As one of the biggest days in the British royal family’s calendar dawned, the Queen made no preparations to leave her new home in Windsor Castle. For the first time in nine years, the 95-year-old monarch sat out of the annual Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey, watching from home as the next generation of royals gathered in the heart of London without her.
The decision to voluntarily withdraw from the momentous occasion — the first of its kind held since the pandemic began in 2020 — was surely one she didn’t make lightly. “After discussing the arrangements with the royal household, the Queen has asked the Prince of Wales to represent Her Majesty at the Commonwealth service at Westminster Abbey on Monday,” Buckingham Palace officials announced on Friday.
Though she planned to “continue with other planned engagements” through the week, her absence at the Commonwealth Day Service is yet another raindrop in the ocean of evidence that Her Majesty is preparing for a time when she no longer reigns. The Queen last missed the service in 2013 while recovering from a bout of gastroenteritis, but before that she had attended without fail for 20 years, only skipping it in 1993 while she was ill with the flu.
But things are different this time. While it’s true that the Queen recently beat a bout of COVID-19, Buckingham Palace has stressed that her experience with the virus is not the cause for her Commonwealth Day absence. Instead, it’s been widely reported that the decision was made to ensure the aging monarch’s comfort, rather than to protect her health, which has been cause for concern of late.
As well as her COVID-19 battle, the Queen has recently dealt with a back sprain that led her to pull out of Remembrance Day engagements in November 2021, while an unspecified ailment saw her hospitalised in October. Though the palace insisted her brief hospitalisation was no cause for concern, doctors ordered Her Majesty to step back from royal duties and spend several weeks recovering at her Windsor Castle home.
When she finally did return to official royal engagements she walked with a cane — believed to have been Prince Philip’s before he died — and even admitted to guests at an intimate event that she has been struggling with mobility.
Now, her decision to skip the Commonwealth Day Service and watch from home cements a significant shift in the monarchy as her son, Prince Charles, and the senior royals beneath him step up to fill the space the Queen has held for 70 years. The Prince of Wales, who was confirmed as the next Head of Commonwealth in 2018, led the royal family at the Monday service in his mother’s place, a position he will likely take up more and more in the final years of the Queen’s reign.
But even amid health concerns and as her 96th birthday approaches next month, the Queen is making it clear she plans to serve her people until the very end. “In this year of my Platinum Jubilee, it has given me pleasure to renew the promise I made in 1947, that my life will always be devoted in service,” she penned in an official statement on Commonwealth Day.
“Our family of nations continues to be a point of connection, cooperation, and friendship. It is a place to come together to pursue common goals and the common good, providing everyone with the opportunity to serve and benefit,” the Queen added. “In these testing times, it is my hope that you can draw strength and inspiration from what we share, as we work together towards a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future for all.”
Today, her own family came together to present a united front in her absence, but the fact remains that the Queen’s absence at the 2022 Commonwealth Day Service suggests in more ways than one that she is preparing them for a time when she no longer reigns.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.