Trooping The Colour

This saturday sees the annual national event known as Trooping The Colour and is the centrepiece for the official birthday celebrations of The Queen and will see The Mall, royal parks and Horseguards Parade backed with Union Jack waving crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of the Queen and members of the Royal Family,

The Queen actually has two birthdays, her actual birthday is April 21 1926; this year she turned 92. She usually celebrates her real birthday in private with her family. While the fanfare is mostly saved for her official birthday in the summer, every year on April 21 there are several gun salutes in London at midday.

However her birthday is officially celebrated in June every year. This celebration, referred to as the Trooping the Colour, is a moveable feast – in 2018 it is celebrated on the 9th June.

Crowds assemble outside Buckingham Palace

Crowds assemble outside Buckingham Palace

What is the history behind ‘Trooping the Colour’?

Acting as the personal bodyguards of the Queen, the Guards are one of the oldest regiments of the British Army. They have been a constant fixture of the monarchy since the English Civil War ended in 1660.

‘Colours’ were the regimental flags of the British Army which displayed the uniform colours and insignia of different units. In the old days of rather illiterate soldiers and battlefields with tens or even hundreds of thousands the ‘Colours’ were designed to help troops quickly identify their unit on the battlefield and avoid confusion.

In order for troops to be familiar with their regiment’s Colours, it was necessary to display them regularly. So, young officers would march in between the ranks of troops stood in lines holding the Colours high.

This is where the word ‘trooping’ comes from.The Colour of the troops refers to the historical colour-coding of British regiments worn on their uniforms and represented in each regiment’s flag.

Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

To me this actually has a great modern parallel.  Many of us will be familiar with the inauguration ceremonies of US Presidents. At the inauguration of President Donald Trump people were quick to make assumptions on the popularity of future and past president based on the size of the crowds assembled on the streets of Washington DC.

Appearing popular or indeed not popular is not a new problem and President Trump would no doubt would have sympathised with King George II.

Although the trooping of the colours was first performed for military purposes under King Charles II in the 1600s, the parade became an official part of the British calendar a century later.

It is a tradition that was started by George II in 1748 and it owes its origins to the ageless problem of the British weather.

George was born in November and felt the weather would be too cold at that time of year for a birthday parade. King George decided to combine his birthday celebration with an annual military parade.

It is a tradition that has continued to this day. All British sovereigns are given the option of having an ‘official’ birthday and, because the Queen’s real birthday is on April 21, she chose to to hold her celebration in June each year.

When she first ascended the throne, the Queen chose to hold her Official Birthday on the second Thursday of June; this was the day her father, King George VI, chose to celebrate his official birthday.

However in 1959 the Queen decided her official birthday should be held two days later, on the second Saturday of June, instead – and it has been ever since.

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What happens during Trooping the Colour?

Otherwise known as The Queen’s Birthday Parade, the Queen inspects soldiers from the Household Division; it takes place on Horse Guards Parade behind Whitehall.

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The assembled ranks of the Household Cavalry

The colourful display of pageantry features 1400 officers and men on parade, 200 horses and 400 musicians from 10 bands. The Queen always attends and takes the salute.

According to the Household Division, 113 words of command are given by the Officer in Command of the parade.

Each year a different regiment’s colours are trooped; in 2018 it will be the Colour of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.

It begins when the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace in a carriage, accompanied by a Sovereign’s escort from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment at 10am.

She used to arrive riding side-saddle on a horse, wearing the uniform of the regiment begin trooped; however since 1987 she has arrived by carriage.

She arrives at Horse Guards Parade to take the Royal salute from the officers and men on parade at 11am and then carries out an inspection of the troops wearing the ceremonial uniform of red tunics and bearskin hats.

The Regimental Colour (flag) being trooped is then carried down the ranks following music by the bands.

Once the soldiers have marched past the Queen, she returns to Buckingham Palace for a second salute.

There, she is joined by members of the Royal Family on the balcony of the palace. Following this, a 41-gun salute is conducted in Green Park.

The Queen has taken the salute at every parade since her accession to the throne 62 years ago, except in 1955 when there was a national rail strike.

The parade is televised live by the BBC from 10am.  Whilst tickets for the main event were allocated in February, it is still possible to see the Royal Procession on The Mall.

The public can also admire the spectacle during the two rehearsals. The first, known as The Major General’s Review, will take place two weeks before Trooping The Colour and then The Colonel’s Review which takes place on the Saturday preceding the big day with . both being visible from The Mall and the fringes of St James’s Park.

Whilst giving a Walking Tour of London, my tourists and I happened

If you or a friend are coming to London, be sure to check out all Ye Olde England Tours

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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