Danielle and I were incredibly lucky to be in London for the Queen’s official birthday celebration, Trooping the Colours. The Queen’s true birthday is April 21st, but is officially acknowledged on a Saturday in June, and this year the celebration happened June 17th, less than 24 hours after we landed in London for our girls weekend.
As an American, captivated by the Royal family, the chance to see the royals up close was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And dare I say it, especially as the nation celebrated the Queen’s 91st birthday. A first in British history. Queen Elizabeth II is not only the longest-lived British monarch, but also the longest-reigning British monarch and the second longest reigning European Monarch, second only to Louis XIV, King of France who reigned for 72 years. This year, the Queen became the first British monarch to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee, 65 years on the throne.
I don’t know about you, but the royals were a part of my life. I distinctly remember sitting on my parents bed with my mom watching Princess Diana’s funeral on television, and watching my mom wipe her tears with a tissue. Years later, I would be wiping my own tears watching Prince William marry Catherine in the same Westminster Abbey. Getting to see them in person was really a moment I will never forget.
Even putting the Royals aside for a moment, the Trooping of the Colours parade is regarded as one of the best military parades in the world. The ceremony dates back to the reign of King Charles II from 1660 to 1668, and in 1748, it was decided that it would become the official event to mark the Sovereign’s birthday. The parade has occurred annually since 1820 except in bad weather, periods of mourning and other exceptional circumstances like during the wars.
King Edward VII, Elizabeth’s great grandfather, was the sovereign who started the tradition of taking the salute in person, and also established it as a June tradition because of the harsh British weather. Now, going forward, regardless of the actual birthday of the monarch, a sunny day was almost guaranteed. This year’s parade consisted of over 1400 officers and men, two hundred horses, and over four hundred musicians from six military bands and drum corps trooping for her Majesty.
Over the years very little has changed about the ceremony. The one significant difference is that now, only one color, the Queen’s Colour, is ‘Trooped’ by the Household Division, wearing full dress. This year, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards were trooped for her Majesty, the first time in eight years. You can tell them apart from other Guards by the St. Patrick’s blue plume on the right side of their bearskins hats, regimental badge, and order of their jacket buttons. All the guards look almost identical except for small changes within these three details. It really takes a trained eye to notice the different button patterns, for example.
And a quick note about the uniform. The 18 inch bearskin hats are in fact Canadian black bear and have been worn since 1815 following the battle of Waterloo. For years the Ministry of Defense has tried to find a synthetic fur, but no acceptable version has been found.
Until the celebration of her 60th birthday in 1986, the Queen rode sidesaddle in the parade. Starting in 1987 she attended in an open-topped carriage with her husband Prince Philip. This year was the first year Phillip did not wear his dress uniform as Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy. Maybe it was a good choice for the 96 year old, as the weather that day was exceptionally hot. As it was, at least 5 Guards fainted from the heat in their scarlet uniforms. Prince Charles and William were on horseback in their uniforms, but I couldn’t recognize them to grab a picture.
As expected for a British event, precision is key to the parade which starts at Buckingham Palace, travels down The Mall (where we were standing) to the Horse Guards Parade. At exactly 11:00 the Royal procession reaches the Horse Guards Parade and the Queen takes the Royal salute. She then inspects the guards and then they parade back to Buckingham palace. The inspection can take quite some time, so once we saw the Queen pass us the first time I was satisfied and we left the parade. All we would have missed was the troops and family coming back up the Mall, and then joining the crowd at the palace to see the family appear on the balcony as the RAF complete a flyby… as a military spouse I have seen enough military planes to pass that by for more adventuring in London.
In case you were wondering, next year’s parade is scheduled for June 9, 2018 🙂
Please enjoy the pictures below that I took. If you want more, see my full album on Flickr which also has 2 short videos.