The Daily Telegraph
Charles III is showing how well the baton passes
Yesterday morning, I rose early at home in Sussex and suddenly realised that both Houses of Parliament were about to present “Addresses” to the new King in Westminster Hall. Removing the mothballs from my morning coat, I leapt on to the train, and arrived in time to join fellow peers (on the left of the hall) and MPS (on the right) for the proceedings which began at 10am.
It was a simple enough ceremony, but made splendid by the presence on the steps above us not only of the principals but also of the Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard (ie Beefeaters) and the Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentleman at Arms, who date back to Henry VIII but wear the uniform of a Dragoon Guards officer of the 1840s (plumes etc). Framed by the high south window were the trumpeters blowing their fanfare.
The speeches – by the Lord Speaker and the Commons Speaker, replied to by King Charles III – were essentially formulaic. I do not mean that as a criticism. Most important events – a wedding, a funeral, a trial, a communion service – involve a repeatable formula, which usually expresses the essence of the thing better than words composed by individuals.
The essence in this case involved a lament for the sovereign who has died, a promise of allegiance to the sovereign who rightly succeeds her or him, and best wishes to the new monarch for health and success.
You might say that all this could be taken for granted, and need not be repeated in some rigmarole, but I strongly disagree. The only serious problem that arose from the vast length of Queen Elizabeth’s II’S reign was that too much was taken for granted by too many of us. She was so good and seemed so secure that we became somewhat inattentive to our luck in having such stability.
Some MPS thought it was funny, for instance, not to take the oath of allegiance seriously. One Labour Member was spotted crossing his fingers behind his back while taking the oath. By doing so, he was not expressing legitimate (if misguided) republican sentiments: he was cheating. The fortune of a nation depends upon the allegiance which people, and especially legislators, give to the structure of the state. That is best symbolised by a non-political head of state rather than a partypolitical figure.
Both the Speakers in Westminster Hall yesterday reminded us that the sovereign defends our liberties. Odd that it falls to a hereditary, unelected person to do this, yet history has made it so at least, as Mr Speaker Hoyle pointed out, since 1688. At the heart of a successful state, there has to be something that most people do not want to argue about. If that deep thing is secure, you can have any amount of fierce argument on top of it (as is seen in the House of Commons).
The weak point of a hereditary system is the moment of succession, because someone might, as in a relay race, drop the baton.
Because of the new King’s two public utterances so far – one of them being yesterday’s – and also because of his public appearances, we already know that the baton has not been dropped. As the Houses of Parliament formally recognised the new reality, I could see the British constitution working before my eyes. I felt the country was secure.
Happy, I walked upstairs to the House of Lords and swore allegiance to the new King with as much sincerity as I had offered when I did the same for his mother.
And by the way, just as, in 1953,
television for the first time made the ancient service of the Coronation available for all so, today, the decision to livestream the Accession Council and the Presentation of Addresses is helping make sense of what might otherwise be obscure. In this sense, the much-despised media can actually be the monarchy’s friend.
It is often pointed out that the late Queen was by far the most experienced figure on the world scene. It is less commonly said that the same is now true of her son.
The then-prince of Wales made his first public appearance as an adult at his investiture in 1969. He made his maiden speech in the House of Lords nearly 50 years ago. Since 1970, he has had a Commonwealth and even a global role. He was soon representing the Queen at various independence celebrations (Fiji, the Bahamas, Papua New Guinea and even, in 1980, the fraught Zimbabwe). He met President Nixon in the Oval Office in 1970 and was the first member of the Royal family to make an official visit to the Republic of Ireland.
I can’t think of anyone else still in office who goes back deep into the 20th century. The new boy is also the doyen.
In 1920, Poland defeated the Russian Red Army in the battle of Warsaw. This great deliverance was known as the Miracle of the Vistula, because it occurred on the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Last week, just as Elizabeth the Great passed from this world to a better place, the Ukrainian forces began to break through against Vladimir Putin and his “Orcs”. I like to think that this sign of divine favour was not a coincidence.
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