The Queen’s Death Sparks Conversation Around Royal Line of Succession
In 1953, 8,251 guests from 181 countries and territories participated in the coronation of Elizabeth II. With her passing, her oldest son, Charles, takes over as monarch and be formally proclaimed King Charles III on Saturday the 10th of September, ending the longest ever monarchical reign in British history.
For the first time since 1952, the anthem will now be sung to the words of “God Save the King.” The King will be proclaimed at the Accession Council at 10 am on Saturday at St. James's Palace, and for the first time ever it will be a televised event. This is not, however, the official coronation event.
70 Year Reign Comes to an End
As Britain goes into mourning over the death of its beloved Queen Elizabeth II, who’d performed her last ceremonial act by appointing the new Prime Minister of Britain, Liz Truss, the previous Tuesday, her son Charles is still a number of practical and traditional steps away from coronation.
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His first decision as king was to define by which of his names he wanted to be named. With his full name being Charles Philip Arthur George, he has chosen King Charles III, reported the BBC. His next round of decision making has been focused on deciding the length of the royal household’s period of mourning, which news sources say will last a month. The UK government will be observing 10 days of official remembrance, a period when limited business is conducted, reports AFP.
Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II, has now become Charles III, according to the royal line of succession. (Dan Marsh / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Charles III Becomes King with No Interregnum
As per tradition, a gun salutation – one round for every year of the queen’s life, will be fired across Hyde Park in central London and from the Tower of London. The latter is symbolically still recognized as the Empire’s ancient royal fortress on the River Thames. Meanwhile, a muffled and subdued round of church bells will toll at Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Windsor Castle, amongst others.
Union flags will fly at half-mast, as is the tradition with the death of any dignitary, not less the queen of England. St. Paul’s Cathedral will be hosting a public remembrance attended by the Prime Minister and other senior ministers, and the UK parliament will be starting two days of special tributes.
The British Constitution states that the sovereign must succeed to the throne the moment their predecessor dies, before proclamation to the people. In no circumstances can there be an interregnum. The rules state that “a new sovereign succeeds to the throne as soon as his or her predecessor dies.”
Queen Elizabeth II with Philip, Charles and Anne. (Library and Archives Canada / CC BY 2.0)
Traditions and Rituals Steeped in History: The Accession Council
When Charles is officially proclaimed King on Saturday, it will be at St. James’s Palace in London, the official residence of the sovereign. This will be in front of a ceremonial body called the Accession Council. In terms of protocol, the Accession Council is generally called within 24 hours of the death of the reigning monarch.
In Elizabeth’s case, her formal coronation happened a full 16 months after the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952. The sovereign’s coronation is a formal ratification procedure which follows accession after an interval of mourning. Politicians, eminent figures and personalities, and representatives from across the world will be invited to the coronation taking place at Westminster Abbey.
The Accession Council consists of members of the Privy Council, including a group of senior Members of Parliament (MPs) of past and present, peers, senior civil servants, Commonwealth High Commissioners, and the Lord Mayor of London, reported Reuters. In fact, a full session of the Privy Council is only called on the accession of a new sovereign. It could also be called when the reigning monarch announces an intention to marry. The latter is an important event, given the hereditary basis of the monarchy.
The Privy Council has been around since Norman times (11th century onwards), when monarchs were advised by a curia regis (Latin for “royal court”). In fact, the monarchy, often called Britain’s oldest secular institution, traces its ancestry back to William the Conqueror in 1066, or even to Egbert of Wessex, recognised as the “first king of England” all the way back in 829.
At that time, the Privy Council consisted of magnates, clergy, and officers of the Crown, who would advise the Norman monarch with matters of legislation, administration, and justice. The modern Privy Council evolved from this tradition after many centuries of different kinds of power struggle.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II has triggered a series of carefully structured ceremonial and constitutional steps as Britain undergoes a period of mourning and heralds the reign of King Charles III.
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 9, 2022
Rituals Revolving Around the Royal Line of Succession
The ascending sovereign will then attend a second meeting of the Accession Council and the Privy Council together, which is not a swearing in, but a “declaration” of sorts. A declaration is made by the new monarch to take an oath undertaking to maintain a Protestant succession and to preserve the Church of Scotland, a tradition dated to the early 18th century – the Act of Union of 1707.
This will be followed by a fanfare of trumpeters, which is a public proclamation of Charles as the new King. This will take place from a balcony above Friary Court in St. James Palace by an official known as the Garter King of Arms. The proclamation of the new sovereign is then publicly also read out at Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast, the capitals of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – the other countries that make up the United Kingdom.
During the coronation oath, the king will receive the orb and scepter as symbols of his new role, and the Archbishop of Canterbury will place the solid gold crown on his head. This is the culmination of traditions and rituals which respect the royal line of succession.
Laws and Legitimacy: Who Makes this Official?
The legitimacy of the sovereign’s ability to “reign by grace” is provided by the Act of Settlement, 1701, which lays down the rules of succession. This act decrees that only Protestant descendants of a granddaughter of James I of England (Princess Sophia the Electress of Hanover), can take the throne.
A new law in 2013 reversed the act which also disbarred anyone married to a Roman Catholic from becoming a monarch within the royal line of succession. In accordance with this tradition, Catholics are barred from becoming a sovereign ruler. The 2013 legislation also removed precedence given to the male line, allowing any royal born on or after 28th October, 2011, to join the royal line of succession, irrespective of gender.
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Gender plays a role in other situations. For example, the wife of a royal will be accorded the rank and status of their husband, but the male consorts of female royals have no right to the title. Irrespective of gender, the sovereign is addressed “Your Majesty” after the Coronation, as per the Coronation Oath of 1689.
The law decrees that the sovereign be the head of the executive, an integral part of the legislature, head of the judiciary, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and supreme governor of the Church of England. This power translates to rubber stamping government decisions and reigning through the will of the Parliament. The leader of the majority party in the case of a general election is invited formally by the monarch to be Prime Minister and form a government.
As British sovereign, Charles III will also be the leader of the Commonwealth of Nations which were erstwhile British colonies and protectorates. The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of 56 sovereign countries which are home to a population of 2.4 billion people. They are also head of state of fourteen other countries around the world, from the Caribbean islands to New Zealand.
Top image: The death of Queen Elizabeth II has triggered conversation about the royal line of succession. Source: PolizeiBerlin / CC BY-SA 4.0
By Sahir Pandey