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The State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament is hailed as the most anticipated event of the Parliamentary year. Its historical, ceremonial, and political significance lies on the fact that this is the only event where three elements of the legislature are gathered together: the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Queen. Thus, the State Opening of Parliament is the ceremony where the Crown is in Parliament.

It is the duty of the Queen as head of state to formally open each new session of Parliament.
There were only two instances when Queen Elizabeth II skipped the Opening of Parliament. The first was in 1959 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and the second was in 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Edward. The State Opening of Parliament is now held every May, following the passage of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011.

Before the Queen travels from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, a detachment of the Yeomen of the Guard searches the cellars of the Houses of Parliament. This is a tradition that dates back to 1605, during the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes was arrested for plotting to blow up Parliament. Today, aside from the security measures by the police, the Yeomen of the Guard still continue with their historic search.
Then, there’s the tradition of getting a Member of Parliament as hostage at Buckingham Palace to ensure the safety of the sovereign’s return to Buckingham Palace. The custom dates back to the time when the monarch and Parliament were not in good terms. The Imperial State Crown, meanwhile, is transported on a separate carriage, before the Queen escorted by members of the Royal Household. The Queen then wears the Imperial State Crown and her parliamentary robe ready  at the House of Lords.

The Queen then summons 250 representatives of the House of Commons. The Black Rod who serves as the Queen's messenger does this.  Traditionally, the door of the House of Commons is shut in Black Rod's face, then reopened so the Black Rod could deliver the Sovereign's summons to the speaker. This is a strong reminder that the Commons may exclude everyone, except for the Sovereign's messengers. Since the reign of Charles I, no monarch has ever set foot in the Commons. Charles I entered the Commons to arrest five Members of Parliament in 1642.


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