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The Complete Guide To The State Opening Of Parliament

This Wednesday, Her Majesty The Queen will officially open Parliament in an ancient ceremony called the State Opening of Parliament. Her Majesty will travel from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster where, in full state regalia, she will read the Government’s speech from the throne, thus opening parliament.

The day starts with Her Majesty’s procession from the Palace. Accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, she will travel in a coach to Westminster, wearing the George IV State Diadem and Prince Philip in his Royal Navy uniform. This year, the Prince of Wales is joining them along with the Duchess of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales will also be in his Naval uniform.

The Royal party are preceded by the coach which is carrying the crown regalia. The State Opening of Parliament is the only time in the year when The Queen wears the Imperial State Crown, which is in the preceding coach along with the sword of state and what’s known as the cap of maintenance, all symbols of the Monarch’s authority. These items then proceed the appropriate places inside Parliament and the crown goes to the robing room, where The Queen will be fitted with it before coming out to open Parliament.

As part of one of the many traditions of the day, one peculiar tradition still stands, even though the incident it is designed to negate is unlikely to happen. At the beginning of the ceremony, an MP is taken hostage at Buckingham Palace in order to ensure the safe return of the Monarch. This harks back to the days when the Royal Household were suspicious of Parliament (what with them having chopped one King’s head off), so to ensure the Queen’s safe return, an MP stays as hostage until Her Majesty returns to the Palace.

Another tradition that is present on the day is the ceremonial searching of the cellars by the Yeoman of the Guard. This has been done at every State Opening since Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder, intending to blow up Parliament with King James I and his ministers inside.

Once everyone is in place for the ceremony and Her Majesty arrives, a fanfare is sounded by the State Trumpeters of the Household cavalry at three key points: when Her Majesty arrives, when she exits the robing room and when she leaves. Whilst Her Majesty is present for the State Opening, the Royal Standard flies above the Houses of Parliament to signify her presence.

Her Majesty proceeds upon entering the house to the robing room where she dons the Imperial State Crown and royal robes. She then makes her way to the House of Lords where she will be seated on the throne.

Once she is seated and says to the Lords and Ladies present, “My Lords, pray be seated”, a man who’s title is ‘the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod’ (more commonly known as just Black Rod) is dispatched to the House of Commons to tell the MPs that The Queen is to open parliament. When he arrives at the doors of the Commons, he finds that they are slammed in his face (a symbolic gesture of the House of Commons independence from the Sovereign). Once he knocks on the door, he is allowed to enter. He walks up to the speaker at the front and proclaims, “Mr Speaker. The Queen commands this honourable House [bows head to both sides of Commons], to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers”. He then leads the escort of the MPs to the Lords to hear Her Majesty’s speech.

Her Majesty will then read  the speech, which is prepared by the Government, not The Queen, to the assembled MPs and Lords and Ladies before finishing with the words, “My Lords and members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of almighty God may rest upon your counsels”.

Her Majesty will then leave the House of Lords, return to the robing room to have the robes and crown removed before leaving Parliament, returning to Buckingham Palace, ending the official State Opening of Parliament.

photo credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via photopin cc

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