State Opening: Elements unseen by the public

Some of the most well-known elements of the State Opening take place out of the public eye.

Before the Sovereign’s arrival at parliament, the Yeomen of the Guard, the royal bodyguards, ceremonially search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster for explosives. 

This commemorates Guy Fawkes’s ‘gunpowder plot’ of 1605 – a failed attempt by English Catholics to blow up the Protestant King James I and Parliament. 

Another reminder of the violence and intrigue historically surrounding relationships between the Commons and the Crown is the fact that a Member of the Commons is ceremonially held hostage in Buckingham Palace while the Sovereign attends the Palace, to ensure her safe return. 

This tradition stems from the time of Charles I, who had a contentious relationship with Parliament and was eventually beheaded in 1649 at the conclusion of a civil war between the monarchy and Parliament.

The hostage is usually the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household – that is, an MP whose office makes him or her officially a member of the Royal Household and, simultaneously, a junior Whip for the Government.

Further information

Related Links

State Opening in Brief

How the ceremony unfolds in detail