Today is a significant day in the Household Cavalry's calendar, for today sees the beginning of a month's worth of rehearsals for the celebration of the Queen's official birthday (more commonly known as Trooping the Colour). The soldiers of the Household Division have just over a month to prepare themselves for the role they'll play in the pageantry and spectacle you may see on Saturday 17th June this year.
Although Her Majesty The Queen’s actual birthday is April 21st, her ‘official birthday’ is marked by Trooping the Colour, a ceremony which is always held in June. This was a tradition begun by Her Majesty's great-grandfather, King Edward VII, who elected to set it in June to compensate for the vagaries of British weather, particularly given that his own birthday was in November! However, the history of Trooping the Colour is much older; on the battlefield, the principal purpose of a regiment’s Colours was to provide a rallying point in the chaos of battle. Given how easy it was for troops to become disoriented and separated from their unit during conflict, it was the habit to have the colours of the Regiment displayed for the troops so they could familiarise themselves with the colours. This was done by having young officers march in between the ranks of troops formed up in lines with the Colours held high. So, what today is a great tradition began life as a vital and practical parade designed to aid unit recognition before a battle began.
The Trooping of the Colour has been a tradition of the Royal family since 1748, becoming an annual event since 1820 (barring exceptional circumstances). The Queen has attended Trooping the Colour in every year of her reign, except when prevented by a rail strike in 1955. Formerly mounted herself, typically on the back of Burmese, a black horse gifted to Her Majesty by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police when they came to perform at the 1969 Windsor Horse Show, she began riding in a carriage in 1987.
During the ceremony, The Queen is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops. After the massed bands have performed a musical 'troop', the escorted Regimental Colour is carried down the ranks. The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry then march past Her Majesty, and The King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, rank past.The Queen rides in a carriage back to Buckingham Palace at the head of her Guards, before taking the salute at the Palace from a dais. The troops then return to barracks and Her Majesty then joins other members of the Royal Family on the palace balcony for a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.
If you happen to be in the vicinity of Horse Guards Parade over the coming weeks, you may be able to catch a view of the guards practising on the parade ground if you watch from within St. James's Park, which should give you a glimpse into the workings of the Household Division and a closeup look at their ceremonial duties here in London.
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