Majesty and tradition of UK's State Opening of Parliament

27th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

Diamonds, slammed doors and a hostage: the State Opening of Parliament is a glittering annual ceremony when all the majesty and oddity of Britain's ancient royal and parliamentary traditions unite.

Wednesday's event, which sees Queen Elizabeth II presenting her government's programme for the new parliament following a May 7 general election, is loaded with customs dating back centuries.

The monarch will make the short procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster in the horse-drawn Diamond Jubilee state coach escorted by ranks of cavalry.

Guards regiments will line the route as the 89-year-old queen travels through London, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, 93.

In line with tradition, while she heads to parliament, a government official will be held "hostage" at Buckingham Palace in order to ensure the sovereign's safe return.

For a third successive year, Prince Charles, the 66-year-old heir to the throne, and his wife Camilla, will also attend, sitting on the sovereign's right.

She wears the Imperial State Crown, normally on display at the Tower of London. Weighing two pounds (910 grammes), it is notoriously difficult to wear and contains 2,868 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies.

In the last few days, the Yeomen of the Guard, brandishing lanterns, searched the Westminster cellars.

This tradition dates back to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow up parliament and king James I, remembered each year on November 5 with bonfires across Britain.

The police then carried out a more thorough security sweep.

The speech -- formally known as Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech -- is delivered from the throne in parliament's upper House of Lords.

The lords, wearing their ermine-trimmed red robes, fill the upper chamber, while ambassadors, some in colourful national dress, watch on.

- Traditional backwards waddle -

Meanwhile, Black Rod, the queen's messenger, summons the members of parliament from the lower House of Commons -- but the door is slammed in his face to show their ultimate supremacy over the Lords.

He then strikes the door thrice with the black rod -- which has left an unsightly scuff mark over the decades -- and the MPs then walk through the parliament building to the upper chamber.

They are led by the speaker, then the prime minister and the main opposition leader walking side by side.

Hostilities between the two are resumed later when the speech is debated.

The lord chancellor hands the government-written speech to the monarch in a silk bag. Traditionally, he waddles backwards down the steps to avoid turning his back on the sovereign, though some opt not to nowadays.

The queen's speech is read in a monotone delivery to reflect her neutrality and is heard in silence.

It ends with the traditional line: "My Lords and members of the House of Commons: I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels."

Wednesday's speech will be the 64th of Queen Elizabeth's reign and the 62nd that she has delivered in person, skipping the 1959 and 1963 speeches due to pregnancy.


© 2015 AFP

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