LONDON — The six living former British prime ministers gathered for the rarest of ceremonies in London on Saturday to witness King Charles III be formally proclaimed the country’s new monarch.
During a sombre meeting of the Accession Council, the new king said he was “deeply aware” of “the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty” which have now passed to him from his late mother Queen Elizabeth II.
“In taking up these responsibilities, I shall strive to follow the inspiring example I have been set in upholding constitutional government, and to seek the peace, harmony and prosperity of the peoples of these islands, of the Commonwealth realms and territories throughout the world,” he told a packed room of senior politicians and other dignitaries at St James’s Palace.
Although Charles became king the moment his mother died Thursday, according to centuries-old British convention an Accession Council must meet to formally declare his coming to the throne. It last met in 1952. This year, the whole event was televised for the first time.
The historic occasion brought together Conservative and Labour ex-premiers John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, as well as current Prime Minister Liz Truss. They were joined by past and present Cabinet ministers, the former Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Queen Camilla, and the king’s oldest son and heir William.
Also among the counsellors was former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who lost his Sheffield seat in 2017 and is now president of global affairs at tech giant Meta, and the current and former Scottish First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond.
The historic ceremony was led by Lord President of the Council Penny Mordaunt, who was only handed the job in Tuesday night’s Cabinet reshuffle by new PM Truss.
During the first part of the ceremony, Clerk of the Privy Council Richard Tilbrook read the proclamation confirming Charles as Britain’s “only lawful and rightful liege lord.” The clerk then declared: “God save the king,” and more than 200 counsellors repeated the famous phrase.
In the second part of the meeting, the king made his address and took the oath to preserve the Church of Scotland, where powers of state and church are split. William, the new prince of Wales, also signed the oath.
Outside, a crowd of thousands sang the chorus of the — now reworded — national anthem and gave three cheers for the new monarch.
Bigger crowds waited for Charles III outside Buckingham Palace, where he arrived after the ceremony in his state Rolls Royce to host an audience with Truss, members of her Cabinet and opposition leaders.
Prince William also paid his first public tribute to the queen, whom he said was by his side at his happiest and saddest moments. “I knew this day would come, but it will be some time before the reality of life without grannie will truly feel real,” he said.
On Saturday afternoon, other members of the royal family, including the king’s three siblings and their children, attended a prayer service at Crathie Kirk, near Balmoral, where the queen’s body remains.
In parliament, senior MPs and members of the government including Truss, House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle and Labour’s longest-serving female MP Harriet Harman, pledged their allegiance to the new king, with more expected to do so at a later date.
The program of commemorative events will continue Sunday afternoon, when the king will receive the realm high commissioners and Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in representation of the U.K. government.
The queen’s coffin will be taken by road to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh Sunday at a slow pace to allow mourners to pay their respects, according to a senior palace official.
On Monday, the coffin will be taken in procession to St Giles’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, where it will lie until Tuesday, before being flown to London, where it will lie in state for four days in Westminster Hall from Wednesday until the morning of her state funeral on September 19. During these days thousands of people are expected to visit parliament to bid farewell to the late monarch.
On Monday, Truss will attend the presentation of addresses in Westminster Hall, and will join King Charles III as he leads the national mourning across the U.K., with services in Scotland that same afternoon, in Northern Ireland Tuesday, and in Wales on Friday.