King Charles celebrates first Commonwealth Day as Head with senior Royals

A service at Westminster Abbey marked the union of nations

Yesterday saw another first in the reign of King Charles III: his first Commonwealth Day as Head of the Commonwealth.

As always in recent years, the day has seen a number of members of the Royal Family in attendance at Westminster Abbey to commemorate the day with a special service.

This year, The King and Queen were joined by The Prince and Princess of Wales, the newly-titled Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, along with The Princess Royal with her husband, Sir Tim Laurence.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

The royal party were greeted with a haka pōwhiri from a group of New Zealanders, and Charles shared a hongi with tow members, pressing noses with them in a traditional welcome.

Embed from Getty Images

Beyond the boundary of Westminster Abbey, a small crowd of protesters had gathered with signs of ‘Not my King’.

Embed from Getty Images

And while it was a blustery day outside, inside the Royals were all smiles, with cameras catching a sweet little moment between The King and Sophie, The Duchess of Edinburgh before proceedings began.

The congregation of 2,000 people included Foreign Ministers and dignitaries from across the UK and the Commonwealth, as well as faith leaders, youth advocates, athletes and more than 750 school children.

The King and Queen led the royal party in a procession to their seats and, were followed by a parade of Commonwealth flags up the nave.

Embed from Getty Images

During the service, The King took to the Great Pulpit to give his Commonwealth Day message.

In the message, he paid tribute to his late mother and the pride she held in the Commonwealth and that she saw Commonwealth day as ‘a treasured opportunity to celebrate our Commonwealth family, to whose service she dedicated her long and remarkable life’.

He went on to say that ‘The Commonwealth has been a constant in my own life, and yet its diversity continues to amaze and inspire me. Its near-boundless potential as a force for good in the world demands our highest ambition; its sheer scale challenges us to unite and be bold.’

Charles’ speech during the service was a break from tradition, as the late Queen’s message was usually printed in the programme for the service and released to the public in a statement by the Palace. Occasionally, it had been prerecorded, but never delivered in person at the Commonwealth Day service.

While there were readings and reflections at the service from all corners of the globe, including a teaching from the Qu’ran, the Torah, there were also performances, from the Amalgamation Choir of Cyprus, the National ballet of Rwanda, and Jamaican saxophonist Yolanda Brown.

Embed from Getty Images

Following the service, a wreath from The King was placed for him at the Commonwealth Memorial Gates. The wreath was placed in remembrance of the five million men and women from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, who served with the Armed Forces during the First and the Second World Wars as part of the former Empire and now Commonwealth.

Embed from Getty Images

The Commonwealth has been a shifting in recent years, with the likes of Barbados removing the Monarch (then Elizabeth II) as their Head of State and replacing with a President. These changes are something that the Royals have been receptive to. Charles attended this transition ceremony on the late Queen’s behalf, referencing ‘the appalling atrocity of slavery’ in the Caribbean, which ‘forever stains our history’.

Prince William, on his recent tour of the Caribbean with Catherine, made a point of sharing that he understood their visit ‘has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future’, the latter of which is ‘for the people to decide’.

‘Catherine and I are committed to service,’ he said. ‘For us that’s not telling people what to do. It is about serving and supporting them in whatever way they think best, by using the platform we are lucky to have.’

‘It is why tours such as this reaffirm our desire to serve the people of the Commonwealth and to listen to communities around the world. Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead its family in the future isn’t what is on my mind. What matters to us is the potential the Commonwealth family has to create a better future for the people who form it, and our commitment to serve and support as best we can.’

Later in the evening, The King and Queen were joined by Prince William, Prince Edward and Sophie, and Princess Anne and Sir Tim, as they hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the day.

Embed from Getty Images

In the initial statement released announcing the reception, the Palace had said that Catherine would also be in attendance. However, just before the Royals were to arrive at the reception, the Palace announced that she would not be attending and that the announcement of her attendance was a mistake.

Normally the reception takes place at Marlborough House, the official headquarters of The Commonwealth just next to Clarence House, and is attended by members of the Royal Family, but The King chose closer to ‘the office’ for his first reception as its Head.

Embed from Getty ImagesEmbed from Getty ImagesEmbed from Getty Images

Upon entering the White Drawing Room, members of the family were greeted by Baroness Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary General, and Prime Minster Fiame Naomi Mata Afa of Samoa, the nation that will be hosting the next Heads of Government Meeting.

Events moved into the Music Room, where The King signed the Commonwealth Charter. The charter is a document that outlines the 16 core values of the Commonwealth, which its members are committed to upholding. These include peace, democracy, human rights, rule of law and care for the environment.

Embed from Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II first signed the charter ten years ago.

Following the signing, the Royals spent the rest of the event speaking with invited guests in the Picture Gallery.

And so a very successful first Commonwealth Day for The King came to an end.

Share this

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.