King Charles III made history yesterday, Tuesday 7 November 2023, when he made his first King’s Speech while Opening Parliament. Though this wasn’t his first time delivering a speech at this event, as he stood in for his mother in 2022, this is the first time in over 70 years that a King has opened Parliament.
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For the occasion, King Charles and the Queen Consort came in full regalia, repeating outfits from the coronation. When it came to the speech itself, many viewers noticed that the monarch looked slightly uncomfortable. Others were confused as to how and why this ceremony takes place when monarchy and government are usually so separate.
Let us answer these questions.
What is the King’s Speech opening Parliament?
The King’s Speech is an occasion that takes place during the State Opening of Parliament. It is the only day when the monarch is allowed into Parliament. Indeed, even though the Prime Minister leads the government in the King’s name, the two remain separate entities and the monarch must remain apolitical.
It is also the only time in the year when the three pieces of Parliament meet – the King, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
During this event the monarch reads a speech from the throne while wearing the ‘robes of State’ and the ‘Imperial State Crown’. Sky News explains that the speech is designed to ‘set out legislative programme’ at the beginning of a new parliamentary session.
Who writes the King's Speech?
Well, that’s the part that is most surprising to people. Though the King’s tone is authoritative, using phrases like ‘my Government will’ and ‘my Ministers will’, the speech is actually not written by the Crown. Instead, it is the government that writes it.
Therefore, it is a speech addressed to Parliament which is written by Parliament. Sky News calls it a
moment of constitutional theatre.
King Charles looked uncomfortable
On X the hashtag #KingsSpeech was trending and many users were pointing out how uncomfortable King Charles looked. Tweets said:
I thought the #KingsSpeech seeped from a grim mouthed monarch who clearly didn't believe or support a word of it.
Dear oh dear I’m not King Charles’s number 1 fan but I’ve got to hand it to him here. The utter contempt in his voice & the withering look he gives Sunak is like an arrow through the heart. Well played
Let’s start by saying that, for some people, the monarch has failed in this speech. The fact that people could pick up on King Charles’ opinion as he read could be seen as inappropriate. Indeed, this speech is supposed to be made in a monotone way, staying clear of opinion.
That being said, who can blame King Charles? Some of the things he had to read out loud, as if he had written them, go right against his own beliefs and values. For instance, The New York Times points out that the announcements concerning the environment were probably a disappointment for the monarch.
New York Times writes:
For a lifelong supporter of environmental causes, a plan to expand oil and gas drilling in the North Sea was probably not what King Charles III had hoped to announce when he opened Britain’s Parliament for the first time as monarch.
However, the King vowed to stay clear of politics when he took his place on the throne. This will prove more challenging at certain times. King Charles will need practice.
gov.uk: Oral statement to Parliament The King's Speech 2023
The New York Times: King Charles III, Climate Advocate, Delivers Speech at Odds With His Beliefs
Sky News: State Opening of Parliament: The King’s speech explained
Politico: Why Charles III will hate every word of his first King’s Speech