An uncrowned monarch and a state opening
The United Kingdom has had a very busy political year, making future generations’ history and politics lessons highly complicated but instructive. Within two months, the country saw three prime ministers, two monarchs, three chancellors and several U-turns, all on top of an economic crisis. During all the political turmoil and uncertainty, the demand for a general election has become more vocal, even if undesirable to some.
Visiting the Robing Room in the Lords recently, one of us (who should know her constitutional history) was asked by the other (an undergraduate with no such expectation): “If there was a state opening before the King’s coronation, would King Charles III wear the Imperial State Crown?”
The Member of the Lords not only didn’t know the answer but had never thought of the question! Indeed, whilst the matter might not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it is an interesting parliamentary question to which many whom we then asked did not know answer.
So, of course, we took the question to the House of Lords Library, where a thorough investigation into past monarchs and state openings by their fantastic researchers revealed the answer.
No doubt the Palace is already considering the matter – just in case a state opening should proceed the 6 May coronation
History teaches us that there were four state openings by an uncrowned monarch in the 20th century, with all the monarchs choosing to wear something in place of the Imperial State Crown, though the Crown was always present. The first, precedent-setting, occasion was King Edward VII on 14 February 1901 (his own coronation following on 9 August 1902). The king wore a white-plumed field marshal’s hat whilst the Crown was carried on a cushion by the lord president of the council, the duke of Devonshire.
On 6 February 1911, before his coronation on 22 June 1911, King George V followed his predecessor and wore a naval cocked hat whilst the Crown was carried by the lord privy seal and leader of the House of Lords, the earl of Crewe.
The uncrowned Edward VIII followed this now tradition on 3 November 1936, before his abdication on 11 December, wearing the blue cocked hat of an admiral while reading the address, the Crown again carried by the lord privy seal and leader of the House of Lords, the marquess of Londonderry.
Finally, our late Queen Elizabeth II on 4 November 1952, before her own 2 June 1953 coronation, sported a circlet of diamonds and pearls whilst the Crown was carried by the lord privy seal and leader of the House of Lords, the marquess of Salisbury.
No doubt the Palace is already considering the matter – just in case a state opening should proceed the 6 May coronation, with the likelihood that King Charles would follow his predecessors and opt for a military hat, with our Noble Friend, Lord True, perhaps trusted with carrying that most famous of Crowns on a suitable decorated cushion – a fifth example of a state opening of Parliament by an uncrowned monarch?
For most observers, the key question of interest will be whether it would indeed be Keir Starmer’s words which would be read by the monarch, but for constitutionalists, we will at least know that the Crown would not be on the King’s head, but by his side, as a new programme for government was being proclaimed.
Baroness Hayter is a Labour peer. Elise Kitching is a Hull undergraduate studying legislation and political studies as an intern for an academic year
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