LONDON — For more than 300 years, Britain’s kings and queens have been proclaimed sovereign in a ceremony laced with history. But on Saturday morning, for the first time, the public was able to see the process in action as the proclamation of King Charles III was broadcast live, weaving just a bit of modernity into a centuries-old tradition.
While Charles became the new monarch automatically upon the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, on Thursday, his new role was officially proclaimed on Saturday morning in a ceremony filled with pomp and procedure, which was held at St. James’s Palace, a Tudor royal residence near Buckingham Palace.
In the moving and solemn rite, one that was dictated by protocol and had echoes of a much earlier age, the council made the official confirmation of Charles as king, amid a number of other formalities. But perhaps the most striking moment came when so many senior members of British life in unison declared, “God save the king.”
King Charles later addressed the room and the British nation, and emphasized his mother’s legacy and his commitment to continue it.
“My mother gave an example of lifelong love and of selfless service,” he said. “My mother’s reign was unequaled in its duration, dedication and devotion. Even as we grieve, we give thanks for this most faithful life. I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and of the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty which have now passed to me.”
The ceremony took place in two parts, the first of which included a meeting of the king’s Privy Council, a group of advisers to the monarch who have typically reached high levels of public office. The six living former prime ministers — Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major — were present as part of the Privy Council, as was Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour leader.
The Privy Council also includes Prince William, who, as the new heir to the throne, was given the title Prince of Wales on Friday by his father. The council — which included Charles’s wife, Camilla, the queen consort; Prime Minister Liz Truss; and senior religious figures — all signed the proclamation in the ceremony.
Notably, not a single person present in the room had been part of the ceremony the last time around, when Queen Elizabeth was proclaimed sovereign 70 years ago.
Later, King Charles III met with his Privy Council and made traditional public statements that generations of monarchs have made before him. He gave a personal and political inaugural declaration, which in the past would have happened in a closed ceremony with the text later published in the London Gazette, the official government record. Charles also made an oath to uphold the Church of Scotland.
The Accession Council meeting also included a litany of official proclamations for King Charles III to sign off on, including one that makes the day of the queen’s funeral a public holiday across Britain. The date of the funeral has not yet been announced.
The ceremony often felt like a holdover of an earlier time, but the procedures, enshrined in law, also gave a nod to the foundations of the modern British state. After the council meeting, a proclamation was read out as trumpets blared from the balcony at St. James’s Palace and the Garter King of Arms — the principal adviser to the monarch on all matters of ceremony and heraldry — in front of a few hundred members of the public officially declared the reign of King Charles III.
The old and new seemed to stand in stark contrast. Members of the public who gathered to hear the proclamation held cellphones above their heads to record the view as they sang “God Save the King,” the newly adjusted national anthem.
Heralds on horseback rode from the palace and began passing the proclamation across the country, but the news was first read out at the Royal Exchange in London at noon, and then the capitals of the nations of Britain will hear proclamations on Sunday. Historically, this relay of royal announcements that fanned out across the country was the fastest way to spread the word of the new sovereign’s taking up the throne.
Charles’s day does not end with the ceremonial aspects, though, as his role as head of state is also a constitutional one. Later on Saturday, he will meet with Ms. Truss, the newly appointed prime minister, and members of her cabinet. He will also have audiences with senior members of the opposition Labour Party, the archbishop of Canterbury and the dean of Westminster.
Megan Specia is a correspondent on the International Desk in London, covering the United Kingdom and Ireland. She has been with The Times since 2016. @meganspecia