Queen to carry out first major ceremonial royal duty since Philip’s death
By Laura Elston
The Queen is to carry out her first major public ceremonial duty since the death of the Duke of Edinburgh when she attends a scaled back Covid-secure State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday.
Philip, the nation’s longest reigning consort who died aged 99 on April 9, spent decades accompanying the monarch to the grand occasion, sitting on an ornate golden throne at his wife’s side.
The Queen, 95, has been continuing with her work as sovereign at Windsor Castle as she mourns the loss of her beloved husband of 73 years.
It will be the monarch’s first official appearance in public in her role as head of state, and first engagement outside of Windsor Castle, since the duke died just over a month ago.
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will join the Queen at the event, but there will be no carriages, and the Queen, in day dress and hat, will travel from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in a State Bentley.
Charles has been at his mother’s side for the last three state openings – in December 2019, October 2019 and in June 2017.
He stepped in for his father Philip in 2017 after the duke fell ill with an infection, two months before he retired from public duties.
The Queen marks the beginning of the parliamentary session by delivering the Queen’s Speech, which sets out the Government’s legislative plans.
The State Opening of Parliament is usually the most colourful event of the parliamentary year and is steeped in tradition and customs dating back centuries.
But because of the pandemic, the pomp and ceremony has been reduced in 2021 to prevent any spread of coronavirus.
MPs and members of the House of Lords will have to wear masks throughout unless they are exempt, and everyone present will have to take a Covid test beforehand and only be allowed to attend if they have a negative result.
Significantly fewer politicians and peers will be there compared with previous years and no diplomatic or non-parliamentary guests have been invited, with just 108 people attending including the Queen.
There will 74 people in the chamber, including the monarch, Charles, Camilla, the Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, representatives from the House of Lords and House of Commons and those involved in the ceremonial procession.
There will also be 17 members of the Lords and 17 MPs in the Royal Gallery.
Discussions took place with the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England to ensure the event was Covid-secure, with limited attendance, social distancing, masks, good hand hygiene and Covid testing incorporated into the proceedings.
One amendment is that the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland will not hand the speech directly to the Queen as is usually the custom, but place it on a table instead.
Other changes include no military street liners or lining of the Sovereign’s staircase and no military band nor Guard of Honour outside the Palace of Westminster or as part of the procession from Buckingham Palace.
There will also be no heralds in attendance, only two Yeomen and Gentlemen at Arms, just one bishop representing the group of 26, and only the Lord Chief Justice and the Head of the Supreme Court representing the Judges.
An ancient tradition which will still take place is the one involving the House of Lords official, Black Rod.
Sarah Clarke, Lady Usher of the Black Rod, will see the doors to the Commons shut in her face as she arrives to summon MPs.
She has to strike the door three times before it is opened.
It is a practice that dates back to the Civil War and is said to symbolise the Commons’ independence from the monarchy.
The Queen will not wear the heavy Imperial State Crown. This will be carried on a cushion and placed on a table nearby as it was in 2019.
The monarch last wore the crown, which is made of more than 3,000 gemstones and weighs two pounds and 13 ounces, for the 2016 state opening.