What Is Trooping the Colour? Queen Elizabeth II Birthday Celebration Features Pageantry and Spectacle in Central London

Trooping the Colour is a military ceremony that marks the official birthday of the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II.

The Queen has two birthdays—the actual day she was born and the day this is officially observed in several Commonwealth realms. In Britain, her "official" birthday has taken place on the second Saturday in June since 1959.

Different "colours," or flags, denote different regiments in the British and Commonwealth armies. "Trooping" refers to the marching of a company's color past soldiers. It's thought by some to have its roots in Roman military practice, Encyclopaedia Britannica notes. Ancient companies would march their standard past troops to make sure they recognized it on the battlefield.

Queen Elizabeth II, Trooping the Colour
Trooping the Colour, Royal Family
Trooping the Colour, Royal Guards
Queen Elizabeth II, Official Birthday

Today, some 1,400 operational soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians gather in Central London for the Queen's birthday ceremony, which begins at around 10:00 a.m. A royal salute to the Queen kicks off the day, after which the monarch inspects her troops—the Household Division—lined up and dressed in their full ceremonial uniform at Horse Guard's Parade in Whitehall, the official royal family website notes.

A musical "troop," where military bands perform, takes place before the Regimental Colour is carried down the assembled ranks. Next, the Foot Guards and other groups of troops march and rank past the sovereign, according to the Household Division's website.

Then, ahead of her soldiers, the Queen heads back to Buckingham Palace, where she observes another salute. These days, the Queen uses a carriage for the ceremony, but she used to appear on horseback. Her daughter, royal colonel and former Olympic equestrian Princess Anne, still rides a horse during the event.

The precisely organized display is guided by the Officer in Command of the Parade, who gives about 113 orders during the ceremony, the Household Division notes.

The precise display ends with a Royal Air Force fly-past that takes place at about 1:00 p.m., the Household Division website explains. The Queen and other members of the royal family, dressed in military regalia where appropriate, observe planes whizz overhead from the balcony at Buckingham Palace. A full 41-gun salute also takes place in nearby Green Park, the royal family website states.

Two extra Trooping the Colour events take place ahead of the big day. These are observed by the Major General and the Colonel of the Regiment, rather than the Queen. Members of the public can view all three ceremonies from The Mall or a nearby park. Royal fans can also enter a ballot for seated tickets ahead of the events, with the final ceremony priced at around $50 a head.

This year's Colonel's Review, which took place Saturday, made headlines when two guards appeared to collapse in the sweltering summer heat, The Daily Mail reported. Prince Andrew, who attends the birthday event on horseback like his sister, was inspecting the troops for the first time as Regimental Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, after the retirement of his father Prince Philip in 2017.