King Charles III became the first British monarch to make a speech from France’s senate chamber on Thursday, praising the “indispensable relationship” between the UK and its neighbor which he said was “as firm as it has ever been.”
Charles and his wife, Queen Camilla, are on a three-day state trip to France, visiting Paris and Bordeaux, concluding Friday. The tour was originally planned for March but was postponed amid widespread demonstrations over President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul.
The 74-year-old sovereign was given an enthusiastic welcome to the chamber – receiving a standing ovation from parliamentarians as he entered. When his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, visited in 2004, she made her speech from the adjoining Salle des Conferences.
Charles vowed that “for the time that is granted to me as King” he would seek to strengthen UK-French ties, adding that “together, our potential is limitless.”
The King – whose speech came 231 years to the day since France abolished its own monarchy and established a republic – spoke of being “flattered” to have been invited to speak by the two presidents of the two houses that make up France’s parliament.
During his address, he saved some of his strongest words to rebuke Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while also urging further action to tackle the climate crisis.
“Now, more than 80 years since we fought, side by side, for the liberation of Europe, we once again face unprovoked aggression on our continent,” Charles told lawmakers at the Palais du Luxembourg, where the French Senate is located.
“Our alliance and our resolve are as important as ever. Together, we stand in resolute solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Together, we are steadfast in our determination Ukraine will triumph, and that our cherished freedoms will prevail.”
He continued: “These horrifying events have once more demonstrated the fragility of so much that we hold dear. Just as we stand together against military aggression, so must we strive together to protect the world from our most existential challenge of all – that of global warming, climate change and the catastrophic destruction of nature.”
Charles deftly flipped between French and English throughout his address, his joke warning against “low blows” but wishing “may the best man win” as France hosts the men’s Rugby World Cup eliciting laughter from around the room.
Earlier he’d been greeted at the Palais du Luxembourg by the Senate and National Assembly presidents before meeting representatives from both houses of French parliament and signing a visitors’ book in the Salle des Conferences.
On the other side of the River Seine, Queen Camilla was at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, the national library, where she and the French president’s wife, Brigitte Macron, were launching a new Franco-British literary prize.
Camilla apologized for her “slightly rusty French” but said it was a “huge pleasure” to jointly launch the Prix de l’Entente Litteraire.
She added that she and the French first lady shared a “deep love of literature and a passion to promote literacy.” She said both had seen firsthand how books can change lives and “bring us joy, comfort, companionship, laughter and tears, opening our eyes to others’ experiences and reminding us that we are not alone.”
Charles and Camilla then reunited in Saint-Denis, in Paris’ northern suburbs, where they rubbed shoulders with top athletes and met community sports groups at an event highlighting the advantages of sport for young people.
Their next stop was a flower market in central Paris named after Queen Elizabeth II, before heading to Notre Dame cathedral, where restoration work following a devastating fire in 2019 is due for completion next year. They rounded out the day with a reception on sustainability at the Natural History Museum.
Wednesday, the first day of the trip, was all about symbolism and pomp, featuring a highly formal ceremonial welcome at Paris’s Arc de Triomphe, a procession down the famed Champs-Elysee and talks at the presidential palace.
Later, Macron posted a video of the two leaders walking between the Elysee palace and the nearby UK ambassador’s residence on X, formerly known as Twitter. In the short clip, the two greeted crowds of well-wishers lining the streets amid shouts of “vive le Roi” – or “long live the King.”
That evening, Charles and Camilla were guests of honor at an extravagant state banquet at the Palace of Versailles on the outskirts of the capital.
Actors Hugh Grant, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Emma Mackey, as well as Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and former French football manager Arsene Wenger, were among the famous faces to add their star power to the glamorous black-tie soiree.
Up to 180 guests dined in the gilded Hall of Mirrors at the former royal residence, built by French King Louis XIV, enjoying a menu featuring blue lobster and crab cakes and Bresse chicken marinated in champagne with a cep mushroom gratin.
The rescheduled royal trip – which is taking place at the request of the British government and by invitation from the French – is being seen as a soft-power continuation of the UK’s efforts to reboot the Anglo-French relationship.
It follows UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s own trip to Paris earlier this year for a bilateral summit designed to mend relations which have been strained since Brexit.