Remembrance Sunday brings taste of kingship for Prince Charles

Heir to the throne to lay head of state’s wreath at the Cenotaph – the first time he has taken the role while Queen is in the UK

Prince Charles flew back from a tour of Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and India this week to prepare for a significant symbolic moment in his progress towards becoming king. In a rare move, he will take the Queen’s place to lay the head of state’s wreath at the Cenotaph on Sunday in remembrance of Britain’s war dead.

Charles, who turns 69 next week, once stood in for the Queen in 1983 when she was in Kenya, but the ceremony will be the first time he has taken the role while the Queen is available. The 91-year-old will look on from the balcony of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office while her heir parades in her place.

Palace aides are highly sensitive to any suggestion transition is under way and said the Queen’s withdrawal stemmed from her wish to accompany Prince Philip, who has officially retired but wanted to attend the event as a spectator. However, the watching public will see it as another step in the inevitable transfer of duties to the next generation, amid continued chatter among royal observers about ongoing tensions between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House over the handover of duties. In an unusual move, both palaces responded jointly to deny claims in September that the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, had left his role because of such tensions.

Charles’s wait has been the longest in the history of the British monarchy but finally visible change is under way, and not only in terms of national ceremony. This week he shored up his claims to the leadership of the Commonwealth, the 53-nation postcolonial bloc with a population of 2.3 billion, which the Queen always made a top priority and which is now seen as increasingly important in the UK’s post-Brexit trading future. Charles held talks over dinner with the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, on Tuesday in Delhi which were expected to include plans for the future of the Commonwealth. The British government is said to be keen on an expanded role for India. In a speech on Tuesday night at thehigh commissioner’s residence, Charles set out his vision for the Commonwealth as defined by “diversity”, arguing the bloc “offers us an unparalleled means to build bridges between our countries, and fairer societies within them”.

“India’s role in all of this could not be more crucial, nor her contribution to the Commonwealth more essential,” he said, describing it as “at the heart of the Commonwealth – a country which can teach us how to blend the material with the spiritual dimension in order to create the integrated values of the future”.

The monarchy has been quietly campaigning for Charles to succeed the Queen as head of the Commonwealth when she dies, which is not a given. Observers think this could be cemented within months when Charles is expected to play a prominent role, alongside the Queen, at next April’s Commonwealth heads of government summit, with meetings at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle as well as St James’s Palace. The Queen has chaired every summit since 1973 and only missed the 2013 event in Sri Lanka because she was trying to cut down on long-haul travel, something which is not relevant in London. Charles and the Queen jointly chaired the last summit in Malta, which is only a three-hour flight from London.

“There may be some kind of formal agreement in April,” said Philip Murphy, director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. “But the Queen is so fondly regarded in the Commonwealth she probably realises it would be dangerous to hand it over to him at this point.”


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

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