LONDON — There are a few dates on a British monarch’s royal calendar that are circled in red, and the state opening of Parliament is one of them. But on Monday night, less than 24 hours before the big event, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II would not be attending because of health issues.
“The queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow,” the palace said in a statement.
During her 70-year reign, the queen has only missed this event twice: in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with sons Andrew and Edward. On those occasions, her duties were carried out by the Lord Chancellor.
This time, in her stead, Prince Charles will be the first heir to the throne in modern history to star at the main ceremonial event of the parliamentary year. This will also be the first time Prince William, second in line to the throne, will attend.
Charles, 73, has stood in for his mother at a number of major events in recent months. And he has sat beside her at the opening of Parliament before. But this will be his most high-profile solo act yet, and it might offer a glimpse of what a Charles monarchy might look like.
“At Her Majesty’s request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, The Prince of Wales will read The Queen’s speech on Her Majesty’s behalf,” the palace said. The remarks are actually not the queen’s but written by the government, laying out its legislative agenda.
As far as over-the-top spectacles go, the state opening of Parliament is up there. The customs include a lawmaker being taken hostage, someone named Black Rod having a door slammed in her face three times, and a bejeweled crown arriving at the Palace of Westminster separate from the monarch, with its own escort. As strange as this theatrical production can seem to outsiders, it is also an important part of how this country is run.
Robert Hardman, author of “Queen of Our Times,” said that the queen not attending the state opening of Parliament was a “significant moment” in the transition of power from the queen to Charles. “It goes to the heart of what a constitutional monarchy does. It is the queen in Parliament,” he said.
The palace did not elaborate on the monarch’s health, which by tradition is guarded as a private matter. But the queen has had limited engagements in person since an overnight stay in the hospital last fall, a subsequent sprained back and a covid episode in February. In the glimpses the public has gotten of her, she has been seen using a cane.
While royal watchers say Elizabeth, who turned 96 last month, will never abdicate, a transition has been happening gradually for some time. Charles stood in for the monarch at the Remembrance Day Service in November and the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey in March. He also played prominent roles at the Group of 20 summit in Rome and the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, last fall.
The palace had indicated that the queen was hoping to make it to Parliament on Tuesday, only to announce at the last minute that she was pulling out.
As the country gears up for the central celebrations of the queen’s platinum jubilee in early June, which is four days of celebrations marking her 70 years on the throne, a question mark hangs over what events, if any, she will attend in person.