The Queen’s Birthday Parade: What is Trooping The Colour?
Each June Her Majesty the Queen gets an official Birthday parade in London, full of fabulous British Pomp and Circumstance. But what actually is Trooping The Colour?
I’ll be straight with you here.
Until I started training as a Blue Badge Guide, I’d never taken much notice of these ‘touristy’ spectacles. But last week I had a ticket to see the Colonel’s Review (dress rehearsal) of Trooping The Colour and here’s what I learned…
A brief history
The Sovereign’s birthday is officially celebrated with a ceremony involving all the household division (Foot Guards and Household Calvary (Horse Guards) who have the honour of protecting the sovereign and all royal palaces). Despite the Queen’s real birthday being 21 April, Trooping The Colour happens in early June. If I were Queen, I’d like two birthdays too.
We can trace the custom of Trooping The Colour back to the 17th century, when Charles II was back on the throne and the monarchy were in full propaganda mode (mainly to avoid the mistakes of his father and end up separated from his head).
The whole point of the ceremony is that the ‘colour’ (flag) of a particular regiment is seen by the monarch. A regiment’s colour is a rallying point in battle so every day, it’s shown to troops to make sure they recognise it, hence why it’s part of the Guard Change.
Each year a different regiment gets the honour of parading their colour in front of the Queen and for 2018, it’s the Coldstream Guards’ turn.
A bit of background on the Household Division
Within the Foot Guards, there are five regiments; Grenadiers, Coldstream, Scots, Welsh and Irish. Within the Household Cavalry, there are two; Life Guards and Blues and Royals. The wonderful website Changing-Guard has a lovely little infographic to help identify them here.
Things To Look Out For
It’s a HUGE spectacle. More than 1,400 guardsmen will take part. And that’s before you take into account the 200 horses and over 400 musicians! Here are some of my highlights from the Colonel’s Review.
The scarlet coats and bearskins (black hats) are a symbol of Britain, recognised worldwide. Each uniform can cost as much as £1,000 and they need to be looking immaculate when on duty.
The Irish band – above – can be distinguished by the bright blue plume in their bearskin.
One difference that caught my eye, was the figure of a Sikh soldier wearing a turban instead of the traditional hat. There has been a long history of Sikh soldiers guarding the Queen, but the first guardsmen to wear a turban on duty instead of a bearskin was Jatinderpal Singh Bhullar in 2012.
For months the soldiers train – day and night – to make sure their lines are straight, they march in time and they flow like one organism rather than separate beings.
Senior Guards ensure the lines are straight!
Really, the movements have to be seen to be believed. So here’s a selection of snippets (including a mesmerising timelapse!)
If you thought the marching was hard. Also spare a thought for the ‘Marksmen’. His job is to mark the outer perimeter, keeping the soldiers in formation. He stands there for over two hours, not moving a muscle.
Lest we forget, it’s the flag that’s the whole point of the ceremony! You’ll see it being marched around the entire area of House Guards Parade.
As it was only a rehearsal, there was no one in the special seat laid out especially for the Queen and Prince Philip, but on Saturday 9 June (rain or shine!) They’ll be sitting here.
Later in the ceremony the Queen inspects her troops and used to do so on horseback. Now she’s 92 it seems fair that she now opts for a carriage ride!
On hot days, when soldiers are standing still for hours, it’s not uncommon for someone – on occasion – to faint.
More seriously, they can also be thrown off their horses, which also happened during the rehearsal.
Far from being a purely ‘ceremonial’ position, it’s always worth remembering that these soldiers are just that – soldiers in the British Army.
Watch Trooping The Colour
There are two rehearsals for Trooping The Colour, with tickets available to buy in advance for £10 from the British Army website. They tend to go on sale in January.
More London Inspiration
Nestled behind the Bank of England you can find St Margaret Lothbury. It’s easy to miss, hemmed in by other buildings, but if open it’s well worth popping in to admire its treasures and history. (I’ve previously written about the beautiful Italianate building next door,......
Within the extensive grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire you can find remnants of inspiration for one of London’s most extraordinary buildings, The Crystal Palace. It gave its name to an area of London (and a football team!) but thanks to a disastrous fire you......
Have you admired this dolls house-esque building on Tower Hill? This is Trinity House, an institution whose history stretches back to 1514, based here since 1794. What is Trinity House? Today Trinity House is a charity and its primary concern is the safety of shipping......
For the everyday passerby, there’s not much reason to venture into Strand Lane. It’s not a convenient cut through to the Strand however it has two quite amazing bits of history to discover! I’ve previously covered one of them on the blog, the history of......
As part of my new walking tour Hidden Wonders of Waterloo I’ve been researching the history of Surrey Chapel, an 18th century church that once stood by Southwark Station. Although it no longer stands today, it’s a prime example of the historic twists and turns......
Transport a 12th century monk to Aldgate today and there’s very little that they’d recognise. However inside this office block you can find a tiny part of an epic Medieval Priory where they’d feel right at home! If you’re passing 77 Leadenhall Street, peer through......