The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is a Royal Household member. He is appointed by the Crown by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Order of the Garter.
Black Rod, as he is known, is the Chief Gentleman Usher to the Sovereign and an officer of the Order of the Garter.
The primary duties take place at the Palace of Westminster where he is Serjeant at Arms in attendance upon the Lord Chancellor. He is accountable for discipline and security in the House of Lords. Black Rod also executes ceremonial and other duties.
In 1971, the offices of Black Rod and Serjeant at Arms were merged.
The office of Usher can be traced back to around 1348. The first holder of record was William Whitehorse, who is cited in Letters Patent of 1361. Duties at that time were to bear his rod before the King and the Companions of the Order of the Garter during feast day processions as well as guard the doors during meetings.
He is still an officer of the Order of the Garter today and takes part in investitures and installations of new companions at the annual ceremony held in Windsor.
If one has watched a State opening of Parliament, then one is familiar with Black Rod dressed in in his black cutaway tunic, knee breeches, silk stockings, buckled shoes and white lace jabot (fancy ruffle) with his sword at his side.
He is a key figure in the State Opening of Parliament at the beginning of new sessions. He carries the ebony rod in his right hand, for which his title originated. At the top of the rod is a gold lion with its shield bearing Edward VII’s royal cypher and topped with a crown.
On the opening day of Parliament, Black Rod is sent off by Her Majesty to order the attendance of the Commons in the House of Lords. Upon his arrival at the Commons, the door is abruptly shut in his face representing the significant independence of the Commons from the Crown.
He will then knock three times with his rod and is let in. On entering the Chamber, he proceeds to the middle of the House to the Speaker’s chair. He makes three obeisance’s and then states: “Mr Speaker, The Queen commands this Honourable House to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers.”
The Speaker and the Commons will then be escorted by Black Rod to the House of Lords to listen to Her Majesty’s speech, which officially opens Parliament.
Black Rod is also Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain. He is, therefore, accountable for specific ceremonial duties and preparations for State occasions. He also takes part in presenting new peers and is in charge of admittance of strangers. He employs the doorkeepers and, if, by chance, a case for contempt arises he executes the Orders of the House.
Lieutenant-General Arundell David Leakey CMG CBE is the current Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. He is a former British military commander. In 2010, he was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.