Elizabeth II’s long reign entered new territory on Tuesday, when for the first time in seven decades, the monarch delegated the formal opening of Parliament to her son and heir, Prince Charles.

The ceremony, which includes the reading of the Queen’s Speech detailing the government’s programme, is seen as an important symbol of the monarch’s constitutional role as head of state.

The queen’s decision to delegate her role to the prince will almost certainly be seen by the public as evidence that the transition is underway, with the 96-year-old monarch remaining on the throne but delegating more responsibilities to Charles.

“The heir is on the verge of becoming the de facto prince regent. William will watch what awaits him,” said Peter Hunt, who covered the royalist source for the BBC. “With the queen gradually withdrawing from public life, the Palace is keen to show that the monarchy is safe in the hands of father and son.”

The Queen’s Speech explains the government’s legislative program and is delivered at the formal opening of each session of Parliament. As each parliamentary session lasts for about a year, the speech is an annual event.

It is written by the elected government, currently headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The monarch sits on the Sovereign’s Throne and wears the Imperial State Crown.

But Prince Charles, 73, sat not on the sovereign throne, which had been withdrawn, but on the consort throne, which was used by his father, Prince Philip. Carlos delivered the speech in the third person.

Buckingham Palace did not elaborate on why the queen delegated the reading of the speech, saying only that it was “episodic mobility problems”.

Previously, the monarch had only delegated the speech on two occasions: in 1959, when she was in the last weeks of pregnancy with Prince Andrew; and in 1963, before the birth of Prince Edward.

On both occasions, Parliament was opened by a royal commission and the speech was delivered by the speaker of the house.

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