LONDON — While Prince Charles became Britain’s new king automatically on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Thursday, his role was officially proclaimed on Saturday morning in a ceremony laden with pomp and procedure at St. James’s Palace, a Tudor royal residence near Buckingham Palace.
Charles will spend much of the first 10 days of his reign leading his country in mourning the queen, whose state funeral will be held on Sept. 19 in Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace announced on Saturday.
On Sunday, six gamekeepers from Balmoral Castle, the summer retreat in Scotland where the queen died, are scheduled to bear her oak coffin to a hearse, which will transport it on a six-hour journey to Edinburgh. On Monday, the king is to travel to Scotland, where his mother will lie in state in St. Giles’ Cathedral.
First, though, Charles underwent a more than 300-year-old ritual by which Britain’s kings and queens are proclaimed sovereign. It was the first time the public was allowed to see the procedure in action, as the proclamation of King Charles III was broadcast live, weaving a bit of modernity into the tradition.
In the moving, solemn rite, dictated by protocol and echoing a bygone age, the Accession Council certified Charles as king, amid a number of other formalities. A striking moment came when a room filled with former prime ministers and other members of the country’s great and good declared in unison: “God save the king.”
King Charles later addressed the room, and the nation, emphasizing his mother’s legacy and his commitment to continue it.
“My mother gave an example of lifelong love and of selfless service,” the king said. “Even as we grieve, we give thanks for this most faithful life. I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and of the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty which have now passed to me.”
The ceremony had two parts, the first of which included a meeting of the king’s Privy Council, a group of high-level advisers. The six living former prime ministers — Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major — were present as members, as was Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. Also present was the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, underscoring the importance Charles places on his role as its head.
“I shall strive to follow the inspiring example I have been set in upholding constitutional government,” Charles said, “and to seek the peace, harmony and prosperity of the peoples of these islands and of the Commonwealth realms and territories throughout the world.”
The Privy Council also includes Prince William, who, as the new heir to the throne, was given the title Prince of Wales on Friday by his father. Its other members — Charles’s wife, Camilla, the queen consort; Prime Minister Liz Truss; and senior religious figures — all signed the proclamation during the ceremony.
Notably, not a single person present had been part of the ceremony when Elizabeth was proclaimed sovereign 70 years ago.
The queen’s state funeral will the first in Britain since Winston Churchill’s in 1965. The palace laid out the arrangements in a briefing on Saturday that underscored the years, if not decades, of planning that had gone into it. The focus will initially be on Scotland, where the queen’s body will remain for the next three days.
On Monday, her coffin will be conveyed in a procession on the Royal Mile, a grand route in Edinburgh’s Old Town, to the cathedral, where there will be a service and vigil. Charles and Camilla will be part of that procession, with some members of the royal family walking behind the coffin and others riding in vehicles.
The queen will lie in state until Tuesday afternoon, when her coffin will be taken to a Royal Air Force jet, which will transport it to the Northolt air base west of London. It will be loaded into a state hearse and driven to Buckingham Palace, arriving at 8 p.m., when it will be placed on a trestle in the ballroom.
Sept. 10, 2022, 4:30 p.m. ET
On Wednesday at exactly 2:22 p.m., the coffin, now adorned with the imperial state crown and a wreath of flowers, will be conveyed by gun carriage in a silent procession from Buckingham Palace, through the Mall and past the Horse Guards Parade, making its way to Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster.
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After a blessing by the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the queen will lie in state in Westminster Hall for four days until the morning of the funeral, when her coffin will be moved again to nearby Westminster Abbey.
Buckingham Palace declined to estimate how many people might pass her coffin during those days, though based on funerals for other members of the royal members, it is likely to be tens, or even hundreds, of thousands.
In London on Saturday, Charles met with his Privy Council and made the scripted public statements that generations of monarchs have made before him. He gave a personal and political inaugural declaration, as well as an oath to defend the Church of Scotland.
The meeting also included a litany of official proclamations for King Charles III to sign off on, including one that makes the day of the queen’s funeral a public holiday across Britain.
While the ceremony often felt like the relic of an earlier time, the procedures gave a nod to the foundations of the modern British state. After the meeting, a proclamation was read out as trumpets blared from the balcony at St. James’s Palace, and the Garter King of Arms — the principal adviser to the monarch on matters of ceremony and heraldry — officially declared the reign of King Charles III.
The old and new stood in stark contrast. Members of the public who gathered to hear the proclamation held cellphones above their heads to record the view as they sang “God Save the King,” the newly adjusted national anthem.
Heralds on horseback rode from the palace to pass the proclamation across the country, but it was first read out at noon at the Royal Exchange in London. It will be heard again on Sunday in the capitals of the other nations of the United Kingdom. Historically, this relay of royal announcements was the fastest way to spread the word of a new sovereign’s taking up the throne.
Charles’s day did not end with ceremony, though. Later on Saturday, he met with Ms. Truss and members of her cabinet. He also had audiences with senior members of the Labour Party, the archbishop of Canterbury and the dean of Westminster.
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