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Curious Traditions of the State Opening of Parliament

Today in the UK The Queen travelled to Parliament for the official state opening, an event steeped in curious traditions and customs dating back centuries.

For instance, before the Queen’s arrival The Yeomen of the Guard are sent to the Palace of Westminster, where parliament is held, to inspect the cellars for explosives, a practice which dates back to 1605, when an attempt was made to blow up King James I

Just before the monarch leaves Buckingham Palace a member of government is delivered to there to be held “hostage”. He, or she, is entertained there until the monarch’s safe return in a tradition which dates back to Charles I, who had a less than cordial relationship with his government, which resulted in his beheading. The Regalia - the Imperial State Crown and other chunks of fancy metal - travels to the ceremony in its own carriage followed by the monarch.

Upon their arrival they are met by the Lord Great Chamberlain who has, hanging at his hip, the golden key to the Palace. They then proceed past dismounted members of the Household Cavalry who hold drawn swords and are the only troops allowed to bear arms in royal palaces. Eventually the monarch is seated on a throne of sorts and the Lord Great Chamberlain summons The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod who, in his capacity as the Sovereign’s Messenger, demands the presence of members of the House of Commons. As The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod approaches these members the door of the House of Commons is slammed shut in his face, which demonstrates the supremacy of the lower House of Commons over the House of Lords. With his Black Rod the usher now bangs three times on the door before he is finally admitted. This tradition serves as a reminder of the right of the Commons to exclude anyone but the monarch’s messengers.

Once everyone has settled down the monarch reads a speech, delivered to her in a silk bag and drawn up entirely by the Government outlining their intentions for the season. The monarch then leaves, the Royal Standard is lowered, and the Union Flag raised.

[Sources: Images: Yeomen pick up lanterns for their search of the cellars | The Queen | The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod | The Regalia in its own carriageThe Times | Wikipedia]

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