders to purchase their freehold and tackling the exploitation of homeowners through service charges
– tackling antisemitism, including a bill to progress the construction of a national Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens
– introducing a bill to ensure tougher sentences for the most serious offenders and increase the confidence of victims
– continue to lead in action on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.
The Princess Royal was also in attendance, in her role as Gold Stick in Waiting. She attended her brother in this way for the Coronation earlier this year, but this time was instead riding in the State Landau carriage during the procession. The role is a purely ceremonial one these days, but in centuries past Gold Stick was a bodyguard of Monarchs, tasked with protecting them – quite the nod to the close relationship of Charles and Anne.
Anne has previously spoken about what this role meant both for her and as a duty to The King during an interview with Canada’s CBC News’ chief correspondent Adrienne Arsenault earlier this year.
The Princess was wearing the uniform of the Colonel of the Blues and Royals – a role she has held since 1998.
MPs from the House of Commons – including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer – were called from the lower chamber to hear the summons by Black Rod, who is The King’s representative in the Houses of Parliament. The door was slammed in her face as she tried to enter, as per tradition, a symbol of Parliament’s independence from The Monarch.
There are many traditions that form part of the formal opening, including the searching of the cellars the night before the ceremony, which began with the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, as well as an MP being taken hostage at Buckingham Palace to guarantee the Monarch’s safety; this is a tradition that dates back to the reign of Charles I, who had a fraught relationship with Parliament, resulting in the English Civil War.
Read more about the full history and ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament here.