Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping the Colour.

The start of a busy four days of Platinum Jubilee events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the throne commenced on 2 June with the Trooping of the Colour in London’s Horse Guards Parade, an imposing ceremonial parade ground overlooked by the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, as well as the offices of the Privy Council. The ‘Trooping’ is an annual event (with rare exceptions such as during wartime or a train strike), now customarily held on a Saturday (often the second) in June, to celebrate the Official Birthday of the Sovereign (as opposed to Her Majesty’s actual birthday on 21 April). Thus the Trooping is also often referred to as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, given Her Majesty’s ongoing mobility issues, and in deference to her great age, this year Prince Charles deputised for his mother to take the salute, just as when, in 1951, the present Queen-then The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh-presided over proceedings on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI; with the slight difference that, on 2 June, Her Majesty was able to be present on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to inspect the troops of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards (whose turn it was to have the new colour trooped) as they marched past, after having progressed just over half-a-mile up the Mall, from Horse Guards, at the conclusion of the Trooping ceremony.

The event has its origins in the 18th century, when the guards and sentries of the royal palaces and (other important buildings) were mounted daily at the Horse Guards (a Palladian building constructed around 1750, replacing an earlier guard house belonging to the Palace of Whitehall). As part of the ‘mounting’ of the guard, the Regimental Colour (or flag) of the battalion, bearing the battle honours of the battalion (and used historically as rallying points in battle) was carried (‘Trooped’) down the ranks, so as to be seen and memorised by the troops. Queen Victoria twice took the salute at the Trooping at Windsor during her reign, with the future King Edward VII (then still Prince of Wales) taking the salute in London in 1896.

The nucleus of the current form of the Trooping was developed thanks to the intervention of Edward VII’s son, King George V in 1913. Until then, the traditional ceremony involved the customary exercise of several elements carried out in slow and quick march time, with the Escort for the Colour advancing to the centre of the parade ground to receive the new regimental colour from the Colour Party. This was then carried down the ranks, followed by a march past of Foot Guards (and sometimes the Household Cavalry) after which the Monarch or their representative departed with minimum ceremony. However, George V was keen to offer a more impressive public display for his official Birthday Parade, and at the close of the ceremony, George V placed himself at the head of his Guards and rode down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, proceeded by the mass bands. There, the troops who were to provide the new King’s Guard at the Palace (and the nearby St James’ Palace) marched into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to prepare for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Monarch, meanwhile, positioned himself in the central gateway of Buckingham Palace, where he was saluted by the remainder of the troops on parade, as they returned to barracks. The King then moved into the palace between the Old and New Guards, who offered him a salute. Thereafter, the Changing of the Guard continued apace in the Palace forecourt.

King George VI also introduced a further innovation: following the completion of the salute at the gates of the Palace, the Monarch joined other members of the royal family (many of whom had, as was customary, earlier travelled both to and from Horse Guards in a carriage procession) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to witness a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. It is also worth noting here that the present Queen first appeared on parade in the first post-war Birthday Parade on 12 June 1947 in her role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards.

During Elizabeth II’s reign, the Queen rode on horseback down the Mall, preceded by the Sovereign’s Escort . However, from 1987, she instead travelled in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton. In 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, a modified Trooping event took place in the presence of the Queen in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle, but without the attendance of the customary dignitaries, diplomats and members of the public. Normally 1400 to 1500 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians (led by the Massed Bands of the Household Division) take part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade. And, once again in 2022, the crowds returned in force to line the Mall with Union flags and celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Instead of the customary 41-gun salute in Green Park provided by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on this special Jubilee year, all witnessed an impressive 82-gun Royal Gun Salute from Hyde Park, as well as a well-executed fly-past of 71 aircraft.

Robert Prentice is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.