UK Lords appoint first woman to historic "Black Rod" role

by Reuters
Friday, 17 November 2017 13:43 GMT

Black Rod waits at the bottom of the stairs for the arrival of Queen Elizabeth during the State Opening of Parliament in central London, Britain May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Richard Pohle

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Black Rod is in charge of the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster

LONDON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Britain's upper parliamentary chamber, the House of Lords, has appointed a woman to the role of "Black Rod" for the first time in the office's 650-year history.

Sarah Clarke, currently responsible for the organisation of the annual Wimbledon tennis championships, will be known as The Lady Usher of the Black Rod.

In charge of the major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster, Black Rod is best known for having the door to the House of Commons slammed in the official's face at the State Opening of Parliament to symbolise the independence of the lower House.

Black Rod traditionally reacts to the historic insult by banging three times on the door with his symbol of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion. The door is then opened and all Members of Parliament follow Black Rod back to the Lords Chamber to hear the Queen's Speech.

The earliest known reference to the role is in letters patent from 1361 which refer to one Walter Whitehorse performing the role. There are thought to have been 60 holders of the position since then, while there are also Black Rods in the parliaments and legislative assemblies of Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

In a statement, Clarke, who will start early next year, said she was honoured to be invited to take up the role.

"The House of Lords is a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none," she said.

Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords said it was a historic moment for the House.

"People are most familiar with Black Rod for the part they play at State Opening, but the job is much more than that," he said.

(Reporting by Stephen Addison; editing by Michael Holden)

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