WHAT a strange mix of emotions this is. There is mourning for a wonderful old woman who most of us never met but who none the less shaped our lives in so many ways. There is hushed respect for the old traditions that see the Crown pass seamlessly from one generation to the next. There is sadness as we join the new King in grieving for what is lost. And there is anxiety – that unsettling feeling, that we do not quite know what is coming next.

As we look back over the 70-year reign of the United Kingdom’s greatest ever servant – for that is what Queen Elizabeth was – it is right that we also look forward, to begin to think about what the new reign may mean. In doing so, we know that we are far from alone. For hundreds of years to come, historians will be writing about what we are living through these weeks.

Histories of the 19th century start in 1837, with the accession of Victoria. Histories of the 16th century end in 1603, with the death of the first Queen Elizabeth. The year 2022 is a milestone, a pivot, a turning point – the moment the 21st century truly began. We are right to feel unsettled.

For some of us, the strangest things will be the little things. The face on the stamps. All those new coins. That senior lawyers can no longer be called QCs (overnight, they became KCs). That none of us will ever again sing God save the Queen, nor refer to Her Majesty’s Government. We have a King now, and for the rest of our lives, whatever happens, there will be no new Queen. Charles will be succeeded by William who will be succeeded by George. God save the Kings.

For others, there will be more to worry about than stamps. The late Queen was the model modern monarch. Throughout all the tumult of her long reign, from shaky coalitions to Thatcher’s and then Blair’s landslides, from the Cold War to Brexit, she served with decorum, grace, wisdom and, perhaps most important of all, discretion.

She was a deep well of support for her prime ministers – 15 of them in the United Kingdom alone, plus many more in the Commonwealth nations of which she was also the head – and we know from numerous ministerial memoirs just how much they appreciated and valued the Queen’s unique counsel.

Writing in the 1860s, the great constitutional commentator Walter Bagehot wrote that the monarch has three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage and the right to warn. Queen Elizabeth was assiduous in ensuring that all her consultations, all her encouragement, and all her warnings, were private and confidential.

That confidentiality is essential – monarchy could not possibly work without it, not in the modern age, not in a democratic country. The welding together of monarchy and parliamentary democracy is the secret of the British constitution’s success – and this can be acknowledged whatever your views about Scotland’s constitutional future, by the way. Had Scotland voted for independence in 2014 it would have become a parliamentary democracy with a monarch at its head – at least to start with – just as the United Kingdom is.

Political power in the United Kingdom is firmly in the hands of people who are elected and, even more importantly, removable. It is the accountability of ministers to Parliament that matters more than any other single rule in the constitution. Ministers remain in power for only as long as they continue to enjoy the confidence of the Parliament to which they are accountable, whether that be the House of Commons in Westminster or the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. These parliaments, of course, are elected. This is what makes Britain – including Scotland – a parliamentary democracy.

But we are at the same time a monarchy. As we saw just this week, only the monarch can appoint the prime minister and, when a prime minister resigns from office, that resignation is tendered to the monarch. That is why both Liz Truss and Boris Johnson had to fly up to Balmoral this week.

The appointment of the prime minister is not the only power the monarch has. There is also the power to dissolve parliament (an action necessary in order for there to be a general election). And there is also the power to dismiss the government from office, last used in the United Kingdom in 1834 but used much more recently in Australia, in 1975. Don’t imagine that the power is not still a very real one, just because it has not been needed in Britain since the reign of William IV.

These powers are not only real, but awesome – quite literally they determine when parliaments and government come and go – and they are exercised in the United Kingdom by force not of election but of inheritance. That is possible only because we know nothing – nothing at all – about the monarch’s personal preferences. This is why the absolute confidentiality – the unbreakable discretion – of the monarch is so important.

And that is the great question which haunts the beginning of the new reign. Can King Charles III emulate his mother in maintaining the discretion by which the monarchy stands or falls? After all, he has notoriously not done so in his long period as Heir to the Throne. From holistic medicine to genetically-modified crops and from modern architecture to town and country planning, Prince Charles used his unrivalled position to go out of his way to seek to influence and shape public policy in directions he believed to be in the public interest.

I am sure he acted with the noblest of intentions but, now he is King, he has a yet nobler calling – to preserve and safeguard his kingdom. The passing of the Crown is a moment of frailty, perhaps even of fragility. Monarchy is all about continuity, yet this is a moment of change. It will require great discretion to manage this transition. The new king has a great example to follow. To succeed, he just has to be like his mother. We will all miss her for a long time to come. God rest her. And God save the King.