King Charles has paid tribute to his mother at a ceremony in parliament in which the new monarch heard formal condolences from the Speakers of the Commons and Lords, emphasising the intertwined nature of royalty and government in the UK constitution.
In an often personal address in Westminster Hall, the soaring structure first built in the 11th century at the heart of the parliamentary estate, Charles described parliament as the “living and breathing instrument of our democracy” as he vowed to follow the late Queen’s “selfless duty” during his own reign.
“I cannot help but feel the weight of history which surrounds us and which reminds us of the vital parliamentary traditions to which members of both houses dedicate yourselves, with such personal commitment for the betterment of us all,” he said in his first visit to Britain’s parliament as monarch.
“Parliament is the living and breathing instrument of our democracy. That your traditions are ancient, we see in the construction of this great hall and the reminders of medieval predecessors of the office to which I have been called.”
Westminster Hall is the oldest building in parliament, and was where Guy Fawkes and Charles I were tried, where kings and queens hosted magnificent medieval banquets, and where ceremonial addresses were presented to Queen Elizabeth II during her silver, golden and diamond jubilees. It is also where her coffin will lie in state for public viewing from Wednesday.
The King told the assembled MPs and peers: “While very young, Her late Majesty pledged herself to serve her country and her people and to maintain the precious principles of constitutional government which lie at the heart of our nation. This vow she kept with unsurpassed devotion.
“She set an example of selfless duty which, with God’s help and your counsels, I am resolved faithfully to follow.”
Quoting William Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, Charles said the Queen had been “a pattern to all princes living”, noting how touched he had been to see the various monuments in parliament to her jubilees, including a stained glass window in Westminster Hall commemorating her diamond jubilee in 2012.
In the ceremony, the monarch, accompanied by Camilla, the Queen Consort, were offered condolences on behalf of both houses of parliament.
John McFall, the former Labour MP who is now Lords Speaker, told Charles that the Queen had been “both a leader to, and a servant of, her people” who “captured the imagination of peoples across the globe”, praising what he called her “joyous, unstinting and reassuring presence across the years”.
Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, said the Queen’s death had been “a loss that was felt around the world”.
He continued: “Our late Queen was here to mark the historic moments, such as the 50th anniversary of the second world war, a war in which she herself served in the armed forces. And, in 1988, we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the revolutions of 1688 to 1689.
“It is perhaps very British to celebrate revolutions by presenting an address to Her Majesty, but those revolutions led to our constitutional freedoms, set out the foundation for a stable monarchy, which protects liberty.”
Both finished their speeches with a “humble address” agreed by each house of parliament, which they then handed to Charles. In return, he passed them both a copy of his address.
Charles and Camilla, who had been driven the short distance from Clarence House, their home, entered to a fanfare of trumpets, walking past the rows of guests before taking their seats on a raised platform at the front of the hall.
Earlier, with the rows of seats filled by MPs, peers, officials and journalists, the King’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard – a type of Beefeaters, though not those who guard the Tower of London – trooped in and assembled at the front.
They were followed by small processions led first by McFall, then Hoyle. Hoyle was followed by Ugbana Oyet, the Commons sarjeant at arms, carrying the lower chamber’s symbolic mace.