Ceremonies are what make the monarchy legendary. Tourism to Britain skyrockets when there is a regal show — accommodation from the simplest hostels to the chicest hotels get fully booked– and people certainly get their money’s worth of majestic pomp and drama. The pageantry today is much the same as it was in the days of lore.
Below, the ceremonies in the life of Britain’s ancient institution: Trooping the Colour, State Opening of Parliament, Coronations, and the Garter Ceremony. For details on royal weddings, go here.
• State Opening of Parliament
Though the Queen is a Constitutional Monarch and outside of politics, she is the Head of State for the country and its Commonwealth realms. The government is referred to as “Her Majesty’s Government”, and it is therefore the Queen’s duty to formally open the new session of Parliament each year in the autumn.
The Opening of Parliament is a very important annual event in the government. It joins together the three elements of the legislature: the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and Her Majesty The Queen. This ceremony represents the Crown in Parliament.
Sessions of Parliament are held in the Palace of Westminster, the famous building that contains “Big Ben” and sits on the River Thames.
Special traditions are carried out prior to the Queen’s arrival at Parliament. One of the most famous is the searching of the cellars at Westminster Palace by a group of Yeomen of the Guard (meanwhile, members of the police do a routine and more modern security check of their own, along with their very real and very modern guns).
The searching of the cellars dates back to 1605 when Guido “Guy” Fawkes filled the cellars of Parliament full of gunpowder in a plot to blow up the king. He was arrested for treason and tortured. Every November 5th, therefore, is celebrated as “Guy Fawkes Night”, and people set off fireworks and burn effigies of Fawkes the traitor.
Westminster Hall, the great hall within the palace, is used for major public ceremonial events, usually the lying in state for major political and royal figures.
Her Majesty personally carries out an inspection of the troops, who make up five Household Regiments – Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and Welsh Guards. The ceremony in which they partake combines two very old military ceremonies – Trooping the Colour and Mounting The Queen’s Guard.
A feature of guard mounting was for the colours of the battalion to be trooped (paraded)down the line in order to acquaint the soldiers with their battalion’s flag, to be used as a rallying point in battle. The divisions each take a turn in the Trooping ceremony each year, as only one Colour can be trooped at a time.
In the photo, soldiers from the Household Cavalry during the Trooping The Colour ceremony at the Mountbatten Memorial on June 14, 2008 in London. The ceremony dates back to the time of Charles II in the 17th Century.
The parade also marks the official, publicly celebrated birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Although her true birthday is in April, this particular date for an “official” celebration was probably chosen with good weather in mind. June is usually less rainy than the springtime month of April. June is also an ideal month should the Sovereign’s real birthday be in the winter!
The coronation ceremony has remained virtually unchanged for over 900 years. The ritual takes place at the great Westminster Abbey in London and is conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Representatives from the Houses of Parliament, Church and State are witnesses to the event. Prime ministers are invited to attend as well, along with the heads of Commonwealth nations.
The coronation of the new Sovereign follows some months after his/her accession. It allows for the proper period of mourning for the deceased sovereign. Time is also needed to organize such a complex ceremony.
A coronation is an occasion for celebration and elaborate pageantry, but it is also a solemn religious event. The new king/queen is anointed, blessed, and consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury while sitting in King Edward’s chair, a throne used by every sovereign since the early 1600s.
After receiving the sceptres, the Sovereign has St Edward’s Crown placed on his/her head. After homage is paid by the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior peers, Holy Communion is celebrated.
As with any carefully planned event, there are still occasional unforseen slip-ups. Lord Rolle, who went to pay homage to Queen Victoria during her coronation, stumbled on the steps and went crashing back to the bottom in a heap. The elderly and somewhat infirm Lord then stood to re-ascend the steps, only to be met by the Queen at the bottom in order to prevent another fall. The foreign dignitaries thought it was normal procedure, as his name was Rolle!*
• Music Used In The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:
› Trumpet Tune – Purcell
› I Was Glad – Parry
› Behold, O God Our Defender – Howells
› Let My Prayer Come Up – Harris
› Zadok The Priest – Handel
› Be Strong And Of Good Courage – Dyson
› Rejoice In The Lord Alway – Anon.
› Thou Wilt Keep Him In Perfect Peace – S.S. Wesley
› All People That On Earth Do Dwell
› Sanctus – Vaughan Williams
› O Taste And See – Vaughan Williams
› Gloria In Excelsis – Stanford
› Te Deum Laudamus – Walton
› Fanfare and National Anthem
› March: Orb and Sceptre – Walton
› March: Crown Imperial – Walton