Her Majesty as Head of State carries out official engagements as well as numerous Royal Events which makeup the Royal Calendar. These events are staple gatherings for many people, and help to outline the close proximity of The Sovereign and Her people.
Please click on the 'Learn More' buttons below each of the categories.
The Queen holds Audiences throughout the year, wherever Her Majesty may be in Residence. Usually only The Queen and her visitor are present, although when a newly-appointed foreign Ambassador or High Commissioner arrives to present his or her credentials, then members of their family and officials are sometimes present. The Prime Minister has a regular audience when both The Queen and he are in London. Before presenting a Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer always has an audience. Apart from a note in the Court Circular, no written record of Audiences take place, and Her Majesty treats all meetings as private ones. When The Queen is visiting a Realm, the Prime Minister of the country normally has an audience with Her Majesty, and likewise, when they are in the UK, they may have an audience there.
Beating The Retreat
The Beating Retreat is a ceremony based upon the end of day parade during times of war; beating drums and Post Guards would signal the end of the fighting day, and for soldiers to retreat, when the flags were lowered. An order from William III, dating back to 1694 stated that the Drum Major and Drummers were to ‘beat the Retreat’ through the large street, and they were to be answered by the Drummers of the guards in their respective Quarters. Beating the Retreat takes place at Horse Guards Parade for two nights in June of each year. The ceremony is now full of military music and precision drills, undertaken by the Mounted Bands of the Household Cavalry, along with and the Massed Bands of the Household Division. The salute is taken by a member of the Royal Family.
A staple in the Royal calendar is the Garden Party. A tradition began by Queen Victoria in the 1860s, Her Majesty hosts a minimum of three parties each summer at Buckingham Palace, and one at Holyrood House in Edinburgh, The Queen’s Scottish palace. Victoria’s ‘breakfasts’ (essentially afternoon tea by another name) began to replace the debutante’s presentation parties; since the 19th century, they have evolved, now being used to recognise those who in public service, whether it be charity work, youth organisations, or. Guests, of which there are around 30,000 each year in total, are treated with Buckingham Palace blend tea, cakes, and a chance to talk to members of the Royal Family informally, in the gardens of The Queen’s London residence. Guests begin to arrive in the garden from 3 pm, with the party beginning an hour later; the Royal host is welcomed to the National Anthem, no doubt a stirring occasion in with the Royal Standard flying above the Palace. Each Royal takes a different ‘lane’ to greet guests, which ensures they circulate and speak with as many people as possible. People from all walks of life are invited to garden parties, on the recommendation of a large number of national organisations that submit lists on a pre-arranged quota. The government, Lord-Lieutenants, Civil Service, Armed Services, Diplomatic Corps, charities, and societies are such examples of those who submit names, to give a range of people from differing backgrounds and fields of work. The Lord Chamberlain sends out the invitations. The Royals, having spoken with a great many people and learned their stories, finally make their way to the back of these lanes and into the tea tent, another opportunity to greet those invited. Two military bands also perform at the gathering, entertaining the guests for the afternoon. Refreshments come in the form of afternoon tea, served from long buffet tables in the tents. On average, 27,000 cups of tea, 20,000 sandwiches, and 20,000 slices of cake are consumed in one garden party, with 400 waiting staff to serve the guests. The National Anthem is played once more, at around 6.00 pm, denoting the end of the party. At Buckingham Palace, the Yeoman of the Guard, Gentlemen at Arms, and Gentlemen Ushers are on duty, while at the Holyrood, the Royal Company of Archers and the High Constables of the Palace fill this role. The Not Forgotten Association, a charity for war veterans of all ages, is given a special garden party each year. Princess Royal is the Patron of the organisation, though she does not always host the gathering. Permission is given by Her Majesty for extra garden parties to be held, for example, in honour of special celebrations for national organisations; these special parties have included the Territorial Army’s 100th anniversary and the centenary of the British Red Cross’s Royal Charter. Other notable garden parties include one which The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh hosted for couples sharing their Golden Wedding anniversary in 1997 – also the year of The Queen and Prince Philip’s 50th wedding anniversary. Coinciding with the Golden Jubilee, those born on 6th February 1952 (Accession Day) were invited to either Buckingham Palace or Holyrood Palace. Similarly, The Duke held garden parties for the 50th anniversary of his youth scheme, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, in 2006.
Garter day is the procession and service held each year at Windsor Castle for the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a chivalric order founded by Edward III. The Order is the senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry, and their motto is ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (shame on him who thinks this evil). New appointments to the Order are announced on St George’s day (23rd April) but are installed on Garter Day, which takes place on the Monday of Royal Ascot week. George VI revived Garter Day in 1948, with the procession, having been abandoned in 1805. The Queen formally invests them with the insignia at a Chapter of the Order in the Throne Room of Windsor Castle, including their blue mantle, hat with ostrich plume, and Garter Star. There can only ever be 24 Knight Companions of the Order of the Garter, plus any Royal Knights (i.e. any member of the Royal Family). The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh entertain the members and officers of the Order at a lunch in the Waterloo Chamber. Following lunch, the Knights proceed to service in St. George’s Chapel on foot, with crowds allowed inside the castle walls to witness this procession. The route the Knights take is through the Upper, Middle, and Lower Wards of Windsor Castle to St. George’s Chapel, the spiritual home of the Order; the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle, along with the Military Knights of Windsor lead the procession. Following the service, and any installations, Her Majesty, Royal Companions, and Knights make their way back to the Upper Ward in carriages and cars. Current Royal Knights include The Duke of Edinburgh, The Prince of Wales, The Duke of Cambridge, The Duke of York, The Earl of Wessex, Princess Royal, The Duke of Gloucester, The Duke of Kent, and Princess Alexandra.
Gun salutes are used as a sign of respect or welcome, both at sea and onshore, though are mostly used on special occasions, often with a Royal link. The firing of a canon used to display friendly intentions, much like the traditional salute revealed an unarmed stranger. Royal salutes are regularly given in London, and are always given to celebrate Accession Day (6th February), The Queen’s birthday (21st April), Coronation Day (2nd June), The Queen’s official birthday (a Saturday in June), The Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday (10th June), Prince Charles’ birthday (14th November), and at the State Opening of Parliament in May. Royal births, the prorogation of Parliament, and the meeting of a Head of State with the Sovereign in London, Windsor or Edinburgh are all marked with gun salutes. Hyde Park and the Tower of London are two locations regularly used for such salutes, but the number of rounds fired are different: a standard Royal gun salute is 21 rounds. Since Hyde Park is a Royal park, it fires another 40. The Tower has an extra 41 on Royal birthdays and anniversaries– 20 because it is a Royal Palace and Fortress, and 21 because it is located within the City of London, and just 41 for other occasions. The salute is fired by the Honourable Artillery Company at 1.00 pm at the Tower. It is thought the Tower of London holds the record for the most rounds fired in a single salute: 124 rounds were fired on 10th June 2006, as it was The Queen’s official birthday, giving need for 62 rounds, as well as The Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday, another 62 rounds. Other locations are sometimes authorised to fire gun salutes across the UK, including Edinburgh Castle, and Hillsborough Castle, Northern Ireland. On State Visits, at the State Opening of Parliament, and for The Queen’s Birthday Parade, Green Park near Buckingham Palace is used instead of Hyde Park. This salute is taken by The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. The first round is fired at noon, or at 11.00 am on The Queen’s official birthday.
Horse racing has long been a Royal pastime, and Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. All 11 crowned Monarchs since have too been patrons of the Royal racecourse. Royal Ascot takes place in the third week in June, beginning on Tuesday for five meetings. The Royal Procession, a tradition dating back to the reign of George IV, begins the day, with The Queen and members of her family arriving in horse-drawn landaus, stopping near The Royal Enclosure. The Royal Enclosure is at the heart of Royal Ascot. Entry is exclusive – one must have sponsored the event, as an existing member, for four years. The dress code is also strict: men must wear a top hat with morning dress, while ladies should be in formal daywear. Their head-wear must be at least four inches at the base, straps on dresses must be at least thick, even if worn under a jacket), and hemlines should fall no lower than just above the knee. This tradition was begun in 1807, at The Gold Cup, Ascot’s most famous race; Beau Brummell, a close friend of the Prince Regent, decreed that men of elegance should wear ‘waisted black coats and white cravats with pantaloons’. The Queen takes a keen interest in racing, having numerous horses competing each season, and has won 22 times at Ascot with her entries. She also takes an interest in the running of Ascot, being kept informed of the order of running and the development of the racing programme at the Royal Meeting. John Weatherby is ‘Her Majesty’s Representative at Ascot’, and he is responsible for all aspects of the Royal Enclosure and the Royal Family’s attendance at Ascot. In 1964 and 2006, Ascot has undergone renovation and redevelopment, and at the latter occasion, Her Majesty official reopened the racecourse.
State Opening of Parliament
The State Opening of Parliament is perhaps the most colourful event of the Parliamentary calendar. This is the only fixed time with the House of Commons, the House of Lords and The Queen meet, making it an important ceremony. The Queen formally opens a new session of Parliament each May, following the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, though it used to be in November or December. Her Majesty has only missed two Opening of Parliament ceremonies during her reign. The first time was in 1959 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and the second in 1963 when she was expecting Prince Edward. Before The Queen even leaves Buckingham Palace, traditions are observed. Yeomen of the Guard (The Queen’s Bodyguard) search the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, a tradition begun following the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes attempted to detonate barrels of gunpowder beneath the Palace of Westminster, but was arrested before he could succeed; the plot, masterminded by Fawkes and a number of other Catholic conspirators, aimed to kill James VI & I and put his daughter on the throne as a puppet. Police today support the Yeomen of the Guard in their search, to ensure the Monarch’s safety. A ‘hostage’ is also taken, a guarantee for The Queen’s safety. The MP, a Government whip, is held at Buckingham Palace while the Sovereign attends the Opening of Parliament. The custom dates back to centuries, to the reign of Charles I, when the Monarch and Parliament did not see eye to eye, nor did they have a good working relationship. The Queen then travels from Buckingham Palace in a State coach to the Palace of Westminster, usually accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh, for the ceremony to begin. The Imperial State Crown, worn during the ceremony, travels ahead of Her Majesty in its own carriage, and is escorted by Members of the Royal Household. The Royal Standard is raised as Her Majesty enters the Palace, and she enters the Robing Room; here she puts on the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State. The Queen passes dismounted Household Cavalry soldiers in full dress with drawn swords – they are the only troops allowed to bear arms within Royal Palaces. The Queen then leads the Royal procession through the Royal Gallery in front of 600 guests, to the chamber of the House of Lords. Here, she takes her seat on the throne, the Duke beside her. If The Prince of Wales or Princess Royal is in attendance, they sit to her right on a lower platform. 250 representatives of the House of Commons are then summoned by Black Rod, who acts as The Queen’s messenger in Parliament – no Monarch has set foot in the House of Commons since Charles I in 1642. The door of the House of Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face, as per tradition, displaying the Commons’ independence from the Monarch. The door is then reopened to enable Black Rod to convey the Sovereign’s summons to the Speaker of the House of Commons. The State Opening of Parliament is broadcast each year by the BBC.
Trooping the colour
The Trooping of the Colour has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years. Since 1748, Trooping the Colour, also known as The Queen’s Birthday Parade, has marked the official birthday of the British sovereign, which is held in London annually on the second Saturday in June at Horse Guards Parade. This official State occasion coincides with the publication of the Birthday Honours List. Among Trooping The Colour’s audience is the Royal family, invited guests, ticket holders, and the general public. Trooping the Colour is a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It has been a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although its roots go back much earlier. On the battlefield, a regiment’s colours, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their regiments’ colours. The Queen travels down The Mall from Buckingham Palace in a royal procession with a sovereign’s escort of Household Cavalry (mounted troops or horse guards). After receiving a royal salute, she inspects her troops of the Household Division – both foot guards and horse guards – and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery. Each year, one of the foot-guards regiments is selected to troop its colour through the ranks of guards. Then the entire Household Division assembly conducts a march past the Queen, who is saluted from the saluting base. Parading with its guns, the King’s Troop takes precedence as the mounted troops perform a walk-march and trot-past. Music is provided by the massed bands of the foot guards and the mounted Band of the Household Cavalry, together with a Corps of Drums, and occasionally pipers, totalling approximately 400 musicians. Returning to Buckingham Palace, the Queen watches a further march-past from outside the gates. Following a 41-gun salute by the King’s Troop in Green Park, she leads the Royal family on to the palace balcony for a Royal Air Force flypast.