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.
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