Steeped in centuries old tradition, Britain is having a BIG year of Royal pageantry. In great pomp, Queen Elizabeth II, resplendent in diamonds, officially opened British Parliament on May 9, 2012.
HISTORY :: tradition & colour
Before the Queen travels to Parliament from Buckingham Palace, formally to open each new session of Parliament, certain historical “precautions” are observed.
The Yeomen of the Guard, the oldest of the royal bodyguards known as “Beefeaters”, armed with lanterns, searches the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. The tradition dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of November 5, 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the building and King James I with it. This is followed by a more rigorous police search. Another tradition sees a government whip held “hostage” at the Palace to ensure the Queen’s safe return. The hostage is released upon the safe return of the Queen.
This tradition stems from the time of Charles I, who had a contentious relationship with Parliament and was eventually beheaded in 1649 at the conclusion of a civil war between the monarchy and Parliament. In 1642 Charles I stormed into the House of Commons in an unsuccessful attempt to arrest five of its members for treason. Since that time no British monarch has been permitted to enter the House of Commons, which is why the opening is conducted in the House of Lords.
Before the arrival of the sovereign, The Regalia – the Imperial State Crown, the Cap of Maintenance and Sword of State travel from the Victoria Tower in their own carriage, ahead of the monarch, escorted by Members of the Royal Household.
Black Rod :: At 11:30 a.m., once Her Majesty arrived and was seated on the Throne, her official messenger who has the title Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod will march to the House of Commons, the lower, elected, chamber. His job is to summon lawmakers to hear the queen, who will be waiting in the House of Lords. By tradition, the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the independence of the Members of the Parliament. To be let in, he was required to pound on the door three times with his rod.
This ritual symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the Crown: no British monarch has entered the lower house since 1642, when King Charles I tried to arrest five members in the run-up to a civil war that ended with his execution in 1649.
After “Black Rod” has knocked on the door of the Commons, lawmakers process to the House of Lords. Seated on a gilded throne next to her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth delivers a speech unveiling the government’s legislative program.
The Queen reads a prepared speech, known as the “Speech from the Throne” or the “Queen’s Speech”, outlining her Government’s agenda for the coming year. The speech is not written by the Queen, but rather by the Cabinet, and reflects the legislative agenda for which they seek the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. It is traditionally written on goatskin vellum or parchment, and presented for Her Majesty to read by the Lord Chancellor.