A version of this story appeared in the May 13 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
It was the most poignant reminder we’ve had that Britain’s aging Queen is in the twilight of her reign: Prince Charles sitting in the consort’s throne in the Palace of Westminster, looking forlornly across to his mother’s crown, which sat in her place.
Elizabeth II has only missed the State Opening of Parliament twice before in her 70-year reign, both times because she was pregnant.
This year she missed it because she simply couldn’t get there, due to “mobility issues.” All we know about these issues is that they are “episodic;” the palace won’t divulge any further detail on her health, as they see it as a matter of patient confidentiality.
What is clear is that the episodes are becoming more frequent and disruptive. The Queen keeps canceling engagements at the last minute, and that now includes the ones that were previously set in stone in her diary.
Opening the new parliamentary session is a core constitutional responsibility for the British monarch. It can’t happen without her, just like the signing of parliamentary bills into law and the appointment of new Prime Ministers. While her role is purely ceremonial, and she only acts on the advice of ministers, British democracy would seize up overnight without her.
Thankfully there are safeguards in place. The Queen issued a legal notice known as Letters Patent to give Prince Charles and Prince William authority to open Parliament on her behalf. It’s lucky they were available, as the other two stand-in options under the current system are Prince Andrew and Prince Harry, who have given up or been stripped of their royal responsibilities.
On Friday, the Queen was able to attend the Royal Windsor Horse Show – one of her favorite events – and was pictured smiling as she arrived. Nonetheless, while nobody doubts Elizabeth’s commitment to duty and service, the reality is that she can only firmly commit to working from home at the moment.
That inevitably elevates Prince Charles’ role and profile, alongside that of Prince William. Both will now have to prioritize the Queen’s diary over theirs.
There is no suggestion that the Queen will abdicate and hand the crown permanently to Charles, nor of him becoming Regent, which means making him monarch without the title. But both princes have been activated as Counsellors of State, where the Queen delegates her sovereign power for specific purposes. They now need to be even more available for those duties.
Charles has already juggled a busy week of engagements alongside the opening of Parliament. He’s hosted a Buckingham Palace garden party and popped up at Oxford University, London’s Canada House and a sneaker store in south London in the three days since visiting Westminster – indicating his burgeoning workload.
But he is the longest serving heir to the throne in British history, and there is no doubt he has the experience to take up a full royal agenda.
The more we see him doing so, the more familiar we will be with him in that role. It’s the mechanism for readying us for the next monarch, and reduces the culture shock that some will feel when it happens. Charles may not be as well-loved by the public as his mother right now, but we won’t truly know how accepted he will be as a monarch until he becomes King.
The Queen’s diminishing diary, meanwhile, raises obvious questions about whether we will see her at all during the four days of celebration to mark her Platinum Jubilee next month.
Royal sources suggest we won’t know for sure until much nearer the time, and probably only on the day of each event. In the meantime, organizers are keeping their fingers crossed and trying to arrange her scheduled public appearances in a way that minimizes the need for her to exert herself.
People will understand if she is only able to be there in spirit – but it will add a tinge of sadness to the events if the Queen is unable to enjoy them in person.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
Garden parties return in the rain.
Buckingham Palace hosted its first garden party in three years on Wednesday, and the return of one long-standing British tradition was met with another: bad weather. But the rain didn’t seem to deter guests, thousands of whom are invited to the palace annually to celebrate their work in their communities. The Queen is not attending this year’s round because of her mobility problems, so Prince Charles and Camilla took her place and mingled with attendees. The pandemic caused the parties to be canceled in each of the past two years, but they remain an important part of the royal calendar.
Meghan calls for more childcare benefits.
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex has led calls for companies to expand their childcare provisions for working mothers. The Duchess has teamed with Marshall Plan for Moms, a group that lobbies American companies to improve their employee arrangements. Meghan said in a press release that the pandemic has given working moms “increased caregiving responsibilities, rising prices and economic uncertainty.” The mother-of-two added: “It takes a village to raise a child … creating a stronger workforce starts with meeting the needs of families.”
William opens Manchester bombing memorial.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge traveled to Manchester in northern England to open a memorial to victims of a 2017 terror attack that shocked the country. A total of 22 people died when a bomb exploded at an Ariana Grande concert in the city’s main music venue. William said that, “as someone who lives with his own grief,” it’s important to remember the victims. “This was an attack on an evening of music. And it occurred in a city that has given the world so many songs to sing,” he said.
DID YOU KNOW?
A new dessert for the Queen’s jubilee.
An amateur baker has won a televised competition to create a brand new dessert in honor of the Queen’s jubilee.
Jemma Melvin, a 31-year-old copywriter from England, came up with a lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle – a concoction that won the BBC’s Jubilee Pudding contest.
People will now be encouraged to recreate the dessert during a day of street parties and community events on June 5.
“The thought of people recreating my pudding, especially round the jubilee, is just a total pleasure,” Melvin said during the program on Thursday.
The competition followed in the tradition of inventing new dishes for major royal milestones. Jubilee chicken was invented for George V in 1935, and an updated version was made for the Queen in 2002. The Victoria sponge was named after Queen Victoria, who supposedly enjoyed a slice of cake every afternoon with her tea.
But perhaps the most famous success story is coronation chicken, a combination of cold chicken pieces, curry powder and mayonnaise cooked up for the new Queen in 1953 and still commonplace in Britain today.
Cancer campaigner Deborah James awarded damehood.
The Queen has approved a damehood for British podcaster Deborah James, whose experience of living with bowel cancer captured the imagination of listeners across the country.
James, 40, has used her podcast “You, Me and the Big C” to raise awareness about the reality of life with cancer. She revealed on Monday that she has moved to palliative care, and has raised £4 million ($4.9 million) for Cancer Research UK since then.
“Every now and then, someone captures the heart of the nation with their zest for life & tenacious desire to give back to society. @bowelbabe is one of those special people,” William and Kate wrote on Twitter this week, using James’ online handle.
“Her tireless efforts to raise awareness of bowel cancer & end the stigma of treatment are inspiring,” the pair said, adding that they have donated to James’ appeal.
On Thursday, Downing Street confirmed that she will be given a damehood. These are usually awarded at the end of the year, but in special circumstances are announced early – as with the knighthood given to Covid-19 fundraiser Captain Sir Tom Moore, who died aged 100 last year.
FROM THE ROYAL VAULT
A collection of the Queen’s jewels will be exhibited this summer across Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in honor of the Platinum Jubilee.
Each exhibition will showcase a momentous occasion from the Queen’s 70-year reign. One particularly magnificent piece to make the cut is the Diamond Diadem, first created for George IV’s coronation in 1821.
The diadem has been passed down to the Queen, who wore it during her own coronation, according to the Royal Collection Trust.
Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms – where the diadem will be displayed – will also show off the Queen’s official portraits taken by Dorothy Wilding, and the other pieces worn for their sittings.
Keen-eyed members of the public will recognize the diadem from the Wilding portrait that inspired the postage stamps used between 1953 and 1971.
Among the other jewels going on display are the Queen’s brooches representing the emblems of Commonwealth countries, worn on state visits, such as the Australian Wattle Brooch.
The outfits the Queen wore in previous jubilees can also be seen at the royal residences during the exhibition, which opens in July.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Prince William keeps his eye on the shuttlecock while trying his hand at badminton on a visit to Birmingham last Friday.
CNN’s Hafsa Khalil contributed to this article.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, not Sussex, visited Manchester this week.