Trooping the Colour has a long and rich history. Flags, or colours were used as a method of identification for different regiments of the British army, as they made it easy for soldiers to recognise their units even in the chaos of a battlefield. Of course, the soldiers would have to learn which colours belonged to their regiment, so they were regularly marched and displayed, or trooped by a young officer. The tradition has lasted for centuries and though it’s purely ceremonial now, it does have the added significance of marking the sovereign’s official birthday.
The custom of two birthdays for the monarch was started by George II in 1748. His proper birthday was in November but he felt that thanks to the Great British weather, it wouldn’t be suitable to hold a celebratory parade in the winter so he combined his birthday with Trooping the Colour, which took place in the springtime. This means that the Queen has two birthdays, her actual birthday is 21st April and her official one falls on a Saturday in June, the same day as Trooping the Colour.
The parade gives the Queen the chance to inspect members of the Household Division who are her personal troops. The event features 1,400 men on parade, 400 musicians and 200 horses and she still attends in person, even at the age of 91.
It all kicks off at 10am, when the Queen travels down from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards Parade by carriage (she used to do the journey on horseback) to take the Royal Salute from the officers on parade, including Prince William for the first time, as he’s Royal Colonel of the Irish Guards and they are taking part in this year’s ceremony. You can no longer get tickets for the pageant, but head down to The Mall where you can see members of the Royal Family as they travel or to the edge of St James’s Park to see the troops on Horse Guards Parade from 9am to claim a spot.
The bands perform a musical ‘troop’ before the regimental Colour is trooped, guards march past the Queen and then she returns to the Palace to appear with members of the Royal Family to watch a fly-past by the Royal Air Force at 1pm. If you’d prefer to catch the whole thing from indoors, it’s all broadcast live on the BBC.
Saturday 17th June 2017, 4 Whitehall Pl, London, UK