In the most public concession yet of her age, The Queen took a lift to the Robing Room in the Palace of Westminster for this morning’s State Opening of Parliament, the first time in her 63 years of attending.
The 90-year-old monarch, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, 94, avoided the 26 steps of the Sovereign’s staircase, in a move described by aides as a “modest adjustment” for Her Majesty’s “own comfort.”
Although publicly The Queen has shown no signs of slowing down, her knees have begun to suffer as a result of her devotion to a schedule of engagements – many of which have involved long walks or prolonged periods of standing. In recent years, the monarch has undergone surgery to remove cartilage from the area and Buckingham Palace have slowly begun to adjust itineraries to help Her Majesty’s feel more comfortable.
In May 2014, Prince Charles took on part of a service for knights of the Order of the Bath at Westminster Abbey to avoid the Queen climbing a steep flight of steps in the Lady Chapel of Henry VII. On that occasion, Buckingham Palace said the role was filled by the Prince, to “lessen the burden on The Queen”.
But the monarch – who turned 90 last month – continues to carry out hundreds of engagements each year and, in 2015, carried out more engagements than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry combined. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh – who celebrates his 95th birthday on 10 June – is just as active and was eager to practise his passion for carriage driving last week at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.
Today’s ceremony isn’t the first time The Queen and Prince Philip have experienced drama in the Houses of Parliament’s lifts either. In 2012, she and the Duke had just attended a reception on the first floor of the Palace of Westminster before they entered the lift to get to the ground floor, where a car was waiting.
However, rather than descending, it went up and only reached the intended destination after three false starts.
According to sources in the House of Lords, instead of going down, it went up one floor before opening the doors, revealing the royal party to a somewhat surprised peer.
After the doors closed, it went up again – to the third floor, where the parliamentary archives are located. Finally the lift descended, but only as far as the floor where the Queen had originally boarded it. After three false starts, she was taken down to the ground floor, where she and the Duke were able to get out.
Despite the minor arrival change, today’s State Opening ceremony was largely in-keeping with its usual tradition and the splendour. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, who arrived shortly before Her Majesty, both used the royal staircase. Doing so, they passed the detachment of the Household Cavalry, lining the staircase in full dress uniform, as they made their way to the Robing Room where the Imperial State Crown, Sword of State and Cap of Maintenance are all kept ahead of the procession.
Arriving in the Irish State Coach, Prince Charles and Camilla were greeted Lt Col Sir Andrew Ford who, as Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, is responsible for overseeing many state and ceremonial occasions.
The Queen and Prince Philip arrived shortly afterwards in the Diamond Jubilee State Coach. By bypassing the staircase the procession to the Robing Room was much shorter than usual and, once the Royal Robes and the Imperial State Crown, had been fitted, the ceremony progressed as normal.
The Queen, like her supporting family, wore full regalia for the occasion. The Imperial Crown is centrepiece of the Crown Jewels and weighs an astonishing 1.06kg and is 31.5cm tall. Its gold frame is mounted with 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds 4 rubies and 269 pearls.
At the front of the crown is, the second largest clear diamond in the world, called the Cullinan II. The Crown was made in 1838 for Queen Victoria’s Coronation, and then altered for the Coronation of George VI in 1937 and Elizabeth II in 1953.
Despite the rain, large crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace to see the royals’ carriage departure at 11am. The parade to the Houses of Parliament was led by a hundred strong Guard of Honour from the Foot Guards, and they were escorted by members of the Blues and Royals.
The ceremony today was the Queen’s 63rd visit to open Parliament. She has attended every year with the exception of 1959 and 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively. Those two sessions were opened by Lords Commissioners, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, empowered by Her Majesty.