DURING the State Opening of Parliament the monarch delivers a speech known as the King's or Queen's Speech.
Aside from this, the role of an official called Black Rod is always particularly notable during the days events.
Who is Black Rod?
The State Opening of Parliament involves the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the monarch.
It also includes a House of Lords official known as “Black Rod”.
The current Black Rod is Sarah Clarke.
She was appointed in November 2017 and is the first female Black Rod in the role’s 650-year history.
Clarke formally took on the duties as Lady Usher of the Black Rod in February 2018.
Prior to taking on the ceremonial role, she was championships director in charge of the administration of the Wimbledon tennis tournament.
Other previous roles have included working in operations for the FA, Wembley Stadium, and on four Olympic Games.
What is the role of Black Rod?
According to UK Parliament: ''Black Rod is a senior officer in the House of Lords, responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts.''
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They report to the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is in overall charge of the administration of the House.
Black Rod's parliamentary duties fall into two categories – administrative and ceremonial.
Black Rod's post consists of the following functions:
Lady or Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod
- This is a Crown appointment, so it's responsible for organising access to and maintaining order within the Lords Chamber and the precincts.
Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain
- Appointed by the Lord Great Chamberlain, Black Rod is responsible for and takes part in the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster.
Black Rod is also responsible for the King's residual estate in the Palace (eg the Robing Room and the Royal Gallery).
Ceremonial duties: State Opening
- Black Rod's role at the State Opening of Parliament is one of the most well-known images of Parliament.
- Black Rod is sent from the Lords Chamber to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear the King's (or Queen's) Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod's face to symbolise the Commons' independence.
- He or she then bangs three times on the door with the rod. The door to the Commons Chamber is then opened and all MPs – talking loudly – follow Black Rod back to the Lords to hear the King's speech.
What are the origins of Black Rod?
Black Rod – or, to give the full title, the Lady or Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod – is a senior official in the House of Lords.
She or he is simultaneously Lady or Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod; Serjeant-at-Arms in the House of Lords; and Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, explains the Parliament.
The office originated as Usher of the Order of the Garter in the 14th century.
Letters of Patent were issued in 1361 by King Edward II to create the Usher as a Court position involved in meeting with Parliament.
However by the sixteenth century, the role had evolved to become a position entirely associated with Parliament, rather than the Royal Court.
Thus Black Rod became the monarch's representative in the House of Lords.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Black Rod's Office was reformed.
There was a reduction in staff and a long-standing additional fees system supplementing Black Rod's salary was abolished.
Uniform and rod
Black Rod's uniform consists of black shoes with black buckles, silk stockings, black breeches, and black coat.
The rod is made of ebony.
The present rod dates from 1883 and is emblazoned with the heraldic motto ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense', translated as ‘Shame be to him, who evil thinks'.
It is three-and-a-half-feet long, decorated with a gold lion and garter and has a gold orb as a chivalric centrepiece.
Why do they knock on the door of the House of Commons?
During the State Opening of Parliament, after the King has taken his seat on the throne, he dispatches Black Rod to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear his speech.
Traditionally, the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod's face to symbolise the Commons’ independence from the monarchy.
Black Rod then bangs three times on the door with the rod.
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MPs pair up, led by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and follow – in a boisterous way, again to signal their independence – including Black Rod to the bar of the House of Lords to hear the King's Speech.
This custom dates back to 1641, when, as noted in the House of Commons Journal: "Mr Maxwell, coming to the House, with a message, without his Black Rod; and coming in, before he was called in: exception was taken to both."
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