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British Culture, British Heritage

Royal Ceremonies & Pageantry

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Britain has centuries of royal tradition to showcase, and some of it really is quite peculiar…

Below is a collection of some of the most spectacular and unusual, and details on how you can get involved.

Trooping the Colour

The Queen’s ‘real’ birthday is 21 April, but it has long been a tradition to publically celebrate the sovereign’s birthday in the summer months when good weather is a possibility.

The ‘colour’ refers to the regimental flags which are paraded, or ‘trooped’ down the ranks so they can be recognised by the soldiers.

Trooping the Colour 2012 will take place on the 16 June. For more information visit Royal Parks.

Swan Upping

Taking place on the third week in July every year, this is the annual census of the Crown’s swan population. It dates back to the 12th Century when the Crown claimed ownership of all mute swans, (the kind which do not migrate).

In the Swan Upping ceremony, the Queen’s Swan Marker and Royal Swan Uppers wear traditional scarlet uniforms and each boat flies the regulatory flags and pennants in their five-day journey up-river.

When a brood of cygnets is sighted, a cry of “All up!” is given and the boats move into position. The cygnets are weighed and measured and are given a brief health check.

On passing Windsor Castle, the rowers stand to attention in their boat with oars raised and salute “Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of the Swans”.

How to get involved: the best way to catch some of the action is to check out the schedule, consult a map, pick a spot, and wait!

Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard

Probably the most recognised of royal ceremonies, the changing of the Guard or Guard mounting is the process of exchanging a new guard with an old guard at various royal residences.

?Did you know? The handover is accompanied by the Guards Band which as well as traditional military marches and songs, has been known to break into the odd pop song or popular musical number.

Visit Changing the Guard for information and timings.

The State Opening of Parliament

State Opening of Parliament

Marking the start of a new session in Parliament, this royal ceremony has a very bizarre element to it…

The Queen arrives at the Houses of Parliament and sends for Black Rod, (her messenger) to summon the MPs from the House of Commons.

When Black Rod arrives at the Commons, the door is slammed in his face. Uncharacteristically British, this rude behaviour symbolises the Commons’ independence from the Crown. Black Rod is only admitted after he has knocked on the door with his staff.

The history: In 1642 King Charles I stormed the Commons Chamber with an armed force in order to arrest five members for high treason. Deemed a breach of the privilege of the House, the action gave rise to the tradition that the monarch may not set foot in the House of Commons – hence the need for Black Rod.

Ceremony of the Keys: Tower of London

Ceremony of the Keys

This traditional locking up of the Tower of London has taken place without fail for 700 years! Each night at precisely 9.53pm the Chief Yeoman Warder meets up with members of the Tower of London Guard to secure the main tower gates. On their return they are halted by sentry and the following exchange occurs:

Sentry: Who comes there?

Chief Warder: The keys.

S: Whose keys?

CW: Queen Elizabeth’s keys.

S: Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well.

CW: God preserve Queen Elizabeth.

S: Amen!

It is possible to watch the Ceremony of the Keys free of charge, but owing to high demand you must apply for tickets via the Tower of London website.



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