This evocatively named ceremony is an annual event, and has become a well-known part of Britain’s famous royal pageantry. It takes place every year on the Queen’s Official Birthday (this year 14th June) on the parade ground of Horse Guards in London.
In simple terms, it involves the regiments of the Queen’s Household Division parading in strict formation, with the regimental standard (the “colours” of the title) being carried by soldiers marching on foot for inspection by the monarch. Every year, the event features around 1400 men and over 200 horses, 10 regimental bands and an RAF fly-past.
The various regiments of the Queen’s Household Division traditionally take it in turns to have the honour of presenting their colours to the Queen. This rotation is generally observed, but is subject to operational commitments. Many people may be unaware, but the traditionally dressed soldiers who stand guard at Horse Guards and outside Buckingham Palace, and who participate in famous pieces of pageantry such as this one and the famous Changing Of The Guard, are part of the regular British army. As such they can be called upon to serve in conflict zones, completing tours to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years alongside their counterparts from other parts of the armed forces.
The ceremony begins with a parade from Buckingham Palace to Horse Guards, before the Queen inspects the assembled troops. When she was younger, she rode on horseback from the Palace – riding side-saddle in traditional fashion and wearing the uniform of the regiment whose colour is to be presented – but in recent years she has done this in a coach. She rides (drives) along the massed ranks of soldiers in turn, taking their salute, before the colour is trooped. The parade then proceeds back to Buckingham Palace, where the Queen and other members of the Royal Family gather on the famous balcony to see an RAF fly-past.
Although it has been a ceremonial event to mark the monarch’s birthday for over 250 years, trooping the colour is based on a very practical custom from the time of Charles II. During battle, the regimental colours were used as a rallying point for soldiers, and it was vital for them to be able to recognise their own colours instinctively when called upon to do so. To help them do this, the regimental colours were trooped in front of the soldiers every day during their parades. This tradition was subsequently incorporated into Changing of the Guard ceremonies during the 18th Century, and the form used then is essentially the same as what can be seen in today’s annual event.