During our visit to London in May, it was by coincidence that we were there on the day that the UK Parliament opens it’s session. By far the highlight of the event is the Queen’s address to the session laying out her policy recommendations and direction that she wishes parliament to pursue during it’s session. This tradition has is roots dating back to the 14th century and according to historical accounts, little has changed in terms of the procedures.

Today, the event is attended by members of the House Lords who come attired in their traditional robes, members of the UK government and ambassadors from countries around the world. Normally Parliament has it’s opening session in November or December, but due to an introduction of 5 year term limits and future elections being scheduled for May of every 5th year, it was decided to moved the 2012 opening of Parliament to May.

Reading up on the history of this event, I discovered two traditions that are in place today that had very unique origins. The first one involves the searching of the cellars in the Palace of Westminster by the Yeoman’s Guard. This tradition goes back to 1605 when the “Gunpowder Plot” was uncovered. This plot’s aim was to blow up the House Of Parliament and King James I who was in attendance for it’s opening. The plot was traced back to English Catholics and to this day the ceremonial search happens each year.

Another interesting tradition based on historical events involves the taking of a hostage. Each year, prior to the King or Queen’s departure for Parliament, they take hostage a member of the House of Commons and keep that person as “prisoner” in Buckingham Palace. The reason behind this is to ensure the safety of the Monarch as they enter the Parliament. Apparently the Monarch may on occasion be faced with a less-than-friendly session when opening Parliament and needed to ensure their safety. Reading up on this tradition, I found that it goes back to the days of Charles I who in 1642 had stormed into the House of Commons seeking to arrest 5 members for treason. Due to his actions, no Monarch has EVER AGAIN been permitted to enter the House of Commons. Today, the Monarch only has the ability to enter the House of Lords.

For this year’s opening of Parliament, Mark Francois was the Member of Parliament (MP) who went to Buckingham Palace as the hostage.

Now that my brief history “lesson” is complete, I can move on the photos. We arrived at Parliament about 90 minutes ahead of the beginning of the session and had ample opportunity to find a great spot from which to watch the procession. The spot we secured was as close as any member of the public could get to the procession and still be behind the security barricades.

When we arrived, the traffic around Parliament had already been diverted, leaving a very unusual and traffic free scene around the area:

Our vantage point would ultimately be right under the red lights you see in the distance. The entire procession would pass within 30 yards of us (Westminster Abbey in the background):

The procession would include representatives from the Military:

Security was obvious:

Who's watching who???

Of course, no procession is complete without a band. In this case the band was very entertaining. Once they positioned themselves by the Sovereign’s Entrance to Parliament, they belted out several big band hits!

The Queen’s guard indicated that she was not far behind:

The Queen’s Carriage:

Once the Queen concluded her speech, her guard prepared to escort her back to Buckingham Palace:

We caught a great glimpse of Prince Philip on their way back to Buckingham Palace:

In all, we spent approximately 3 hours standing by Parliament to take in the event. Typically I’m not one to stand in place for 3 hours waiting for few minutes of excitement. But in this case, to actually see the Queen as up close as we did was worth the wait. Its not everyday that one gets to have a live glimpse at someone who has been so influential and instrumental for her nation and it’s citizenry for 60 years!

This is only part of a much larger trip report covering the trip to Istanbul and London. If you would like to be informed of future trip reports, please follow me on twitter: @lufthansaflyer.

Here is the current “index” of the trip report. The one’s with hyperlinks have already been completed:

Lufthansa First Class Services from Chicago to Frankfurt
Lufthansa First Class Lounge in Frankfurt

Istanbul – Sultan Ahmed (Sultanahmet) Mosque.
Istanbul – The Basilica Cistern.
Istanbul – Spice Market and Grand Bazaar.
Istanbul – Park Hyatt Macka Palas.
Istanbul – Our Day with Ihsan (besttaxidriver.com).
Istanbul – Hagia Sophia.
Istanbul – Other Mosques and Churches.
Istanbul – I find out what Zultanite is….
Istanbul – The Food We Found.
Istanbul – Turkish Airlines’ International CIP Lounge.

London – Hyatt Andaz Liverpool Street.
London – Opening of Parliament – Great pictures of the Queen and procession to Parliament.
London – ‘The Sunshine Boys’ at the Savoy Theater (Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths)…..BRILLIANT, MUST SEE!
London – Spitalfield’s Antique Market – And the lesson I learned.
London – Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum.
London – Photos from around town.
London – Dinner at Petrus
London – St. James Park: Feathers and Fur
London – Covent Gardens.
London – All the other things that I can’t think of at the moment….

Pluckley – They said it was haunted……