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Queen Elizabeth misses Parliament opening for first time since 1963
02:04 - Source: CNN

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.

London CNN  — 

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.

The Queen arrives at the Royal Windsor Horse Show on Friday.

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.

Guests brave the weather during a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday.

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?

Jemma Melvin's winning dessert is a lemon Swiss roll and amaretti trifle.