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Ideas / Album / State Opening of Parliament
Photos of the procession for the State Opening of Parliament


The annual ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament has changed little over the past 500 years. It is performed at the start of the new parliamentary year. The pictures below were taken in 2004: this was the 50th time that the Queen performed this duty.

Traditionally the State Opening occurred between late October and early December, or soon after a general election. In 2011 a change in law introduced a fixed 5-year, fixed-term parliament so that general elections will take place on the first Thursday in May every five years. There will be five 12-month sessions over a parliament, beginning and ending in the spring. Therefore from 2012 the State Opening will take place in the spring.

In 2012 the State Opening is on Wednesday 9 May 2012

The Story of Parliament: History of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster
Author: John Field
Publisher: Politico's Publishing
Date: May 2002
The Houses of Parliament
(picture guidebook)
Publisher: Pitkin Guides

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Several horse-drawn carriages are used to take the symbols of sovereignty from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster (commonly called the Houses of Parliament). The most important of these symbols is the Imperial State Crown, which is only used on this occasion each year and for the coronation ceremony for a new king or queen. Other symbols which are carried are the Sword of State, two maces and a Cap of Maintenance (a cap such as this used to be awarded by the Pope to favoured monarchs). A military band marches in front, signally to the crowd that the procession is about to arrive ...

The Queen travels by coach together with her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Philip)

The Queen travels ...

in a horse-drawn coach

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The Queen leaves Buckingham Palace at 11 o'clock. It takes about 10 minutes for the coach to travel to the Sovereign's Entrance at the House of Lords. Members of the public stand along the route to watch the procession as it goes past (in front of Buckingham Palace, on the northern edge of St James's Park, along Whitehall / Parliament Street, and on Bridge Street).

At 11 o'clock ...

... the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace

The route follows the Mall ...

... through Horse Guards Parade ...

... into Whitehall / Parliament Street
(past the Cenotaph) ...

... across Parliament Square ...

... past Westminster Abbey ...

... into the Palace of Westminster


The roads along which the Queen travels are protected by the Household Division, as well by members of other sections of the armed forces and by the police.

The Blues and Royals ...

... wear blue tunics and red plumes in their hats

Members of the Royal Air Force are on guard ...

... as well as the mounted police

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After the Queen arrives at the Sovereign's Entrance at the Palace of Westminster (the Houses of Parliament), the Union Flag which flies on top of the Victoria Tower is replaced by the Royal Standard to show that the Queen is present. The Queen walks up the Norman Staircase and is taken to the Robing Room, where she puts on her official robes and the Imperial State Crown. She then walks through the Royal Gallery and into the Prince's Chamber at the House of Lords. She takes a copy of her speech from a purse which is presented to her.

A signal is given to an official known as Black Rod, who walks down through the Central Lobby to the House of Commons. According to tradition, the doors of the House of Commons are closed in Black Rod's face as he approaches. He must then use his mace to knock on the door three times, after which the doors are opened to him. This procedure is a symbol of the power and independence of the House of Commons. Black Rod calls on the MPs to go to the House of Lords to listen to the Queen's Speech.

Starting at about 11:40am the Queen gives a short speech (usually lasting about 10 minutes). This has been written by the government, not by the Queen. It outlines the main new laws which will be considered in the House of Commons during the following year (or until the next general election if that is earlier).

The Queen's Speech in the House of Lords

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After the Queen's Speech, at about 12:15pm, the Queen leaves the Houses of Parliament and returns to Buckingham Palace. A member of the government has been held as a "hostage" at the palace during the ceremony, but is released after the Queen has arrived back safely. This is another historic tradition dating back to the time when there was a struggle for power between the monarchy and Parliament.

At about 12:15 ...

... the procession makes the return journey

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After all those horses have passed by, there's important work to be done before the roads can be opened to traffic again ...

The marching continues ...

... as the poop scoop troops are called into action!

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For more information about the State Opening of Parliament, see:

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Houses of Parliament: Travel/Tours/London/Parliament
Trooping the Colour (the Queen's birthday parade): Ideas/Album/TroopingTheColour
Remembrance Sunday: Ideas/Album/RemembranceSunday
Royal Ascot: Ideas/Album/RoyalAscot
Lord Mayor's Show: Ideas/Album/LordMayorsShow

Introduction to the British Royal Family: Britain/Countries/Royalty
Monthly guide to events in the UK: Ideas/Events

Home page: Home

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