Queen Elizabeth will miss the official opening of Parliament

Queen Elizabeth will miss the official opening of Parliament

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LONDON — There are a few dates on a British monarch’s royal calendar that are circled in red, and the official opening of Parliament is one of them. But on Monday evening, less than 24 hours before the big event, Buckingham Palace announced that Queen Elizabeth II would not be attending due to health issues.

“The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility issues 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 her sons Andrew and Edward. On these occasions his duties were exercised by the Lord Chancellor.

This time, in his place, Prince Charles will be the first heir to the throne in modern history to take part in the main ceremony of the parliamentary year. It will also be the first time that Prince William, second in line to the throne, will be present.

Charles, 73, has replaced his mother at several major events in recent months. And he has already sat next to her at the opening of Parliament. But it will be his highest-profile solo act yet, and it could offer a glimpse of what a Charles Monarchy could 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 in fact not those of the Queen but written by the government, setting out its legislative programme.

As far as over-the-top shows go, the official opening of Parliament is up there. Customs include a lawmaker taken hostage, a person named Black Rod having the door slammed three times in his face and a jeweled crown arriving at the Palace of Westminster separated from the monarch, with his own escort. As strange as this theatrical production may seem to outsiders, it is also an important part of how this country is run.

Robert Hardman, author of ‘Queen of Our Times’, said the Queen not attending the official 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. She is the queen in Parliament,” he said.

The palace did not give details about the monarch’s health, which by tradition is kept as a private matter. But the Queen has had limited in-person engagements since a night in hospital last fall, a sprained back and a covid episode in February. In the glimpses the public got of her, she was seen using a cane.

While royal watchers say Elizabeth, who turned 96 last month, will never abdicate, a transition has been gradually occurring for some time. Charles replaced the monarch at the Remembrance Day service in November and at the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in March. He also played a leading role at the Group of 20 summit in Rome and the UN climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland last fall.

The palace had indicated that the queen hoped to go to parliament on Tuesday, to announce at the last minute that she was stepping down.

As the country prepares for the Queen’s central Platinum Jubilee celebrations in early June, four days of celebrations marking her 70 years on the throne, a question mark looms over what, if any, events she will attend in person.

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