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Planning the next Accession and Coronation: FAQs

The following FAQ's relate principally to two reports published by the Unit on accession and coronation, the first of which explored how ancient oaths might be revised and updated, and the second looked at what is involved in the accession ceremonies and the coronation. 

More FAQs on the monarchy

When will Charles become King?

Charles will become King the moment the Queen dies, under the old common law rule  Rex nunquam moritur i.e. ‘The king never dies’.  The rule recognises that the sovereign may die, but government must carry on. To speak of the Demise of the Crown is not merely about the death of a sovereign but the transmission of the office to the heir. [‘Demise’ is originally a French term based on the Latin ‘demittere’ – to hand down.]

Subsequent ceremonies such as the Accession Council and the coronation in their own ways merely endorse a succession that has already taken place. It is not, therefore, necessary for the monarch to be crowned in order to become King: Edward VIII reigned as King without ever being crowned.

 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.

What happens at the Accession Council?

The Accession Council – a special meeting of the Privy Council functioning as a modern version of the Anglo-Saxon Witan - is summoned as soon as practicable after the death of a Sovereign and consists of two Parts. In Part I the Council meets without the new monarch and with a specially augmented membership (for example to include Commonwealth High Commissioners from those countries – the Realms – where the new Sovereign is head of state). Receiving the monarch’s preference for the new regnal name, it issues a Proclamation witnessing and declaring  the fact of the new Sovereign’s lawful assumption of the throne.

Shortly afterwards, the new King attends Part II (which is attended by Privy Counsellors alone) where he makes a personal declaration of commitment to support of the constitution and swears a statutory oath in support of the Church of Scotland. (A similar oath in support of the Church of England is sworn by him at the coronation).

Will Camilla become Queen Camilla?
 

Yes: under common law the spouse of a King automatically becomes Queen, and the matter was put beyond doubt by the Queen in her Accession Day message of 5 February 2022 when she said ‘it is my sincere wish that, when that time comes, Camilla will be known as Queen Consort as she continues her own loyal service.’ (See message at https://www.royal.uk/queens-accession-day-message.)

The matter had previously been in doubt because, in deference to public opinion at the time of her marriage to the Prince of Wales in 2005, not only did she not assume the title Princess of Wales and become known instead as Duchess of Cornwall but it was also announced that, on her husband’s accession, she would be styled ‘Princess Consort’ rather than Queen.

The validity of the marriage was questioned at the time in argument voiced by the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail Online.  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.  The possibility of further legal challenge now seems remote.

 
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. But he will become Duke of Cornwall, because that title is heritable, and he will inherit the Duchy of Cornwall (an estate of 150,000 acres, yielding an income of just over £20m a year) under the Duchy’s charter of 1337.

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".

 
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 under their standing orders. 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 by custom in fact do so. Parliament will then mourn the death of the Queen in debates led by the Prime Minister.

Why does the Accession Council take place at St James’s Palace?

Although for many years the main London residence of monarchs, their gradual departure – finalised by Queen Victoria in 1837 - to Buckingham Palace (purchased by George II in 1762) left it as the continuing site of the Royal Court for much formal royal state business. Accession ceremonies have therefore continued uninterrupted as has the Palace’s use as the base for the management of the foreign diplomatic community and other formal functions.

The Tudor building was erected by Henry VIII in the 1530s on the site of a former leper hospital. It consisted of a series of courtyards and included the Chapel Royal. A fire in 1809 destroyed part of the monarch’s private apartments which were not replaced. This helped to conclude the removal to Buckingham Palace and clearer separation between monarchs’ private and formal lives.

Other current uses of the Palace include grace and favour residential apartments, and the offices of the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, the Royal Collection Trust, the Chapels Royal, the Royal Philatelic Collection,  the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood,  the Gentlemen at Arms, the Yeomen of the Guard and the Queen's Watermen.

Which other European monarchies have a coronation?
 

None. Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have never had one; Denmark, Norway and Sweden discontinued theirs from 1849, 1906 and 1873 respectively; and there have been no coronations in Spain since medieval times.

Will the coronation be like a 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 and Eucharistic 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 we need to re-think how the ceremony of homage can better reflect the modern constitution.

Suggestions have been made to take homage out of the coronation and relocate it elsewhere. The idea is to institute a non-religious event where representatives of civil society meet with the new sovereign in a ceremony of mutual recognition and respect. 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. Short of revising the homage procedure, Prince Charles’s apparent plans to visit all the devolved capitals as soon as he can after accession suggests  a recognition of a need to establish himself with all parts of the kingdom.

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.

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). 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.

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.

Financial Position of the new King

Funding of the King’s public duties is expected to continue under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. This abolished the former means of support via a Parliamentary grant (known as the Civil List) fixed originally at Accession and revised from time to time principally to accommodate inflation.

Parliament used also to vote Parliamentary annuities for those ‘working’ members of the royal family other than the Queen herself. Over time the Queen has taken on the responsibility of supporting those family members from her Privy Purse (funded principally from the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster) until only the annuity for her husband, Prince Philip, remained. His death in 2021 means that there are now no surviving Parliamentary annuities.

Under the 2011 Act and its scheme of one-way proxy upward indexation, the Sovereign receives annually a proportion – normally 13 per cent - of the profits from the management of the Crown Estates, a statutory corporation responsible for managing the Estates’ holdings. Originally not part of the monarch’s personal income, the monies had been used to defray the costs of the country’s civil administration until they were surrendered by George III in 1760 in return for a Civil List. At present the proportion is temporarily doubled from 2017-18 for ten years to fund the reservicing of Buckingham Palace and stands at £86.3 million. (The latest report of the Royal Trustees un der the 2011 Act is at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/972623/Royal_Trustees_Report_21-22.pdf )

Separately, the new King will benefit from the profits – currently £20m a year – from the Duchy of Lancaster fed into the Privy Purse. These monies are for the support of monarchy and not part of the monarch’s private wealth. The latter, though sometimes estimated, has never been authoritatively declared. At accession, the new King will, of course, lose the equivalent income from the Duchy of Cornwall which will transfer to his heir, Prince William.

The costs of providing security for the royal family are never, for operational reasons, disclosed.