Prince Charles attended the state opening of Parliament for the first time in 17 years this week, in a significant indication of his growing role supporting the Queen in her official duties.
Both Charles, 64, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, joined the monarch in her carriage to Parliament and watched as she delivered her speech to MPs. Although it is not the first time that the Prince has attended the state opening, he has not been since 1996 when his father, Prince Philip, was unable to escort the Queen.
Palace sources have played down the significance of Charles and Camilla's attendance, saying it is the first time that they have been able to go. But their presence is sure to bolster the perception that the Prince is taking on an increasingly prominent role within the royal family.
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This week, it was also announced that the Queen would not be attending the biannual Commonwealth summit for the first time in 40 years, instead sending her eldest son in her place.
The Commonwealth is considered to be the monarch's proudest achievement, and her decision not to attend the meeting in Sr Lanka is a clear indication that both she, and Buckingham Palace, are starting to take account of her advancing age.
The Royal Household has started to limit the number of long-haul flights the Queen takes, though courtiers have said her diary is as busy as ever and have dismissed suggestions that ill health played any part in the decision — just on Friday, the Queen went riding in Windsor.
"Any long-haul trips will be looked at on a case by case basis," a Buckingham Palace spokesman said. "The Duke of Edinburgh, for example, was in Canada two weeks ago. There is no suggestion that the Queen's diary will become less busy.
"This is part of an ongoing process looking at the Queen's long-haul travel arrangements."
The spokesman compared the decision to last year's arrangements when other members of the royal family, including Charles and Camilla, Prince Harry and William and Kate, carried out overseas engagements to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, while the Queen and Prince Philip travelled extensively around the UK.
Since 1984 the Queen has completed around 15,000 engagements - including visits to Australia, Jordan and Thailand. In her Diamond Jubilee year she carried out 425.
The monarch has seven official visits planned for the rest of this month, including visit to Cornwall and Cambridge with the Duke of Edinburgh, and a further six events scheduled for June.
Speaking about the Queen's absence from the Commonwealth summit, royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams said, "There's absolutely no doubt that if the Queen isn't going to the meeting, this is cleary a sign that at 87 she will have been advised that balancing her workloads is very important. Advancing age has its limitations.
"I would have thought it's only sensible to take account of advancing age and clearly medical advice, if you consider the number of engagements she has had.
"If you consider we have a monarch of 87 and her consort of 91. In 1,000 years of monarchy, we've never seen anything like it."