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The Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament is one of the few royal traditions that brings together the Queen with the other parts of Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It takes place on the first day of a new parliamentary session or shortly after a general election. While it is a political event, it is also rife with tradition and ceremony, much more so than, say, the State of the Union address in the US, which is the closest thing Americans have to the State Opening (although it is very different). Some of the odder traditions to outsiders include the "hostage MP" or a member of Parliament who is sent to stay in Buckingham Palace as a "hostage" while the sovereign is at the State Opening. This tradition dates back to the time of King Charles I, when the monarchy had a testy and sometimes violent relationship with Parliament. Another strange tradition includes having a representative of the Queen, called the Black Rod, summon the House of Commons and having the door of the Commons lobby slammed shut against him. This is meant to represent the House of Commons's ability to refuse entry to the monarch and their representative. The door is eventually opened after the Black Rod knocks against it three times with his ceremonial staff.

One of the stranger elements of the event is the queen's speech, which is not written by her and is instead written by the government as a sort of list of their legislative agenda for the coming year. The queen is required to read whatever is written on her speech scroll in a completely neutral tone and give no hints of her opinion. The audience is also expected to remain quiet and respectful during the entire speech. However, in 1998, when the queen read off the new law to ban hereditary peers from the House of Lords, there were cheers and jeers from both the Lords and the House of Commons. In keeping with her expected role, the queen continued to read from the scroll as if nothing was happening.

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