What really is Trooping the Color? History, meaning and traditions

Trooping the Color is a traditional military ceremony held each year in Britain to celebrate the monarch’s official birthday in early June.

A special Trooping the Color ceremony is planned to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, which marks her historic 70th reign on Thursday 2 June.

But what really happens in Trooping the Color? Why are the British doing this and what does it mean? news week has the answers.

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Trooping the Color is a military parade at which the seven army regiments serving the Queen are grouped under the umbrella of the Household Division.

At the ceremony, the color (name for a regimental flag) is 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 could then identify it on the battlefield.

In Britain, the ceremony’s introduction is believed to date back to the 17th century, although it is officially maintained 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 a parade or celebrations at this time of year, George held an official birthday parade over the summer.

Successive monarchs have had the opportunity to maintain this tradition, and the “official” summer royal birthday celebrations were standardized by King Edward VII (1841-1910).

Queen Elizabeth Trooping the Color 1983
Queen Elizabeth II rides in the Trooping the Color parade on June 11, 1983.
Tim Graham Photo Archive via Getty Images

meaning

The significance of Trooping the Color today is mainly ceremonial, but it is an important part of military history and still serves the purpose of providing troops with an opportunity to practice drills and work in tandem with other regiments.

The ceremony has also become an important occasion for the Queen to be seen in her capacity as head of the armed forces and to appraise the soldiers serving on her behalf.

Queen Elizabeth Trooping the Color 2022
Trooping the Color is a traditional military ceremony held each year in Britain to celebrate the monarch’s official birthday in early June. Photographed 12 June 2021. (Left inset) The Queen photographed 16 June 1979. And (Right inset) Buckingham Palace, 13 June 2015.
Photo archive by Chris Jackson/Getty Images/Tim Graham via Getty Images

traditions

There are many traditions associated with Trooping the Color, the first and foremost being that it is performed in the presence of the sovereign or a senior member of the royal family when he or she is disabled or out of the country.

The ceremony takes place each year in Horse Guards Parade, which is at the east end of St James’s Park, a short walk down the Mall from Buckingham Palace. The parade ground marks the official entrance to the Court of St James, the official title of the British royal court. Therefore, when the Queen travels to Westminster Abbey, she uses Horse Guards Parade as the crossing point, and it was the route taken by Princess Diana’s funeral procession in 1997.

For Trooping the Color, grandstands are set up around the parade ground and sand is strewn to prevent the horses and gun carriages from slipping on the hard surface as they enter.

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

In years past, the Queen would come to the parade on horseback and side-saddle, from where she would do the checking as soon as the color came up. In recent years she has used one of the State Coaches kept and maintained by the Royal Stables at Buckingham Palace.

Queen Elizabeth II Trooping the Color Carriages
In earlier decades, the Queen took part in the Trooping the Color parade on horseback, but more recently has taken part in 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 alongside Princess Anne on horseback and were part of the sovereign’s escort, and other family members including Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall have followed in open Landau carriages.

Arriving at the parade ground, the Queen witnesses Trooping the Color and then conducts a review of the regiment that had its color (this changes from year to year), as well as the Household Cavalry, the Foot Guards and the King’s Troop.

After the parade, the Queen travels back to Buckingham Palace, followed by the rest of the Royals, after which they traditionally appear on the Palace balcony for a flyby of the Royal Air Force as they fly along the Mall.

Platinum Anniversary

This year marks the Platinum Jubilee of Elizabeth II, the first such celebration in the British monarchy’s thousand-year history.

The Trooping the Color parade, which will take place on June 2nd, a national holiday specially designated for 2022, is planned as the central celebration weekend for this milestone.

This year the 1st Battalion Irish Guards will have their colour. The Queen is the Chief Colonel of the Irish Guards and Prince William was appointed Colonel of the Regiment by his grandmother. William attended the Colonel’s Review, which serves as a practice ceremony in the days leading up to the official event.

A gun salute is scheduled during the parade and a special balcony appearance will take place after the royals have returned along the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

Trooping the Color Balcony Flypast
Traditionally, members of the Royal Family join the Queen to watch a Royal Air Force flyby after the Trooping the Color parade.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

While traditionally many members of the immediate and extended royal family, including members of foreign royal families, have appeared on the Trooping the Color balcony, this year Buckingham Palace announced that only members of the royal family performing official duties on behalf of the Queen assume appear invited to appear. This excludes Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The Queen’s appearance at this year’s event has not been confirmed as she continues to deal with what the Palace describes as “episodic mobility issues”. A new model for royal operations sees the Queen attending events, which are only made public upon her arrival, after assessing on the day whether she feels fit to attend.

If the Queen is unable to attend the troop ceremony, she is expected to be represented by Prince Charles, who has been tasked with reading the monarch’s speech at the State Opening of Parliament in early May.

For more royal news and commentary, check out Newsweek’s The Royal Report podcast:

https://www.newsweek.com/trooping-colour-history-significance-traditions-queen-platinum-jubilee-1711415 What really is Trooping the Color? History, meaning and traditions

Rick Schindler

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