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The Queen and


Parliament


As Queen Elizabeth reaches her 90th birthday the relationship between Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and the mother of parlia- ments is explained by Dr. Mark Collins, Archivist and Historian in the Parliamentary Estates Direc- torate.


H


er Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as constitutional monarch and


Head of State of the United King- dom is one of the three elements of the British legislature, the two others being the House of Lords and the House of Commons. From medieval times, the Sovereign was expected to be present at the open- ing of Parliament, and a pattern emerged for formal processions either on horseback, by carriage or on the royal barge along the River Thames whenever Parliament was held at Westminster. The Palace of Westminster was host to 500 years of royal history, from its initial construction under the rule of the Saxons in the eleventh century to the time of King Henry VIII. Since the 16th century, the Palace has been the setting for 500 years of Parliamentary history and tradition and it continues to be used for a ceremony which began in the Tudor period when the king travelled there from his newer palaces, such


32 The American


as Whitehall or St James. The old Palace of Westminster burnt down in 1834; a competition to find an architect for a new palace on a gigantic scale in ‘either Gothic or Elizabethan’ style drew applications from 97 architects. Charles Barry’s (1795-1860) skilful principal floor plan and elevations impressed the judges, and his design won in 1836. The designs were helped by beautiful detailing from his brilliant assistant Augustus Welby Pugin (1812-1852), and the building was formally opened by Queen Victoria in February, 1852. The present Queen began her official association with the Palace at the time of her Coronation in 1953 when a lunch was held in her hon- our in Westminster Hall. The lunch was a modest affair but it took place on the site where once stood the king’s high table and, in a dignified way, it was an echo of the lavish Cor- onation banquets held there until that of King George IV in 1821. His costly banquet was deemed so luxu- rious and unruly that no subsequent monarch thought it wise to hold another one. Sir Winston Church- ill, the Queen’s first Prime Minister attended her lunch, and now David Cameron is her 12th Premier and prepares the measures held in the


Queen’s Speech at the State Open- ing of Parliament. Her Majesty, who has now been on the throne for 64 years, regards the State Opening (this year it’s on May 18) as her most important event of the year and she has opened Parliament in person on every occasion except twice, when she was expecting first Prince Andrew, and then Prince Edward. Before any ceremonial can take place, extensive preparations


are


made under the auspices of the full- time official of the Queen in Parlia- ment, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, a Crown appointment dating from 1350, who is responsi- ble for handling major ceremonial in the House of Lords; he is also in charge of order and management in the Lords. The ‘Searching of the Cellars’ on the morning of State Opening is a duty performed by the Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard wearing their Tudor uniforms and is a ceremonial check to prevent a repeat of the Gunpow- der Plot - the attempt to blow up the king in Parliament in 1605. Also pre- sent in the Palace before the Queen’s arrival are Her Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentle- men at Arms in full uniform and her own entourage of Ladies-in-Waiting in long white evening dresses and


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