The full title of this Parliamentary position is 'Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Secretary to the Great Lord Chamberlain, and Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Lords'. Black Rod is best known for the part he plays in the state opening of Parliament, during which he bangs three times with the ebony rod of office upon the ornate Pugin door of the Chamber of the House of Commons to summon MPs to attend The Queen's Speech in the House of Lords.

The post of Black Rod was originally set up in 1361 by Edward III, to provide an usher for the Most Noble Order of The Garter. The primary part of the job was to lead the knights in their procession to their assembly in St.George's Chapel and stand guard over the door with a black staff during their deliberations, for performing this task he was granted a sinecure of 12d a day for life.

Although the origins of the role are rooted in medieval pagentry, Black Rod wields considerable power in the day-to-day running of Parliament as, since 1971 when the postion of Sergeant-at-Arms was merged with the duties of Black Rod, he has been responsible for discipline within the Upper House. Black Rod or his assistant the Yeoman Usher are present whenever the House sits to ensure discipline is maintained or enforced, as was required when the dissident noble, the Earl of Burford, jumped on the Woolsack to protest against the abolition of the hereditary peers right to sit in the House of Lords.

The official dress of the position consists of a black cut-away tunic, knee breeches, silk stockings, silver buckled shoes, a sword and a cocked hat carried under the left arm, as well as the famous Black Rod itself, made of ebony and surmounted by a gold lion. The appointment to the position is for three years initially, renewable for up to six.

Black" Rod` (?). (a)

the usher to the Chapter of the Garter, so called from the black rod which he carries. He is of the king's chamber, and also usher to the House of Lords.

[Eng.] (b)

An usher in the legislature of British colonies.

Cowell.

Committed to the custody of the Black Rod. Macaulay.

 

© Webster 1913.

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