It was a vastly different State Opening of Parliament in many ways – even for a monarch attending for the 67th time.
A smattering of masked MPs and peers, an empty looking chamber and greatly reduced pomp and ceremony was the order of the day for the Covid-safe Queen’s Speech in 2021.
Yet for the Queen, it also marked her first major public ceremonial duty as head of state since the death of her beloved husband the Duke of Edinburgh.
Appearing solemn and quiet in voice, the widowed sovereign – the only figure without a mask throughout – did what she has always pledged to do, discharging her royal duty without flurry or fuss, speaking for just eight minutes and 52 seconds.
Among the changes was the poignant absence of her consort’s throne – which is in the care of the Lord Great Chamberlain for safekeeping.
Where previously a pair of thrones stood, this time just the Queen’s had been placed in the central compartment under the golden canopy.
Heir to the throne Charles, who kept his black mask edged in white on, was there in support of his 95-year-old mother, gently holding her raised white gloved hand as they processed slowly through the almost empty Royal Gallery.
As the Queen walked towards her throne in the Lords, Charles kept hold of her hand as she made her way carefully up the low steps.
Moving back, he then took his seat in a chair of state – situated at the far side at a Covid-appropriate distance with the Duchess of Cornwall.
Rather than a crown and state robes, the Queen wore an Angela Kelly outfit and hat – a grey jacquard coat with lemon flowers and a grey and yellow silk dress and matching hat – for the scaled-back occasion.
Her jewellery was a pair of art deco-style Boucheron aquamarine and diamond clip brooches given to her by her father King George VI for her 18th birthday.
Charles was in a morning suit, while Camilla wore a Bruce Oldfield silver grey and cream coat and dress and a Philip Treacy hat.
Such was the high-profile occasion that the duchess turned to designer Oldfield to make her matching mask as well.
The Queen was not without her trusty signature black Launer handbag, which she tucked to one side of her throne, near her left elbow.
The heavy Imperial State Crown, which the Queen has not worn since 2016, was placed on a deep red and gold velvet cushion nearby.
It was the monarch’s first official appearance in public as head of state, and her first engagement outside of Windsor Castle, since Philip died aged 99 just over a month ago.
She travelled not in a grand carriage procession, but in a practical convoy of cars from Buckingham Palace, having returned to the central London residence for the first time in six months.
The Queen, who has spent most of lockdown in the safety of Windsor, was last at the Palace before her visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey, and on Remembrance Day, before the Cenotaph service in November.
As well as the eerily almost-vacant Lords, there were other amendments to keep the Queen and others safe from coronavirus.
The cream booklet containing the speech had been placed on a table draped in a red velvet and embroidered gold covering, next to the monarch’s throne.
In non-Covid times, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland would have handed the speech directly to the sovereign.
With just 108 people attending rather than up to 600 as is the norm, all guests were required to take a Covid test beforehand.
Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, said: “The Queen was very much how we expect to see her – composed and very much in charge.
“Where the Queen remains devastated personally, she clearly sees it as her duty as monarch.
“It’s a step nearer to normality as far as her public life is concerned.”
After her speech, the Queen was seen chatting with the Marquess of Cholmondeley and others involved in the ceremonial parts of the day.
At one point she animatedly gestured, holding her white gloved hands apart, and gave a broad smile before bidding them farewell.
The nation’s longest reigning sovereign has formally opened each new session of Parliament on all but two occasions during her 69-year reign – in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.