Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, appeared alongside Queen Elizabeth II at the state opening of Parliament today in the clearest signal yet she’ll become queen when her husband Prince Charles becomes king, according to an historian specializing in the British royal family.
When Elizabeth, 87, dies, the constitutional role of Camilla is currently unclear. Although the wife of the heir to the throne is traditionally known as the Princess of Wales, that title was accorded to Diana, Charles’ first wife, who died in 1997. Camilla and Charles, both divorcees, married in 2005. As a second wife, Camilla would not automatically become queen.
Camilla’s presence in Parliament’s unelected upper chamber when the monarch announced the government’s legislative program is significant because it demonstrates Elizabeth has accepted her, according to Hugo Vickers, author of books on the royals including “Coronation.” The duchess, who was accompanying her husband, today wore the brooch and blue sash of the Victoria Order, a gift of the monarch signifying personal service. Diana never received one.
“Camilla’s appearance in the chamber of the House of Lords is extremely significant as it confirms her place in the constitution -- not only is she the wife of the future king, she is almost certainly his queen,” Vickers, who has been writing and broadcasting on the royal family for more than 35 years, said in an interview in London yesterday. “Charles is heir to the throne and today is also a reminder about his position in a constitutional monarchy; that he will be the next king and sign off government bills.”
Camilla wore a champagne silk and lace gown by designer Bruce Oldfield and the Boucheron tiara, which used to belong to the Queen Mother and was loaned by the queen, her office said.
Charles wore the Admiral of the Fleet naval uniform with the Thistle sash and the stars of the Orders of the Garter and the Thistle, the nation’s highest honors. In his capacity as an aide de camp to the queen, head of the U.K.’s armed forces, the prince wore an aiguillette, or ornamental braided cord, on his uniform, his office said.
The monarch’s speech to open the new session of Parliament is one of the most significant events in the royal calendar. It’s the first time the heir to the throne has attended since 1996. The queen, who was hospitalized in March with a stomach illness, is cutting back on long-distance travel and will be represented at November’s Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka by Charles.
The pageantry of the queen’s speech started this morning when the Yeomen of the Guard, the royal bodyguards known as “Beefeaters,” searched the cellars of Parliament. The tradition dates back to 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the building and King James I with it.
Later, David Leakey, who has the title Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod, marched to the House of Commons, the lower, elected, chamber. His job is to summon lawmakers to hear the queen, who is waiting in the House of Lords. The door of the Commons was slammed in his face in line with tradition.
This ritual symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the Crown: no British monarch has entered the lower house since 1642, when King Charles I tried to arrest five members in the run-up to a civil war that ended with his execution in 1649.
The queen’s route through the Palace of Westminster to her throne was designed for her great-great-grandmother, Victoria, when it was rebuilt in the 19th century following a fire. The artworks she passed, including images of previous monarchs and of great military victories, were chosen by Victoria’s husband, Albert, to reinforce a message that the British monarch stands in a 1,000-year-old line of tradition.
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