“King’s bodyguard! SLOOOOOWWWW. MARCH!” And in they marched, up the aisle of Westminster Hall, under the oak beamed roof and in the direction of the two rather throne-like chairs that had been placed on the concrete steps.
The King’s bodyguard are about 12 men, none of whom look to be significantly younger than the King himself. They wear hats with great white feathery plumes poking out the top of them and they carry little axes with ornate handles.
They also, at least on this evidence, don’t do a lot of guarding of the king’s body. The trumpets played and they slow marched up, down and around Westminster Hall for a fair while before the King himself arrived and his demonstrably unguarded body quietly stepped out of the Bentley and strolled up the aisle. When things have calmed down a bit, His Majesty King Charlies III might wish to put a call in to Kevin Costner, certainly now that Dennis Waterman’s services are unavailable.
The Presentation of Addresses by both houses of parliament is a longstanding tradition for any new monarch. Though as with quite a few traditions that are currently underway, there are precious few people around who can recall them having happened before.
Westminster Hall is a great, cavernous, draughty place. Every so often, all MPs and peers gather there to be spoken to by some visiting head of state of serious importance. Obama’s done it, so has Charles de Gaulle. And now Charles III.
There was rather more pomp than there was splendour, in the sense that it was a visual spectacle rather more than an oratory one. That everyone had gathered mattered far more than what it was they had actually gathered for.
Viewers of the BBC broadcast were told of the room’s great history. Of how the Queen Mother had laid in state there, and so would the Queen herself, in a couple of days time. There was not so much mention of what happened to King Charles’s royal namesake but two, Charles I, in this room, which is that he was tried, sentenced to death and then a short walk up the road, executed on a public balcony.
Which is rather more relevant than it may seem. Eleven years later, as is well known, the British people had thought better of their act of violent republicanism, and politely asked the executed man’s son if he wouldn’t mind coming back. He agreed, but there were protracted negotiations first, and from these negotiations came all sorts of liberties and rights, especially for the practising of religion, and arguably, in some form or another, the right to stand in a street in Edinburgh and protest for the abolition of the monarchy, an act for which a 22-year-old woman was arrested over the weekend.
It is also well understood that these days we have a constitutional monarchy, stripped of all power and left in place as a kind of living ornament. Certain Westminster rituals, like the slamming of the Commons door in Black Rod’s face at the state opening of parliament, are a deliberate symbolic reminder of who is in charge. And yet, on this auspicious morning in Westminster, one could scarcely imagine a show more deferent. Row after row of MPs could hardly have looked more thrilled to be there, or more starstruck.
To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here
The only line of note came from the King himself. Speaking of his now late mother, he said: “As Shakespeare says of the earlier Queen Elizabeth, she was ‘a pattern to all princes living’.” It’s easy to be confused, but this is not from one of Shakespeare’s histories, but rather some contemporary commentary on his own monarch.
And with that he was off again, wandering back out the aisle, stopping to wish “good morning” to everyone with an aisle seat. The only person he paused to chat with for longer than a few seconds was Mark Francois.
Behind him came Keir Starmer and the new prime minister, Liz Truss, wearing a mask of almost unimaginable terror. She moved toward the exit as if moving toward the platform for a 300-foot bungee jump. You could have clanged a pair of cymbals an inch from her ears and she wouldn’t have so much as flinched.
A while later, the bodyguard reassembled and slow marched its way out. It looked to be turning left out of the grand entrance, quite possibly to the visitors’ cafe for a well earned cup of tea and a slice of Victoria sponge.