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Explained: The State Opening of Parliament

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, is attending the State Opening of Parliament today, to open a new session of parliament. The traditional ceremony, which combines all three elements of the British legislature, is the highlight of the ceremonial year for many.


The ceremony itself is centuries old and many of the elements we see today in the State Opening are those which have their roots in historic events and also traditions which have been established by custom. The State Opening is the only occasion in the year where The Queen wears the Imperial State Crown, made for Queen Victoria in 1838.

Before The Queen and the royal party set off for Parliament, a hostage is taken by The Queen (not personally) from the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham Palace where they’ll stay for the duration of the state opening. This custom is longstanding convention derived from a time when Parliament and the Monarch were on less cordial terms (Parliament famously chopped the head off of King Charles I in 1649), though the hostage is treated well at the Palace and is released upon the safe return of Her Majesty.

Another ceremony which takes place before the royal arrival is the ceremonial searching of the cellars. Thanks to the (thankfully unsuccessful) attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up Westminster in 1605 with King James inside it during the State Opening of Parliament, The Queen’s personal bodyguard – the Yeoman of the Guard – perform a sweep of the cellars before her arrival.

The next event is the moving of the royal regalia from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster ahead of The Queen. This includes the Imperial State Crown, that she will wear and other state regalia which are carried before Her Majesty. These include the cap of maintenance, originally the lining for a crown given as a gift from Pope and the sword of state, made for Charles II and carried to symbolise Justice and Mercy.


The crown is then taken to the Robing Room in Parliament where it remains until The Queen arrives.

Next is the arrival of The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, who usually travel in the Australian State Coach (though more recently the Britannia state coach now). Her Majesty, wearing the George IV State Diadem, will take the 12-minute journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster escorted by the Household Cavalry. Upon arrival, she will be greeted by the first fanfare from the State Trumpeters at the entrance and the Royal Standard will be raised above the Palace of Westminster to signal The Queen is in residence.

Her Majesty and Prince Philip will then process to the Robing Room where The Queen will put on the Crown and the Robe of State before emerging to another fanfare to process to the House of Lords to read the speech. As they do, they will pass a detachment of the Household Cavalry lining the staircase (known as the staircase party), the Household Cavalry are the only troops allowed to draw swords in the Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons begins its sitting after prayers in preparation for its part in the ceremonies. The speaker’s arrival in the Commons is another showpiece – shouts of “SPEAKER” are heard throughout the corridors of Parliament as Mr Speaker and his entourage process to the Commons. In the central lobby, the police Inspector on duty will give a shout of “hats off stranger” to those present in advance of the Speaker’s procession.


Once The Queen has arrived in the Upper House, she will say, “my lords pray be seated”. This will then set off a chain of events between various officials in the house. The Lord Great Chamberlain (the Marquess of Cholmondeley) will raise his distinctive white wand of office which is a signal to Black Rod (fully, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod – The Queen’s messenger in Parliament) to go and summon the Commons.

Black Rod will then walk from there to the door of the House of Commons where the door will be slammed in his face as a symbol of the autonomy of the Commons. He will then have to knock three times on the door before the command to “open the door” is given from within.

Once inside the House of Commons, Black Rod will deliver The Queen’s request, saying “Mr Speaker: The Queen commands this Honourable House to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers”. Shortly followed by the informal, yet increasingly customary, one-line joke from Labour MP Dennis Skinner, the MPs will then be led by the Speaker and Black Rod to the bar of the House of Lords to hear The Queen’s Speech.

Once the Lords and Commons are in place, The Queen will begin her speech by saying “My Lords and members of the House of Commons…”


After the 10-minute speech has been delivered, The Queen will conclude by saying “My Lords and members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.”

This will then signal the end of events in the Lords. Members of the House of Commons will return to the Lower House and The Queen will process back to the robing room in preparation to return to Buckingham Palace.

The royal regalia be preceded by The Queen back to Buckingham Palace in its own carriage where it will be checked before returning to the Tower of London and The Queen will leave with the Duke of Edinburgh back to Buckingham Palace, with her departure heralded by another fanfare and the Royal Standard being lowered for the Union Flag above the Palace of Westminster.

The House of Commons and House of Lords will then be able to initiate their usual business for the final session of Parliament starting with a Debate on The Queen’s Speech where a bill is started in both houses in response to the speech as a symbol of the autonomy of both Houses from the Monarch. The bill is ceremonial only and is never taken forward.


One of the great things about the State Opening is that it’s the perfect demonstration, and explanation if you will, of the British Constitution and our status as a constitutional monarchy. The Queen, in full state regalia, attends parliament and summons the Commons and Lords to hear her speech. But it isn’t her speech, it has been written by the Government, who are the legislators.

photo credit: SouthEastern Star ?, UK Parliament, UK Parliament, UK Parliament and UK Parliament via photopin cc

  • Robert English

    Are the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Corwall going this year ???

    • Royal Central

      Will check for you and come back on that one, no official announcement though so possibly not.

      • MythR

        It was said last month that they will participate.

      • micmac

        Oh I do hope so, for the Queen’s own comfort. Light weight or not, that amount of hardware on one’s head might be rather heavy for an 88 year old woman.

  • Jim Duffy

    The current imperial crown was not made for Queen Victoria. It was made for George VI in 1937, as a replica of the one made for Queen Victoria. Victoria ‘ s one was too heavy plus the weight of the jewels meant the 100 year old frame was fragile. So a new lightweight version was made to the same design, with the jewels from the 1838 crown transferred over. The now jewelless 1838 crown frame still exists in the Tower of London.

    The modern one underwent a slight redesign in 1952 when the current queen inherited the throne, to make it more feminine. The height of the half arches was lowered. The 1937 design was more pointed on top and higher. When Charles becomes king it will probably be adjusted back to the taller 1938 design.

    • Don Kohout

      Assuming Charles ever ascends the throne.

    • Ken Holt

      The Imperial State Crown is not he one used when the monarch is crowned. The crown used in the coronation is the St. Edward’s Crown. The Imperial State Crown is the crown seen in the photographs when the Queen travelled back to Buckingham Palace and appeared on the balcony of the palace and is used in the State Opening of Parliament..

      • SahnSahn

        Thanks for the info.

    • SahnSahn

      Thanks for the info

  • micmac

    What I find interesting is how ornate the House of Lords looks, and how imperial the Queen & Duke’s chairs look. If you go to Buckingham Palace the thrones there look little more than ordinary chairs with customised and personalised upholstery. A previous time I went there, in 2009, the “thrones” looked more like yesterday’s faded kitchen chairs, which I saw again, stored in Kensington Palace in 2012 when I inadvertently got lost. The oak coronation chair, now in a glass case in Westminster Abbey, looks far more regal. But even it is not as regal as the Parliamentary chair or its Australian equivalents.

    • Ken Holt

      The coronation chair is much older the parliamentary chairs and the Australian equivalents.

    • SahnSahn

      I could not have stated any better, micmac, Thanks for the information.

  • Michael

    Please provide details as to the evolution of The Duke’s throne placement and height in the House of Lords over HM’s reign. In the beginning, he sat in a relatively simple chair far to the side and off the Royal platform; then he was seated directly next to The Queen, but his chair was much lower to the ground; now his throne is nearly as tall as HM’s.

  • Frank Graham

    There is a reference to a one-line joke by Dennis Skinner – but we’re not told what it is. Please share with us!

    • It changes every year! Last year’s was “Coalition’s last stand”, the year before was “Royal Mail for sale. Queen’s head privatised.”

  • Nrec Lleshaj

    Proverbs 31:19 In her hand she holds the distaff

    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

    20 She opens her arms to the poor

    and extends her hands to the needy.

  • Jeanette Roberts

    I love all the Pomp and Ceremony that accompany’s the State Opening of Parliament. I am extremely patriotic and lap up everything to do with these special occasions including the Queen’s Official Birthday. What I have always wondered though as in the case of the State Opening of Parliament is do other monarchies such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Norway have their own State Openings of Parliament or is it unique to the UK? (I would love to think that we were the only ones that did this.)
    Britain does this sort of occasion so very well.

  • curious

    who are the two women standing by Prince Phillip?

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