What Really Is Trooping the Colour? History, Significance and Traditions

Trooping the Colour is a traditional military ceremony observed in Britain each year to mark the monarch's official birthday in early June.

A special Trooping the Colour ceremony has been planned to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, marking her historic 70-year reign on Thursday, June 2.

But what really happens at Trooping the Colour? Why do the Brits do it and what does it mean? Newsweek has the answers.

History

Trooping the Colour is a military parade that involves the seven army regiments that serve the queen grouped under the umbrella of "The Household Division."

The ceremony sees the colour (name for a regimental flag) paraded in front of assembled troops, overseen by the monarch.

The ceremony is said to be based on an ancient Roman military practice in which the regimental standard was marched in front of soldiers who would then be able to identify it on the battlefield.

In Britain, the adoption of the ceremony is thought to date back to the 17th century, with it being formally kept as an annual tradition marking the sovereign's birthday in the reign of George IV (1762-1830).

It was King George II (1683-1760) who first started the tradition of the king having two birthdays and this was because his real birthday was in November. Thinking that none of his British subjects would want to have a parade or celebrations at that time of year, George held an official birthday parade during the summer.

Successive monarchs have had the option to keep this tradition and the "official" summer royal birthday celebrations were standardized by King Edward VII (1841-1910).

Queen Elizabeth Trooping the Colour 1983
Queen Elizabeth II rides in the Trooping the Colour parade, June 11, 1983. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Significance

The significance of Trooping the Colour today is mainly ceremonial, but it's an important part of military history and still serves a purpose in terms of providing an opportunity for troops to practice drills and to cooperate with other regiments.

The ceremony has also become an important occasion at which the queen can be seen in her capacity as head of the armed forces and where she can review the soldiers who perform their duties in her name.

Queen Elizabeth Trooping the Colour 2022
Trooping the Colour is a traditional military ceremony observed in Britain each year to mark the monarch's official birthday in early June. Photographed June 12, 2021. (Inset left) the queen photographed June 16, 1979. And (inset right) Buckingham Palace, June 13, 2015. Chris Jackson/Getty Images/Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Traditions

There are many traditions associated with Trooping the Colour, the first and foremost being that it is done in the presence of the sovereign or a senior member of the royal family if he or she happens to be incapacitated or out of the country.

The ceremony is held each year in Horse Guards Parade, which stands at the eastern end of St James's Park, a short distance down The Mall from Buckingham Palace. The parade ground marks the official entrance to the court of St. James, which is the official title given to the British royal court. Therefore, when the queen travels to Westminster Abbey she uses Horse Guards Parade as a cut through and it was the route taken by the funeral procession for Princess Diana in 1997.

For Trooping the Colour, grandstands are set up around the parameter of the parade ground and sand is put down to stop the horses and gun carriages from slipping on the hard surface as they enter.

Over 1,400 soldiers take part in the parade in addition to 200 horses and 400 musicians.

In past years, the queen arrived at the parade on horseback, riding side saddle, from where she would conduct the review once the colour had been trooped. In recent years she has used one of the state carriages that's kept and maintained by the royal mews at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Elizabeth II Trooping the Colour Carriages
In previous decades the queen would attend the Trooping the Colour parade on horseback but has more recently attended n an open landau carriage. Photographed (L) June 10, 1983. And (R) June 13, 2015. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/ Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The queen's carriage is followed by other members of the royal family. Prince Charles and Prince William have both attended on horseback alongside Princess Anne, forming part of the sovereigns escort and other family members such as Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, have followed in open landau carriages.

Once at the parade ground, the queen witnesses Trooping the Colour, and then she performs a review of the regiment that has had its colour trooped (this rotates year on year) as well as the Household Cavalry, the Foot Guards and the King's Troop.

Following the parade, the queen travels back to Buckingham Palace followed by the rest of the royals, whereupon they traditionally make an appearance on the palace balcony to take a flypast review of the Royal Air Force as it flies along The Mall.

Platinum Jubilee

This year marks Elizabeth II's Platinum Jubilee, the first celebration of its kind celebrated in the British monarchy's thousand year history.

The central weekend of celebrations for this milestone has been planned to take in the Trooping the Colour parade, which will take place on June 2, a specially designated national holiday for 2022.

This year, the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards will have their colour trooped. The queen is the Irish Guards' Colonel in Chief and Prince William was made Colonel of the Regiment by his grandmother. William took part in the Colonel's review, which acts as a practice ceremony in the days before the official event.

During the parade, a gun salute is planned to take place and after the royals have processed back to Buckingham Palace along The Mall, a special balcony appearance will take place.

Trooping the Colour Balcony Flypast
Traditionally members of the royal family join the queen to watch a flypast by the Royal Air Force after the Trooping the Colour parade. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Whereas traditionally many members of the immediate and extended royal family, including members of foreign royal families, have appeared on the Trooping the Colour balcony, this year Buckingham Palace announced that only members of the royal family who undertake official duties on behalf of the queen have been invited to appear. This rules out Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The queen's appearance at this year's event hasn't been confirmed as she continues to deal with what the palace has termed "episodic mobility issues." A new model for royal operations sees the queen's attendance at events not published until she arrives, having judged on the day whether she feels able to attend.

If the queen is unable to attend the trooping ceremony, it's expected that she will be represented by Prince Charles, who was entrusted with the reading of the monarch's speech at the State Opening of Parliament earlier in May.

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