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Behind the Scenes at the State Opening of Parliament

 

by Amy Kellogg – Fox News

4th June, 2014

It is enough to just peruse the program you receive upon entering the House of Lords to feel transported back in time to a place rich with exotic traditions.

The State Opening of Parliament has a rundown of characters ranging from the Portcullis Poursuivant, to the Gold Stick in Waiting to the Gentleman Usher of the Rod.

Looking up each title you get a little history of the British Isles,  and learn about Welsh relics, privy seals, and of course Black Rod himself, who, when he is not arresting Lords guilty of breach of privilege or other various duties he carries out, is performing a yearly and dramatic ritual.

That is when Black Rod, as he is informally called, summons the House of Commons to come listen to the Queen.  The Commons slams the door in Black Rod’s face before he bangs again, three times with his great stick, at which point, they follow him to the House of Lords to attend the Queen’s speech.  The ritual is a throwback to that moment in history when King Charles I entered the Commons with troops, demanding to know who had voted or spoken against him.  Since then no Sovereign has entered the House of Commons.

Then you cut to 2014, and an elaborate room is filled with people peeking at smartphones, fidgeting, as they await the arrival of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who will read the government’s latest agenda, which includes anything from a bill on Modern Day Slavery, to the plan for keeping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Ambassadors and High Commissioners posted to London mingle with Lords in elaborate red robes and their spouses, many of whom wear long dresses and tiaras, a treat to behold at 10am.

The Queen arrived via a coach as rich in history as everything else—it includes handrails from the Royal Yacht Britannia and panels from Canterbury Cathedral to name a few flourishes, and she then proceeded to don her ermine and velvet vestments and move along through Parliament to the chamber where she and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, sat on gilded thrones.

There was much debate about how ambitious the measures announced were—but no arguing over how varied the menu was.  There was a bill announcing legal protections for people deemed to have acted “heroically”; provisions for advancing the industry of fracking; and surcharges on plastic bags.  This was the 68th time Queen Elizabeth has opened Parliament.  She and Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at 88 and 93-years-of age respectively, appeared in top form on that day.  It was a twelve-year-old page boy who, standing throughout the high profile ceremony, grew weak at one point, and fainted.  A thud was heard and attendants were seen hovering, but from the press position it was hard to see what happened.  The boy was carried out, and it was only when the official pictures came out that you could see the concern shown on the faces of Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, as they, seated beside the Queen and Prince Philip, physically reached out in an effort to help.

The page was fine–his fainting was the last thing anyone could have anticipated, but it added to the news headlines of a day full of color and classic English pomp and ceremony.

 

 

 

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