On Tuesday, Prince Charles stood in for his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, at the opening of the British Parliament.
According to Buckingham Palace, “The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament … .”
That may not seem like such a big deal – the queen has had some health issues, and Charles, who is next in line to the throne stepped in – but not having the queen perform a duty she has carried out for nearly 70 years has people asking questions.
The queen has not missed the State Opening of Parliament since 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Edward.
“At Her Majesty’s request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, the Prince of Wales will read the Queen’s Speech on Her Majesty’s behalf, with The Duke of Cambridge also in attendance,” Buckingham Palace announced Monday.
According to The Guardian, a letters patent authorized by the Queen was issued to cover the State Opening of Parliament. Letters patent are documents from the sovereign which can be used to express his or her wishes.
In Tuesday’s case, it was to delegate to “Counsellors of State” the royal function of opening the new session of Parliament. The document enabled Charles and Prince William to jointly open Parliament but did not give them any other function.
Does this mean the queen will be stepping down?
No, at least not yet.
The letters patent in Tuesday’s case was for a specific event.
Can the queen step down?
The queen can give up her royal duties in one of three ways: the Regency Act can be invoked; she can abdicate the throne, or she stops being queen when she dies.
Here is what happens with each option:
Regency Act: The Regency Act spells out what happens if a monarch temporarily leaves their position.
If the monarch cannot carry out his or her duties, according to English law, the next fit royal family member will be pressed into service to carry out those duties.
This does not mean that that person becomes king or queen. The monarch who steps back is still the king or queen and resumes his or her duties when they are able.
The reason a monarch would not be able to fulfill duties can be a personal or medical one.
Abdication: Abdicating the throne would mean that the queen is making a choice to give up her title. The last person to give up the British throne was the queen’s uncle, Edward VIII. Edward had no children when he abdicated in 1936 to marry a twice-divorced woman, so his brother, Prince Albert, became the next king – King George VI.
Elizabeth, the oldest child of King George, became queen upon his death in 1952.
Death: When the queen dies, Prince Charles will immediately become the king of England.
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