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A stock photo showing the gates of Buckingham Palace, City of Westminster, London

Rules of accession: What happens when a new sovereign takes the throne

Image: | Above: The gates of Buckingham Palace, City of Westminster, London.

Unlike the often tumultuous period that exists between the transfer of power from one prime minister to the next, there is no such interval when a new monarch ascends to the throne. The very instant a serving king or queen passes away or abdicates, their successor becomes the new monarch.

How is the death of a monarch officially announced? 

Since 1837, official announcements have come directly from Buckingham Palace. This information is then passed into the public domain by the media in whatever given form. On 8th September 2022, the official Twitter account of the Royal Family shared the news of the Queen's passing:

It’s also customary to post a Notice of Death on the gates of both Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh, in order to inform the public that the monarch has passed away and that the successor to the throne has been duly notified.

The official Royal announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on the gates of Buckingham Palace
Image credit: Michael Tubi /

What happens next?

A few days after the death of their predecessor, the new monarch is officially proclaimed at the Accession Council ceremony at St James’ Palace. However this can only happen after the formal announcement of the passing of the former sovereign has been concluded.

Following the signing of official documents and the declaration of oaths, the new monarch is taken by procession to The Royal Exchange in the City of London where a second proclamation occurs shortly afterwards. Over the next few days, similar proclamations are made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who are the Accession Council?

The council is comprised of two distinct groups of people. The first gathers at St. James’ Palace, usually within 24 hours of a monarch's death. They include: Great Officers of State, the Lord Mayor, High Sheriffs of the City of London, Realm High Commissioners and several civil servants and representatives from the Commonwealth nations.

The second body convenes at a private meeting held between the successor to the throne and high-ranking members of the Privy Council. The Privy Council is a formal body of advisers to the monarch selected mostly from the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Supreme Court and top-ranking officials from the Clergy. The Privy Council includes ex-Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Tony Blair as well as former Archbishops of Canterbury Rowan Williams and George Carey.

Where does the former monarch lie in state?

After the former monarch has passed away, an accompanied procession takes the royal coffin to the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Hall, which dates back to the 11th century. Once in the hall, the coffin is placed on a catafalque - a decorated platform for caskets – which is covered with the national flag and adorned with the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre: as has been the tradition since Edward VII’s death in 1910. Here it lays in state for three or four days, offering an opportunity for members of the public to pay their respects.

Where do British monarchs have their funerals?

For several hundreds of years, state funerals have taken place at Westminster Abbey or St George’s Chapel in Windsor. A procession carries the monarch's casket to the location of the funeral on a gun carriage. This has been a tradition since the passing of Queen Victoria in 1901. In another tradition dating back to 1901, the carriage is drawn by members of the Royal Navy. During Queen Victoria's procession, the horses bolted and sailors had to transport the carriage to the Royal Chapel at Windsor. The Royal Navy's participation in the procession has since become a tradition.

On arrival at the designated venue, high-ranking members of the procession, which include members of the British Royal family and Parliament, attend the official funeral service.

Where are the remains of monarchs interred?

Since 1820 the body of the monarch has been taken from the funeral service to Windsor Castle. Queen Victoria, however, chose to be buried next to her beloved husband at The Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore. From Windsor Castle, the final procession to St George’s Chapel ends with a committal service, and a private ceremony where the coffin is finally laid to rest in the Royal Vault. Only the Royal Family and selected guests are permitted to witness this final act, which marks the end of the state funeral and the dawn of a new era.

When and where do British monarchs have their coronations?

There is no definitive time when the new monarch has their coronation. For instance, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned more than a year after she acceded to the throne. The venue for the coronation is a little easier to determine. Since 1066, every British monarch has been crowned at Westminster Abbey.

What happens at a coronation?

The ceremony is presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury and involves sworn oaths as well as the anointing, blessing and consecration of the new king or queen. During the ceremony, the new monarch is handed the orb and sceptre before the defining moment when St Edward’s Crown - originally made for Charles II in 1661 - is placed on their head. Following formal acts of homage to the new monarch, the closing procession sees them dressed in the imperial robe before a rousing rendition of the national anthem is sung.