Queens Speech – did you know ?

The Queen’s Speech – Did you know?

QS-black-rod

  • The current practice of opening Parliament from the House of Lords where the Sovereign reads the Speech from the throne began in 1536. Before then it was in the Painted Chamber at the far end of the Lords. It was demolished in 1847.
  • The Duke of Edinburgh has not accompanied the Queen on nine occasions. On two occasions she was unescorted, in 1964 and March 1974 when there was a scaled-down ceremony.
  • The ceremony was first shown on TV in 1958 but was not shown on TV again until 1964.
  • On the eve of State Opening, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster to avoid a repetition of the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. On that day there is also a dinner at 10 Downing Street which Cabinet ministers must attend and at which the Speech is read out to them.
  • When the Commons has assembled, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, in full regalia, walks across from the Lords to summon MPs to hear the Speech in the Upper Chamber. The door of the Commons is slammed in his face, to demonstrate its independence, but he is admitted, as the royal messenger, after banging on the door three times with his rod.
  • Only a small proportion of Members of the Commons can crowd into the House of Lords to hear the Queen deliver the Speech. Anti-royalist MPs make a show of not bothering to walk across to the Upper Chamber.
  • The Labour MP Dennis Skinner usually has ribald words of “greeting” for Black Rod. One year he cried: “Hey up, here comes Puss in Boots!”
  • Edward VIII opened Parliament just once, in 1936. He arrived in a car rather than in a coach because he was at that point uncrowned. He never was crowned.
  • Queen Victoria rarely attended the State Opening after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1851.
  • The speech, an uninspired list of the Government’s plans for the coming session of Parliament, is read in a neutral manner. In the 1970s, Lord Hailsham had plans to spice it up a little, but that did not seem to make much difference.
  • In 1910, Sir Robert Saunders (later Lord Bayford and a Conservative Cabinet minister) complained in his diary: “The King’s Speech shortest and most ungrammatical on record.”
  • When George I opened Parliament he did not read the Speech because he barely spoke English.
  • When, after all the ceremonials, the Commons reassembles, the debate on the Speech is opened by two usually long-serving backbenchers, who move and second a motion, called the Humble Address, thanking the Queen for the “Gracious Speech”. Then the two party leaders enter the fray.

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