For decades, she presided over the State Opening of Parliament beneath the gold canopy in the House of Lords, her husband perched loyally by her side.
When Philip retired, the Queen’s eldest son dutifully stepped up from the substitute’s bench to offer his support as she announced the Government’s legislative agenda.
But yesterday, as she carried out her first major public engagement since the Duke of Edinburgh passed away last month, there was another notable, rather eerie absence from the proceedings.
For the first time since 1901, the consort’s throne, positioned next to the monarch’s since Edward VII’s reign, had been quietly removed.
For decades, The Queen presided over the State Opening of Parliament beneath the gold canopy in the House of Lords, her husband Prince Philip perched loyally by her side (pictured: the State Opening of Parliament in 2016)
As Her Majesty took her place in front of a near-empty Upper Chamber, she was left to sit just as she had in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, four weeks ago, in that unforgettable image of private, solitary grief.
Could there be a more poignant and sorrowful symbol of the Queen’s widowhood? This was her 67th State Opening; she and Philip were in their twenties when they first carried out this vital public duty.
For almost all of the long intervening years, Philip had sat dutifully beside her, resplendent on his own gold throne, listening attentively as she delivered to Parliament and to the nation her ministers’ various programmes – the mundane and the visionary alike.
In later years, of course, the duke took a well-deserved retirement from public life and the onerous roles of state.
Prince Charles took his father’s lead in 2017, sitting in the consort’s throne and providing a similar companionship to the monarch.
Yesterday, though, the absence of the throne captured the absence of the duke with a wordless power.
It was a sight that the country had never seen before, and one that we will not soon forget. But then the whole ceremony yesterday felt like departure from the usual fare. No horse-drawn carriages. No train-bearing page boys.
The absence of peers’ wives rendered the Lords’ red benches oddly bling-free. Shorn of much of its pageantry thanks to the Covid pestilence, the event felt more procedure than pomp.
It was why the consort’s throne had remained at Houghton Hall, Norfolk, under the care of the Lord Great Chamberlain.
Yesterday, as she carried out her first major public engagement since the Duke of Edinburgh passed away last month, the consort’s throne, positioned next to the monarch’s (left) since Edward VII’s reign, had been quietly removed for the first time since 1901 (pictured right: Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall)
To maintain social distancing Charles and Camilla were seated on chairs of State, to the Queen’s left.
Her Majesty’s motorcade had arrived to the Sovereign’s Entrance at 11.25am. The Queen had chosen a simple black Range Rover. No fuss, no fanfare. The stately robes, too, remained mothballed, HM preferring a simple grey jacket adorned with lemon flowers and a matching hat by her dressmaker Angela Kelly. Face mask? As the fully vaccinated head of State, one had earned the right to dispense with it. Outside, Parliament Square was deserted. Tumbleweed alley.
The only sounds were the blades of a television news helicopter whirring over Whitehall. Occasionally, there was a ‘Stop Brexit’ wail from that pillock protester who still lingers around the parliamentary estate like an off sardine.
Into the Robing Room the Queen swept, on through the Royal Gallery, pausing briefly to exchange a glance with her long-serving Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley, with whom her body language betrayed a rare flicker of familiarity.
Charles, ungloved, held her hand as she climbed the steps to the single throne. Flanked beside Her Majesty yesterday were a rather fidgety Charles, his face pink as a cherry popsicle, and Camilla, a captivating vision in white.
Over in the Commons, Black Rod was rapping on the door and summoning MPs from the chamber. Social distancing required, they filtered off to the Lords single file, depriving us of the sight of awkward chit-chat between the Prime Minister and the Opposition leader along the way.
Prince Charles (right), ungloved, held her hand as she climbed the steps to the single throne. Flanked beside Her Majesty (left) yesterday were a rather fidgety Charles, his face pink as a cherry popsicle, and Camilla, a captivating vision in white
At the last State Opening, Jeremy Corbyn recoiled from Boris’s advances the way one might from a lunatic raving on a street corner. This time, Boris yomped ahead as though leading the First XV out of the changing rooms.
Then she spoke. One of the most admirable things about the Queen is her extraordinary composure. She rattled through the speech without a wobble, her trusty handbag at her elbow. Faithfully, she recited stuff about increasing ‘gigabit-capable’ broadband and banning the unseemly business of ‘conversion therapy’ while remaining utterly inscrutable.
After less than 20 minutes, she was done, and hopefully on to a well-deserved lunch.
On her way out, she stopped for a few words with the day’s ceremonial cast of characters – Garter, the Lord Speaker etc. Beneath all her finery, she looked very human.
In the afternoon, we reassembled in the Commons. Sir Keir Starmer, who could have probably done without all this after the weekend he’d endured, opened with some warm words for the Monarch.
After Philip’s death, he acknowledged, the State Opening must have been ‘her hardest to deliver’. All those republican Lefties in the party will have been crunching their molars at that.
Following Starmer’s local-elections drubbing, it was immediately clear aides had encouraged him to loosen up a bit. His speech made several stabs at humour. None an uproarious success. As always, he spoke for too long.
Once Starmer had finished rabbiting, the Prime Minister sprung into action. Suddenly, he was peppier than a sprinter on steroids. He got in a good gag about Starmer’s cheesed-off deputy Angela Rayner, whom he compared to a dangerous lioness. ‘The more titles he feeds her, the hungrier she is likely to become,’ joked Boris. Ange and Sir Keir laughed along gamely. But then that’s all they can do at the moment. Boris is beginning to look dangerously settled.