Charles III was formally proclaimed king on Saturday at a ceremony held in St James Palace that was televised for the first time in history. Addressing his audience, the new king acknowledged his mother’s legacy.
“I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and of the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty which have now passed to me,” he said. “In taking up these responsibilities I shall strive to follow the inspiring example I have been set.”
The 73-year-old son of Elizabeth II, who died on Thursday, was officially named as the new British monarch at a meeting of the Accession Council attended by senior members of government and other dignitaries.
These included the new prime minister of the UK, Liz Truss, her predecessor Boris Johson, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and Charles’ son Prince William, who has become the new Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne. There were other former prime ministers in attendance, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron, John Major, Tony Blair, Boris Johnson and Theresa May.
The highly ceremonial event was symbolic, as Charles automatically became king upon his mother’s death. It was Walter Bagehot, author of The English Constitution and the canonical reference for understanding the constitutional structure of the United Kingdom, who said that as a monarchy becomes increasingly democratic, it requires more pomp and ceremony. Elizabeth II – and now Charles III – understood it immediately. The late queen broke with tradition by allowing television cameras to broadcast her coronation ceremony in Westminster Abbey. Her son has now repeated the strategy, allowing Britain – and the rest of the world – to see for the first time in history the ritual deployed to formally proclaim a new monarch.
“My Lords, it is my sad duty to inform you that her most gracious majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, has passed away on Thursday the 8th of September 2022 at Balmoral Castle,” began Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, who chaired the event.
Then, the Clerk of the Council read out an elaborately worded address. “Charles III, by the grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of his other realms and territory, King, head of the commonwealth, defender of the faith, to whom we do acknowledge all faith and obedience with humble affection, beseeching god by whom kings and queens do reign to bless his majesty with long and happy years to reign over us.”
All the expected rituals were fulfilled, starting with the new monarch’s commitment to defend the independence of the Church of Scotland, although Charles III only has the ultimate authority over the Church of England.
The proclamation was signed, and following tradition, orders given to let the entire kingdom formally know that they have a new monarch – regardless of the days-long coverage. These orders included reading out the proclamation on the palace balcony and holding gun salutes in Hyde Park and the Tower of London.
Royal trumpets, which in former times sounded to command the attention of the subjects, were heard from the Proclamation Gallery of St. James’ Palace, which overlooks Friary Court. Hundreds of people had gathered there to witness an event that last took place in 1952, when nobody was able to see it.
Members of the Council then gathered inside the Throne Room to greet Charles III.
In the second part of the ceremony, the king addressed the council in a speech that acknowledged his mother’s legacy and the challenges up ahead.
“My mother gave an example of lifelong love and of selfless service. My mother’s reign was unequalled in its duration, its dedication and its devotion. 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,” he said. “In carrying out the heavy task that has been laid upon me, to which I dedicate what remains to me of my life. I pray for the guidance and help of almighty God.”
The proclamation was read again from the palace balcony by the Garter King of Arms, and State Trumpeters sounded the Royal Salute. A similar proclamation ritual took place an hour later at the Royal Exchange in the City of London, the financial heart of the capital. It is still the area of the city where monarchs were obliged -symbolically- to ask permission to enter, the place where they had to go in search of financial support for their endeavors.