The Constitution Unit


Planning the next Accession and Coronation: FAQs

The following FAQ's relate to two reports published by the Unit on accession and coronation, the first of which explores how ancient oaths might be revised and updated, and the second looks 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.]

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.  The fallback title when Charles becomes King is that she might become King’s Consort.

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".

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.

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 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 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.

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.