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Social media users baffled by ‘Black Rod’ during state opening of parliament


Social media users were today left baffled by the role of Black Rod during the State Opening of Parliament as the official followed hundreds of years of tradition by banging on the door of the House of Commons before demanding MPs’ presence in the Lords.

Sarah Clarke, who is the first woman to hold the role since taking over from Lieutenant-General David Leakey in 2018, performed her customary duties before Prince Charles – sitting beside Prince William – read the Queen’s Speech in absence of his mother.

However, after being allowed into the Commons after banging three times on the door with her ceremonial rod, her words this time were slightly different to those uttered in nearly every previous year of the Queen’s reign. 

Because of Her Majesty’s absence due to mobility problems, Ms Clarke – whose full title is Lady Usher of the Black Rod – referenced Charles and William when she said: ‘Mr Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable house, to attend her Counsellors of State immediately in the House of Peers.’ 

The ceremonial mace that lies in the centre of the Commons was then picked up by the Serjeant-at-Arms before the Speaker and the rest of those in the chamber followed Black Rod to the Lords to hear Charles deliver Her Majesty’s speech. 

Viewers on social media were quick to question Ms Clarke’s duties, with one bluntly commenting: What the f*** did I just watch’.

Another demanded: ‘Why is “Black Rod” dressed as a bloke – it’s a woman now! Didn’t anyone think of giving her a dress?’ 

Others noted the absence of veteran former Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who on most years would utter a quip after Black Rod’s speech, until he lost his seat at the 2019 election.  

Social media users were today left baffled by the role of Black Rod during the State Opening of Parliament as the official followed hundreds of years of tradition by banging on the door of the House of Commons before demanding MPs’ presence in the Lords. Above: Sarah Clarke in her role as Black Rod

Sarah Clarke, who is the first woman to hold the role since taking over from Lieutenant-General David Leakey in 2018, performed her customary duties before Prince Charles - sitting beside Prince William - read the Queen's Speech in absence of his mother

Sarah Clarke, who is the first woman to hold the role since taking over from Lieutenant-General David Leakey in 2018, performed her customary duties before Prince Charles – sitting beside Prince William – read the Queen’s Speech in absence of his mother

The office of Black Rod stretches back to 1350, when it was originally known as Usher of the Order of the Garter.

Letters of Patent were then issued by King Edward II in 1361 to create the Usher as a position in the Royal Court, involved in meeting with Parliament. 

However, by the 16th-century, as the power of the monarch diminished, the role became a position entirely associated with Parliament, rather than the Royal Court. 

It made Black Rod the monarch’s representative in the House of Lords. The office was reformed further in the 19th-century, with officials reducing staff and abolishing a system of fees that supplemented Black Rod’s salary. 

As with many other Parliamentary officials, Black Rod wears a distinctive uniform that consists of black shoes with black buckles, silk stockings, black breeches and a black coat. Their rod is made of ebony. 

The present rod dates from 1883 and carries the Anglo-norman motto ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, which translates as ‘Shame be to him, who evil thinks.’ 

The rod is three and a half feet long and is decorated with a gold lion and garter and has a gold orb as its centre piece. 

Viewers on social media were quick to question Ms Clarke's duties, with one bluntly commenting: What the f*** did I just watch'

Another demanded: 'Why is "Black Rod" dressed as a bloke - it's a woman now! Didn't anyone think of giving her a dress?'

Viewers on social media were quick to question Ms Clarke’s duties, with one bluntly commenting: What the f*** did I just watch’. Another demanded: ‘Why is “Black Rod” dressed as a bloke – it’s a woman now! Didn’t anyone think of giving her a dress?’

Other social media users were excited by the role of Black Rod, with one saying it was 'one of the highlights' of the parliamentary calendar'

Other social media users were excited by the role of Black Rod, with one saying it was ‘one of the highlights’ of the parliamentary calendar’

Others noted the absence of veteran former Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who on most years would utter a quip after Black Rod's speech, until he lost his seat at the 2019 election

Others noted the absence of veteran former Labour MP Dennis Skinner, who on most years would utter a quip after Black Rod’s speech, until he lost his seat at the 2019 election

Because of Her Majesty's absence due to mobility problems, Ms Clarke - whose full title is Lady Usher of the Black Rod - referenced Charles and William when she said: 'Mr Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable house, to attend her Counsellors of State immediately in the House of Peers'

 Because of Her Majesty’s absence due to mobility problems, Ms Clarke – whose full title is Lady Usher of the Black Rod – referenced Charles and William when she said: ‘Mr Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable house, to attend her Counsellors of State immediately in the House of Peers’

Charles is seen alongside the Duchess of Cornwall with Black Rod behind him as he walks into the House of Lords at today's State Opening of Parliament

Charles is seen alongside the Duchess of Cornwall with Black Rod behind him as he walks into the House of Lords at today’s State Opening of Parliament

Black Rod is responsible for organising access to the House of Lords and also maintaining order within it and its precincts. Their office is also in charge of police services and fire safety. 

As well as the State Opening of Parliament, as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain Black Rod also participates in Royal and State visits, as well as other ceremonial events. 

Because she is the Queen’s representative, she is also in charge of looking after the monarch’s estate in the Palace of Westminster, which consists of the Robing Room and Royal Gallery. 

The famous custom of Black Rod banging on the door of the Commons after it has been slammed shut dates back to King Charles I’s attempt to arrest five members of Parliament in 1642.  

The tradition has been continued to symbolise the Commons’ independence from the monarch and the House of Lords.  It is a reminder of the right of the Commons to exclude everyone but the Sovereign’s messengers.

This tradition is a reminder of the right of the Commons to exclude everyone but the Sovereign’s messengers.

In modern times, Black Rod has been appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of a selection panel chaired by the Lord Speaker. 

Speaking about the ancient tradition of entering the Commons, Lieutenant-General Leakey told Sky News today: ‘The purpose of the theatre of the ceremony is quite symbolic.

‘Because at the State Opening of Parliament, it is the unique time – usually once a year – when all three elements of the Constitutional legislature come together.

Labour MP Dennis Skinner pictured in the House of Commons in a file picture from April 2016. Former Labour MP Mr Skinner's quips became part of the pomp and circumstance of the State Opening of Parliament

Labour MP Dennis Skinner pictured in the House of Commons in a file picture from April 2016. Former Labour MP Mr Skinner’s quips became part of the pomp and circumstance of the State Opening of Parliament

‘That is, the Queen – the head of state – the House of Lords, [which] some people call the advisory chamber or revising chamber, and the House of Commons. 

‘And all three come together as you can see here… the House of Commons having been commanded by Black Rod on behalf of the Queen as the Queen’s messenger… to attend the Queen in the House of Lords chamber.’

Former Labour MP Mr Skinner’s quips became part of the pomp and circumstance of the State Opening of Parliament.

In 1992, following calls for Her Majesty to pay income tax, he shouted: ‘Tell her to pay her tax!’ In 2006, he joked: ‘Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?’.

Before the State Opening in 2017, Mr Skinner sent MPs into hysterics after he told Black Rod to get his ‘skates on’ so the Queen can get to Ascot.

As Black Rod invited MPs to the House of Commons to hear the Queen, Mr Skinner yelled: ‘Yeah – better get your skates on, the first race is at half past two’.

The previous Black Rod was Lieutenant-General David Leakey, who served from December 2010 until December 2017

His predecessor was Sir Frederick Viggers, who served for 18 months

The previous Black Rod was Lieutenant-General David Leakey (left), who served from December 2010 until December 2017. His predecessor was Sir Frederick Viggers (right), who served for 18 months

The first Black Rod of the Queen's reign was former British Army officer Sir Brian Horrocks, who served from 1949 until 1963

The first Black Rod of the Queen’s reign was former British Army officer Sir Brian Horrocks, who served from 1949 until 1963

MPs roared with laughter and even Black Rod, Lieutenant General David Leakey, smirked at the quip about Theresa May disrupting Her Majesty’s racing plans.

In 2016 the Bolsover MP received cheers from some Opposition MPs as he shouted: ‘Hands off the BBC,’ in the Commons as MPs were summoned to hear the Queen’s Speech.

But in 2015 he opted to stay silent in a break from tradition, having shouted the previous year: ‘Coalition’s last stand.’

He won widespread laughs in 2013 when he shouted: ‘Royal Mail for sale. Queen’s head privatised,’ in reference to the planned Royal Mail privatisation.

In 2012 he angered Tory MPs by drawing attention to the country’s economic difficulties, saying: ‘Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start.’

In one of his earliest interventions about Her Majesty, Mr Skinner said in 1987: ‘Tell her to sell up!’



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