Today my husband I witnessed one of the most bizarre traditions of the British Parliament, the Queen’s Speech. Admittedly it was only on TV.
Amidst all the chaos of Brixit, the Queen announced on behalf of the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the plans of the new government in what is called the State Opening of Parliament.
I can understand why non-British observers are bewildered at the behaviour of our politicians, whether it be the constant shouting and name-calling in the House of Commons or the pomp and ceremony of such days as today.
Pomp and Ceremony (and maybe a little bizzare)
Queen Elizabeth II (93) is a special lady. She has participated in this ceremony 65 times so knows what to expect. Having arrived at Westminster in her carriage, guarded by her Household Cavalry, she dons her robes and enters the House of Lords. Nothing too unusual, you might say.
Then comes “Black Rod” the House of Lords official who parades through the Houses of Parliament wearing his or her traditional attire. The job of Black Rod is to request the presence of the Members of the House of Commons at the reading of the Queens’s Speech. This year there was a break in tradition because Black Rod was a woman.
Knock three times
Things are never straight forward though, are they? Black Rod’s way is blocked as the doors into the second chamber are shut in his or her face. He or she has to knock 3 times with a stick before being allowed to enter. Weird! This tradition is said to symbolise the independence of the Commons from the Monarch.
Once bitten, twice shy!
I have since discovered that there are other rituals which take place behind the scenes before the Queen enters stage:
- Royal guards (Beefeaters) armed with gas lamps search the cellars below the Houses of Parliament. For those of you who have heard of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, you will know why.
- A MP is held hostage in Buckingham Palace to guarantee the safe return of the Monarch. This too is based on historical royal “bad experience” stemming from the time of King Charles I who was beheaded for interfering in parliamentary affairs. Have you heard of the expression “Once bitten, twice shy”?
- The royal regalia (a crown, a golden mace and a sword) is transported to the Palace of Westminster from the Tower ahead of the Queen and kept under close guard. The Queen can no longer wear the Imperial State Crown because it is too heavy.
British life is steeped in tradition and this is just one of many examples.
Some would say it is time for change. However, a word of warning! One thing I have learnt since I left, is that England thrives off tourism. People travel to Britain because they love its history and culture. Please don’t close your doors to the very people who feed you.