Who is Black Rod? The bizarre parliamentary tradition explained

Kate Plummer
Tuesday 11 May 2021 17:04
(UK House of Commons/ Twitter)

It’s no secret that Britain’s parliamentary procedures are (if we are being generous) traditional and quirky, or (if we are not) ridiculous and alienating.

And one bit of procedure that particularly confused people today was the presence of Black Rod - not a villain from some sort of comic book film, but the Queen’s representative in Parliament.

Black Rod marched up to the doors of the Commons, had them slammed in her face before they were reopened for her to solemnly trot down the hall and introduce the Queen’s speech - which wasn’t the Queen’s speech. Look, it’s all just weird, isn’t it? And people wonder why parliament can seem stuffy and unrepresentative?

Anyway, there is some method to the madness and we’ve unravelled it.

Who is Black Rod?

Black Rod is the Chief Lady Usher to the Sovereign and an officer of the Order of the Garter, a role spanning parliament and the Royal household that dates back to 1348.

There are thought to have been 60 holders of the position since then.

The title “Black Rod” comes from the staff carried by the holder - it is made of ebony and is topped with a golden lion.

The position of Black Rod also exists in Commonwealth countries Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

What does it involve?

Black Rod summons MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the Commons’ independence, even though it comes across as pretty aggressive.

Old Roddy then knocks on the door three times, and everyone acts surprised to see them walk back in.

As well as cutting about at ceremonial events, Black Rod manages a team of 30 staff involved in the day-to-day running of the House of Lords and makes a cool £93,000 for doing so.

Ok, but who is Black Rod?

Since 2017, Sarah Clarke has held the role and is the first woman to do so in its 650 year history. Prior to this, she was in charge of admin at Wimbledon and has also worked for the Olympics and the London Marathon.

How have people reacted to Black Rod?

Unsurprisingly, a tradition so bizarre has bemused people on social media today, and Black Rod has trended on Twitter.

Here is a snippet of the reaction:

Oh England, you can’t make it up.