The State Opening, which was confirmed for the 8th May this year a few weeks ago by Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House of Commons, marks the official beginning of the Parliamentary year where Her Majesty reads the speech from the throne, wearing the Imperial State Crown in the presence of members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The Prince of Wales last attended the State Opening of Parliament in 1996, when the Duke of Edinburgh didn’t attend, at the ceremony he will gather around the throne as a royal companion.
Up until 1999, he and the other members of the Royal Family who held Dukedoms, Earldoms and other peerages were entitled to sit in the House of Lords and participate in proceedings. In 1999, however, an act passed abolishing all but 92 hereditary peers from the house meaning that now, the majority are made up of what are known as ‘Life Peers’, who serve in the Lords for their life, but don’t pass their title or right to sit in the Lords down.
In 1999, Prince Charles and the other members of the Royal Family who held peerages were offered Life Peerages to be able to sit in the Lords; all declined the offer.
Nowadays at the State Opening, traditions are largely maintained because it makes for a nice calendar event, though the ceremony has very important roots and still fulfils a very important purpose. Effectively, Her Majesty is beginning Parliament’s new year officially.
Other traditions, such as the informal one where known Republican, Dennis Skinner, heckles Black Rod (The Queen’s messenger to the Commons) as he enters to inform the House that The Queen commands their presence in the Lords also makes for interesting viewing. Other, more formal traditions such as the ceremonial searching of the cellars which has been in operation at the State Opening since Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament in the 1600s with King James I inside (known as the Gunpowder Plot) also make this event one of the most magnificent in the Royal calendar.
We’ll be providing more information about this year’s State Opening and more information about the State Opening of Parliament in general within the next few weeks as the day draws closer.