The Trooping of the Colour

Hidden London: Episode 15

The Trooping of the Colour is a spectacular celebration that has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign since 1760 when George III became King. It takes place in June even though Her Majesty The Queen’s actual birthday is on the 21st of April! This spectacular extravaganza performed by the regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies travels from Buckingham Palace along The Mall to Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and back again. It is held on the second Saturday of every June at Horse Guards Parade when the Queen ‘Troops’ (inspects) the soldiers.

The origins of Trooping the Colour were historically described as colours when regimental flags of the British Army displayed the uniform colours and insignias worn by the soldiers of the different regiments. The principal role of a regiment’s colours was to provide an assembly point on the battlefield. The officers would carry their flags and slowly march between the ranks to enable soldiers to recognise their own regiments’ colours. Hence ‘Trooping The Colour’. This was important because it was too easy for troops to become disoriented and separated from their regiments during battles. The Guards are amongst the oldest regiments of the British Army and have served as the personal bodyguards of The Sovereign since the monarchy was restored after the English Civil War in 1660.

It’s important to remember that even today, the Guards are front-line troops, and consider it an honour to provide the sovereign’s guard in London. They are emphatically not ‘toy soldiers’! You can visit the fascinating Guards Museum next to Buckingham Palace on Birdcage Walk. Incidentally, just a few yards away from the museum, there was a house that’s long vanished, was where the poet Milton wrote ‘On his blindness’.

During the ceremony, Her Majesty The Queen is greeted by a Royal salute and carries out an inspection of the troops. After the massed bands have performed a musical ‘troop’, the escorted Regimental Colour is carried down the ranks. The Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry then march past Her Majesty The Queen, and The King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, rank past. Her Majesty the Queen then joins other members of the Royal Family on the palace balcony for a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

In 2020, the ceremony was, instead, held at Windsor Castle, due to Covid-19 pandemic and the social distancing rules. It was only the second time that the ceremony was held at Windsor Castle. The first was in 1895 during the reign of Queen Victoria. The ceremony was a rather subdued ceremony with a depleted Welsh guards marching in front of the Queen. There was no public audience.

Incidentally, Knightsbridge Horse Barracks on nearby Knightsbridge were built in the 1960s, provide accommodation for about 300 soldiers and horses of the Household Cavalry.  Rather unusually, the horses are stabled on the second floor of the building.

Tickets for the Colonel’s Review and the Major General’s Review are available for sale in January of each year. However, applications for Trooping the Colour can only be made between January and February.

Trooping the Colour and Changing of the Guard take place at Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace and Horseguards Parade and are open to the public except when it rains! The sites can be found here at Buckingham Palace, London, SW1A 1AA, Horseguards Parade between Horseguards Road and Whitehall, London, W1D 5BR and St James’s Palace at Marlborough Rd, St. James’s, London SW1A 1BQ. The nearest tube/underground/metro stations are Charing Cross, Victoria, St James’s and Westminster stations.