LONDON — Standing at a gilded lectern beneath the medieval timber ceiling of Westminster Hall, King Charles III addressed both houses of Parliament for the first time as sovereign and head of state of the United Kingdom on Monday, referencing “the weight of history which surrounds us” and commending Parliament as “the living and breathing instrument of our democracy.”
The ceremony was an important one in cementing the relationship between the king and the Parliament, where true power lies in Britain’s constitutional monarchy.
The new king said he was “deeply grateful” for the condolences — given by the speakers of the House of Commons and House of Lords — which “so touchingly encompass what our late sovereign, my beloved mother, the queen meant to us all.”
He promised to “faithfully follow” his mother’s “example of selfless duty.”
“As Shakespeare says of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, she was ‘a pattern to all princes living,’ ” said the king, who was wearing a black morning coat with tails, a black waistcoat and gray pinstriped trousers.
Charles has attended the ceremonial State Opening of Parliament alongside his mother on multiple occasions. For the last opening, in May, he presided alone — although reading “the queen’s speech.”
On Monday, his words were his own.
About 900 Lords and members of Parliament were in attendance to watch the address in Westminster Hall, built in 1097.
Monarchs are not allowed into the House of Commons at Westminster — a tradition dating back to the 17th century, when King Charles I tried to break in and cause chaos.
But the hall is a place of huge significance, and speaking there is a considered special honor. Queen Elizabeth II was the last royal to do so, on the occasion of her diamond jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the throne, in 2012. Barack Obama was the first U.S. president to give an address in the hall, during a European trip in 2011.
Charles delivered his address on Monday ahead of launching a whirlwind tour of the United Kingdom, being called “Operation Spring Tide.” He flew to Edinburgh, Scotland, on Monday afternoon and will visit Belfast on Tuesday. The man known as the Prince of Wales for 64 years will visit Wales on Friday.
Meanwhile, the queen’s coffin will make its way from Edinburgh to London, where the public will be able to view the late monarch lying in state in Westminster Hall over the course of four days for 24 hours a day.
While there were only two short speeches from lawmakers at Westminster on Monday, Parliament gathered in a special session last week to offer tributes — highlighting the queen’s devotion and duty, but also her wit.
Queen Elizabeth II
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In arguably one of the best speeches of his career, former prime minister Boris Johnson described the queen as “Elizabeth the Great,” the “person who, all the surveys say, appears most often in our dreams.”
He noted her humility: “I can tell you as a direct eyewitness that she drove herself in her own car, with no detectives and no bodyguard, bouncing at alarming speed over the Scottish landscape to the total amazement of the ramblers and tourists we encountered.”
She was, he said, so “unvarying in her pole star radiance that we have perhaps been lulled into thinking that she might be in some way eternal.”
Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, shared a funny anecdote from spending time with the queen, as all prime ministers do, during a picnic at the Balmoral Castle in Scotland.
Everyone had been helping to transfer food from hampers onto the table when May accidentally dropped the cheese.
“I had a split second decision to make,” May said to raucous laughter. “I picked up the cheese, put it on the plate and put it on the table.”
“And I turned around to see that my every move had been watched very carefully by her majesty the queen. I looked at her, she looked at me, and she just smiled.”
Liz Truss, who became the queen’s 15th prime minister just last week, after meeting with the queen at Balmoral, said the queen was the “rock on which modern Britain was built.”
A previous version of this story misstated low long monarchs have been barred from the House of Commons. The tradition dates to the 17th century. The article has been updated.