Trooping the Colour is a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies. It has been a tradition of British infantry regiments since the 17th century, although its roots go back much earlier. On the battlefield, a regiment’s colours, or flags, were used as rallying points. Consequently, regiments would have their ensigns slowly march with their colours between the ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their regiments’ colours.
The custom of Trooping the Colour dates back to the time of Charles II in the 17th. Century when the Colours of a regiment were used as a rallying point in battle and were therefore trooped in front of the soldiers every day to make sure that every man could recognise those of his own regiment. In London, the Foot Guards used to do this as part of their daily Guard Mounting on Horse Guards and the ceremonial of the modern Trooping the Colour parade is along similar lines. The first traceable mention of The Sovereign’s Birthday being ‘kept’ by the Grenadier Guards is in 1748 and again, after George III became King in 1760, it was ordered that parades should mark the King’s Birthday. From the accession of George IV they became, with a few exceptions and notably the two World Wars, an annual event.
What do they do?
Once The Queen has arrived at Horse Guard’s Parade in Whitehall, she is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops, who are fully trained and operational soldiers wearing the ceremonial uniform of red tunics and bearskin hats.
The Queen used to attend on horseback herself, but in recent years has travelled by carriage.
After the military bands have performed, the escorted Regimental Colour, or flag, is processed down the ranks of soldiers. Over one hundred words of command are used by the Officer in Command of the Parade to direct the several hundred soldiers.
Once the Foot Guards have marched past The Queen, she rides back to Buckingham Palace at the head of the soldiers, before taking the salute again at the Palace from a dais.
Her Majesty is then joined by other Members of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace to watch a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. A 41-gun salute is also fired in Green Park to mark the occasion.
Activities after ceremony
When the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace, the first division of the Escort to the Colour forms into two detachments of the new guard and enters the forecourt, opposite the old guard; but unlike the usual Changing of the Guard, the Regimental Sergeant Major participates in the ceremony. The remainder of the guards perform a march-past outside the gateway, in quick time instead of the usual slow time, with the Queen, positioned before the central gateway, receiving their salute. As the guards march past, their regimental marches are played by the massed and mounted bands respectively. The rest of the Royal Family observes the march-past from the balcony.
The gun salutes begin on the arrival of the Queen at Buckingham Palace, with the King’s Troop firing a 41-gun royal salute in Green Park and the Honourable Artillery Company firing a 62-gun royal salute from the Tower of London grounds.
Finally, the Queen and the Royal Family on the palace balcony witness a flypast by the Royal Air Force, often featuring the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows. This is once again followed by the National Anthem and in special years, a feu de joie followed by the shouting of the three cheers to the Queen on behalf of the entire Household Division.