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The Dummies' Guide to the State Opening of Parliament

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Today sees Her Majesty The Queen officially 'open' a new session of parliament, which will set out the government's agenda and legislation for the coming year.

Her Majesty is not known to like public speaking, but sees it as a duty that she must perform. The government of the day writes the words of Her Majesty's speech, and as 'head' of the government she simply reads them - regardless of whether She agrees with the finer details.

The State Opening of Parliament is one of those ceremonies that only we Brits can put on - it's teaming with pageantry, history and tradition. Some see it as outdated and a time-waster but others see it as a fundamental reminder of the role of our constitutional monarchy, not to mention a nice reminder of the colourful history that the crown and parliament has.

Before Her Majesty even thinks of getting ready to leave for the Palace of Westminster (which houses the House of Lords and House of Commons), The Yeoman of the Guard carry out a security check of the Palace, in particular the cellars. Although a similar thing happens at every venue where Her Majesty is going prior to her arrival, in this instance it harks back to the famed 'gunpowder plot' of 1605 where five ne'er-do-wells tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament due to the then Monarch, James I, failing to restore the Catholic Church to England.

Once this has been carried out, Her Majesty, accompanies by her consort, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, travels down The Mall and Whitehall to parliament in the Irish State Coach, together with the Household Cavalry.

Travelling slightly ahead of The Queen and Prince Philip is the Queen Alexandra State Coach, which contains the Imperial State Crown and the Great Sword of State.

Whilst all this is carrying on, a junior member of the House of Commons is 'held hostage' at Buckingham Palace: a symbolic gesture that guarantees the safe return of The Monarch.

Once The Queen arrives, she enters through the Sovereign's Entrance (the other side of the building to 'Big Ben'). The Royal Standard replaces the Union Flag on top of the Victoria Tower for the duration of Her Majesty's 'stay'. The Queen then enters the Robing Room where she puts on her full state regalia, including the Imperial State Crown.

Once Her Majesty is robed, she joins an elaborately attired procession in the Royal Gallery and then proceeds to a full House of Lords.

The Lord Chancellor then advances to the thrones and from a silk bag removes the actual speech, before kneeling before The Queen and presenting it.

A chap called 'Black Rod' (full title 'Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod') then summons Members of Parliament to the Lords. As Black Rod approaches the House of Commons, the door is slammed in his face, which is supposed to demonstrate the independence of the House of Commons from the Monarchy.

Black Rod then knocks on the door three times (you can see a deep gash on the door where previous Black Rods have knocked) and then asks 'Mr Speaker, The Queen commands this Honourable House to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers [Lords]'. The Members of Parliament follow him through into the House of Lords, traditionally with as little alacrity as possible.

Once the MPs are in position, both houses listen to The Queen's Speech. Her Majesty's throne is positioned on blocks so that She is higher than the Duke of Edinburgh, and indeed of anyone else in the chamber; this signals The Monarch's supreme position.

Her Majesty then leaves the Houses of Parliament for Buckingham Palace in another carriage procession.

Dress for this occasion is formal, as you'd expect. Members of the House of Lords are in their scarlet robes, over suits or service dress; peeresses wear their robes over gowns, and tiaras are also worn. The MPs wear suits of disperate quality. The ones with chips on their shoulders the size of Salford make every effort to look as sartorially uninspiring as possible in order to remind The Monarchy that (in their opinion) they 'aren't all that'.

Her Majesty has only missed two State Openings of Parliament: namely in 1959 and 1963 when she was expecting Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

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