Queen to carry out first major duty since Philip’s death as she attends State Opening of Parliament


The Queen left Windsor Castle to head to London today for the State Opening of Parliament, as she carries out her first major public ceremonial duty since the death of her husband Prince Philip a month ago.

The monarch will wear what royal officials describe as ‘day dress’ – a coat and hat – instead of her ceremonial robes or crown and travel by car from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, rather than by coach.

Her Imperial State Crown will, as in recent years, be carried separately and placed on a table in the House of Lords when she gives her keynote speech, outlining the government’s plans for the year.

The centrepiece of the Crown Jewels, which weighs two pounds and eight ounces, is now too heavy for the 95-year-old Queen to wear at what will be a pared-down ‘Covid-appropriate’ event.

Elizabeth II, the nation’s longest reigning sovereign, 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. 

The Queen leaves Windsor Castle on her way to Buckingham Palace in London before the State Opening Of Parliament today

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament to start the ceremonial search today

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament to start the ceremonial search today

Members of the House of Lords wearing their robes and masks talk with each other as they wait to enter their chamber today

Members of the House of Lords wearing their robes and masks talk with each other as they wait to enter their chamber today

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery to start the ceremonial search today which is the opening event

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery to start the ceremonial search today which is the opening event

Masked Yeoman warders take up their positions in front of the statue of Queen Victoria at the Houses of Parliament today

Masked Yeoman warders take up their positions in front of the statue of Queen Victoria at the Houses of Parliament today

Yeoman warders march into the Prince's Chamber during the reduced ceremonial search at Parliament today

Yeoman warders march into the Prince’s Chamber during the reduced ceremonial search at Parliament today

Masked Yeoman warders take up their positions in front of the statue to Queen Victoria outside the House of Lords today

Masked Yeoman warders take up their positions in front of the statue to Queen Victoria outside the House of Lords today

This year the State Opening of Parliament has been reduced in numbers on account of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

This year the State Opening of Parliament has been reduced in numbers on account of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic

Yeoman warders arrive in the Prince's Chamber during the reduced ceremonial search at Parliament today

Yeoman warders arrive in the Prince’s Chamber during the reduced ceremonial search at Parliament today

A parliamentary official walks past a cleaner in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament today

A parliamentary official walks past a cleaner in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament today

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament to start the ceremonial search today

Masked Yeoman warders march along the Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament to start the ceremonial search today

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster today

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster today

Scenes in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

Scenes in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

The State Opening of Parliament takes place at the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London today

The State Opening of Parliament takes place at the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in London today

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

People in the Central Lobby before the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords this morning

Police officers stand guard along The Mall before the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster today

Police officers stand guard along The Mall before the State Opening of Parliament at the Palace of Westminster today

The Queen has formally opened each new session of Parliament on all but two occasions during her 69-year reign – in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

The decision to operate what is known as a ‘reduced ceremonial State Opening’ is seen as a sensible option given the pandemic and because restrictions are still in place. Officials are also keen not to encourage crowds.

How will this year’s Queen’s Speech be different to normal? 

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 the pomp and ceremony has been reduced this year to prevent any spread of coronavirus. Here are some of the ways it will look different:

  • The Queen will not wear her ceremonial robes or crown and instead wear what Buckingham Palace describe as ‘day dress’ – a coat and hat
  • The Queen will travel by car from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, rather than by coach
  • MPs and members of the House of Lords will have to wear masks throughout unless they are exempt
  • 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
  • There will be just 108 people attending, including the Queen, rather than up to 600 as is the norm 
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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

Her Majesty will be accompanied by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. Charles has previously accompanied the Queen, as has Camilla.

But his presence at her side this year, so soon after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh aged 99 on April 9, will be seen as a sign of things to come.

Another 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.

Members of the Royal Family are expected to rally round the elderly monarch even more in the coming months and years following the loss of her husband.

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.

It is the first time the Queen has conducted an engagement outside of Windsor Castle since her husband died – and only the second time she has been at Buckingham Palace since she retreated to Windsor in March last year during the first lockdown.

She briefly visited when she travelled to London to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey last November.

Philip, the nation’s longest reigning consort, spent decades accompanying the monarch to the grand occasion at Parliament, sitting on an ornate golden throne at his wife’s side. 

Queen Elizabeth II sits next to Prince Charles at the State Opening of the Houses of Parliament in London in October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II sits next to Prince Charles at the State Opening of the Houses of Parliament in London in October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords in October 2019

Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords in October 2019

Philip, the nation's longest reigning consort who died aged 99 on April 9, spent decades accompanying the monarch to the occasion, sitting on an golden throne at his wife's side

Philip, the nation’s longest reigning consort who died aged 99 on April 9, spent decades accompanying the monarch to the occasion, sitting on an golden throne at his wife’s side

Philip spent decades accompanying the Queen to the occasion, sitting on an golden throne at his wife's side (above, in 2016)

Philip spent decades accompanying the Queen to the occasion, sitting on an golden throne at his wife’s side (above, in 2016)

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the State Opening of Parliament ceremony in October 1967

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the State Opening of Parliament ceremony in October 1967

The Queen will not wear the heavy Imperial State Crown which she last wore at the 2016 opening. This will be carried on a cushion and placed on a table as it was in 2019 (pictured)

The Queen will not wear the heavy Imperial State Crown which she last wore at the 2016 opening. This will be carried on a cushion and placed on a table as it was in 2019 (pictured)

The Queen has been continuing with her work as sovereign at Windsor Castle as she mourns the loss of her beloved husband of 73 years.

Tradition involving Black Rod will still take place 

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 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, rather than up to 600 as is the norm.

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. 

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