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Planning the next Accession and Coronation: FAQs


Will Prince Charles become King Charles III?

Not necessarily. He is free to choose his own regnal title. King Edward VII chose Edward as his regnal title, although hitherto he had been known by his first name of Albert. King Edward VIII also chose Edward as his regnal title, although he was known to his family and friends as David. Prince Charles’s Christian names are Charles Philip Arthur George. Instead of becoming King Charles he might choose to become King George VII, or King Philip, or King Arthur.

Will Camilla become Queen Camilla?

Under common law the spouse of a King automatically becomes Queen. But there are two possible reasons why Camilla might not assume the title. The first is the argument voiced by the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail Online, that Camilla cannot become Queen because her 2005 civil marriage to Prince Charles was not valid. The argument runs as follows: because the Marriage Acts from 1753 have explicitly excepted royal marriages from their provisions, the only valid marriage which a member of the royal family could contract in England was a religious marriage in the Church of England. The Lord Chancellor in 2005 defended the validity of the Prince’s civil marriage, as did the Registrar General. But if Camilla became Queen, it might provoke further legal challenges.

The second possible reason is public opinion. In deference to public opinion, Camilla has not assumed the title Princess of Wales. Prince Charles will no doubt have regard to public opinion at the time of his accession, in deciding whether Camilla should become Queen; and he may also want to seek the advice of the government of the day. The fallback position is that Camilla would become Princess Consort as announced at the time of their marriage.

Will Prince William become Prince of Wales?

Charles was created Prince of Wales in 1958 when he was aged 10, with an investiture at Caernarvon Castle in 1969. As an adult, Prince William might expect to become Prince of Wales soon after his father’s accession; but that will be a matter for the new King to decide because, strictly, the title is not heritable.

Will Prince Charles become Head of the Commonwealth?

Yes. In a statement issued by the Commonwealth Heads of Government after their retreat at Windsor Castle on 20 April 2018, they said “We recognise the role of the Queen in championing the Commonwealth and its peoples. The next head of the Commonwealth shall be his Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales”. This followed the express wishes of the Queen, when she said “It is my sincere wish that the Commonwealth will continue to offer stability and continuity for future generations, and will decide that one day the Prince of Wales should carry on the important work started by my father in 1949”.

Why cannot we have Prince William as King?

Under common law, Prince Charles will automatically become King the moment the Queen dies. Prince William could only become King if Prince Charles chose to abdicate. That would require legislation, as happened with the Declaration of Abdication Act 1936. The line of succession is regulated by Parliament (as in the Act of Succession 1700, and the Succession to the Crown Act 2013); it can be changed only by Parliament and cannot be unilaterally altered by the monarch.

Might Prince Charles abdicate in favour of William?

That would be a matter for Prince Charles, and for Parliament. For the Queen, abdication is said to be unthinkable, for two reasons. The first is the bad example of Edward VIII: his abdication brought the Queen’s father onto the throne, unexpectedly and most reluctantly. The second is her declaration on her twenty-first birthday that she would serve for her whole life whether it be long or short. She is also said to regard her oath at her coronation as imposing a sacred duty to reign as long as she shall live.

Having waited over 60 years as heir apparent, it would be perfectly natural for Prince Charles to want to assume the throne and perform the royal duties for which he has spent so long preparing in waiting. But it would be equally natural if, after reigning for a few years as an increasingly elderly monarch, he chose to invite Parliament to hand on the throne to Prince William.

Don’t other European monarchs abdicate on a regular basis?

Some do, some don’t. In the Netherlands the last three Queens have abdicated when they reached the age of around 70. In Belgium, King Albert II abdicated in 2013, at the age of 79, handing on the throne to his son King Philippe (53). In Spain, King Juan Carlos abdicated in 2014, at the age of 76, to be succeeded by his son Felipe (46). Emperor Akihito of Japan (84) is due under a new law to abdicate in April 2019.

But the Scandinavian monarchies do not practise abdication. King Harald of Norway, who reached the age of 80 in 2017, said “I took an oath on the Norwegian constitution. For me, this oath applies to my entire life”. Similarly, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (aged 78, and recently widowed) has said “I will remain on the throne until I fall off”.

Will Charles only become King once he has been proclaimed by the Accession Council; or crowned at his coronation?

No: Charles will become King the moment the Queen dies. The Accession Council merely acknowledges and proclaims that he is the new King, following the death of the Queen. It is not necessary for the monarch to be crowned in order to become King: Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.

What happens in Parliament on Accession?

Parliament is recalled for parliamentarians to take their oaths of allegiance to the new sovereign. Peers in the House of Lords have to take a new oath. MPs in the Commons are not required to do so (because their oath is to ‘bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors’), but they may if they choose. Parliament will then mourn the death of the Queen in debates led by the Prime Minister.

Which other European monarchies have a coronation?

None of the other European monarchies have a coronation. Belgium and the Netherlands have never had one; Denmark, Norway and Sweden discontinued theirs from 1849, 1908 and 1873 respectively; and there have been no coronations in Spain since medieval times.

Will the coronation be like the Royal wedding?

No. Although watched on television by millions, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was essentially a private affair: they decided on the guest list, and the form of the service. The coronation by contrast is a state occasion. Prince Charles may have views, but the government will have ultimate control of the guest list, and the government pays for the coronation.

Could we have a multi-faith coronation?

The coronation will continue to be an Anglican service, but finding a place for other Christian denominations and other religions: as happened at the recent royal wedding, and as practised for some years at the Abbey’s Commonwealth Day services. Such people may be invited to give readings; and religious leaders other than Anglicans are likely to be seated prominently, as happened at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee service at St Paul’s in 2012.

Why should a new ceremony of modernised homage be considered?

Historically, coronations have included homage where the senior members of each order of the peerage have knelt to the new monarch and paid homage for their order. Homage is not part of the religious rite but a survival from the feudal age and a residue of the old aristocratic constitution. In 1953 this tradition led to peers and their wives being still the largest single group attending the coronation. Few hereditary peers are nowadays members of the legislature and it seems right to try to think again about how the idea can be made to reflect the modern constitution.

For some time suggestions have been made to take homage out of the coronation and relocate it in a different form elsewhere. Essentially, the idea is to institute a non-religious event where representatives of civil society including every ethnic group meet with the new sovereign in a ceremony of mutual recognition and respect, possibly under Parliamentary auspices in, say, Westminster Hall. Making the change would not be without difficulty but it could reinforce right at the beginning of the new reign that the monarch relates equally to the whole community regardless of status, aristocratic or otherwise. The germ of this idea can be seen in the suggestion for the 1953 coronation by Opposition Parties in a rejected proposal that the Speaker should give homage on behalf of the common man.

What are Prince Charles’s views about the Accession and Coronation oaths?

We don’t know. As the oath taker, he is entitled to have views, and to say if he finds any of the oaths objectionable. The last time a monarch did that was in 1910, when King George V objected to the strong anti-Catholic wording of the (then) Accession declaration oath. Asquith’s government agreed, and the wording was changed in the Accession Declaration Act 1910.

What happens if the Queen becomes so old and infirm that she cannot perform her royal duties?

That would lead to a regency, with Prince Charles (as the next in line of succession) becoming Regent. The Regency Acts 1937 and 1953 established a procedure for declaring that the Queen has become incapable by reason of infirmity of mind or body. The people who can make a declaration of incapacity are at least any three of the Queen’s consort (Prince Philip), the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of the Rolls. Any declaration of incapacity needs to be supported by medical evidence.

What would happen if Prince Charles as Regent himself became incapacitated?

The Regency Acts provide that the person next in line (Prince William) would become Regent. The same procedure is followed for making a declaration of incapacity, with the same people.

What will happen in the 15 other realms where Charles is due to become King? Will any of them become Republics?

Each of the realms will recognise the accession in their own way, in accordance with their own laws and customs. Australia and Jamaica have considered becoming republics. In 1999 Australia held a referendum on the issue: the proposal to become a republic was defeated by 45:55. The co-founder of the Australian Republican Movement, Malcolm Turnbull, is now Prime Minister. In 2016 he said the issue would be raised again after the Queen’s death; but republicans would need first to decide whether the new head of state should be directly elected by the people, or selected by Parliament (divisions on this issue led to defeat in the 1999 referendum).

In Jamaica successive Prime Ministers have long advocated that Jamaica should become a republic, and several have committed to achieving that. Both major parties want Jamaica to become a republic. The difficulty lies in the Jamaican constitution, which has very high thresholds for constitutional change: two thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and any change to the monarchy must also be submitted to referendum.

Does the requirement to swear to be a true and faithful Protestant disqualify non-Protestants from succession?

Yes: only those who are ‘in communion with’ the Church of England may succeed to the throne. Roman Catholics are barred specifically by law (Bill of Rights Act 1689), and others – non-Trinitarian Christians (such as Unitarians), non-Christian believers and all non-believers - are barred because they cannot satisfy the requirement of the Act of Settlement 1701 that they should be in communion with the Church of England. The former ban from 1689 on heirs otherwise qualified but married to Roman Catholics was lifted by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

Charles once said he would like to be known as Defender of Faith, not the Faith. What does this mean in practice?

This was a gloss Charles once put on the sovereign’s title Fidei Defensor [English translation: ‘Defender of the Faith’]. Originally conferred by the Pope in 1517 before the English Reformation, the title became exclusively associated with the Church of England. Charles was making the point that, in a country with many religions now present, the sovereign should be concerned to see all religion defended and not just the Church of England. Because Latin has no definite article, he offered ‘Defender of Faith’ as an alternative and viable translation to signify how a sovereign should nowadays understand the contemporary meaning of the title.

In practice, religion is protected by laws made by Parliament or as a result of international agreements like the European Convention on Human Rights. But drawing attention to the need for protection in this and other ways is how the sovereign can reinforce society’s support for the principle of religious freedom.

Why doesn’t the UK become a republic?

  • This would be for Parliament endorsed by a referendum to decide.
  • Some of the Commonwealth countries where the UK sovereign was also their monarch (the realms) have become republics (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Ghana, South Africa and The Gambia) and others have held unsuccessful referendums to do so (Australia. Tuvalu, St Vincent and the Grenadines); but there are still 15 Commonwealth countries that remain realms. It is likely that a number of the realms may look at the possibility after the death of the present Queen, who has always made it clear that the decision is entirely for the countries themselves.
  • In Britain support for a republic has rarely exceeded 20 per cent, and support for the monarchy has rarely dropped below 80 per cent.
  • Apart from the current continuing popularity of the monarchy, it is thought the lack of support for a republic in the UK is associated with the fact that, for most intents and purposes, the UK already possesses all the attributes of a republic except for retaining an hereditary head of state. Bagehot thought that in 1867 (‘A Republic has insinuated itself beneath the folds of a Monarchy’); and Tennyson called the UK ‘a crowned republic’ in 1873.
  • None of this means that the UK will never become an explicit republic but it is difficult at present to foresee the circumstances in which it might happen. In modern times monarchies have been overthrown following revolution (France), catastrophic loss or devastation in war (Germany, Italy and Yugoslavia) or as the result of military coup (Greece).