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7 things you may not know about the House of Lords’ Black Rod

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Here’s what the new Black Rod will be doing.

Sarah Clarke is the first woman ever to serve in the role (AELTC/Jed Leicester)

Sarah Clarke has been named as the first female Black Rod in the House of Lords in the 650-year history of the position.

She comes to the position from the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where she was championships director. She has previously held roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport.

So what exactly will she be doing? Here’s everything you need to know about the role:

1. Black Rod traditionally performs three formal roles

Those roles are Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, Serjeant at Arms in the House of Lords and Secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain. Ms Clarke will be the first Lady Usher of the Black Rod

2. The State Opening of Parliament is Black Rod’s most important day of the year…

State Opening of Parliament 2015
(Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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Traditionally, the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the Commons’ independence. They then bang three times on the door with the staff. The door to the Commons Chamber is then opened and all MPs follow Black Rod back to the Lords Chamber to hear the Queen’s Speech.

3. … but Black Rod does perform other duties

Although Black Rod is most prominent in the State Opening of Parliament, Ms Clarke will also perform a number of other roles. She will be responsible for organising access to and maintaining order within the Lords Chamber and the precincts and is responsible for the Queen’s residual estate in the Palace and the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft.

4. Other duties include being a point of contact for members of the House

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Black Rod leads his/her own department and is also currently the House of Lords lead on business resilience and continuity arrangements for the House within Parliament’s overall arrangements. Black Rod also works closely with a number of other services across Parliament, including the Lords Department of Facilities and the Serjeant at Arms’ Office in the Commons.

5. The name Black Rod comes from the staff the post-holder carries

State Opening of Parliament 2014
(Oli Scarff/PA)


6. The role could date back to 1361

Old master and British paintings sale
(Lauren Hurley/PA)

The first reference to Black Rod in connection with Parliament comes in a Garter statute of 1522 which states that Black Rod has an additional duty to “keep the doors… in the High Court called Parliament”. It is thought that, when Henry VIII moved from the Palace of Westminster to the Palace of Whitehall, Black Rod – a member of the Royal Household – stayed behind to act as usher to the House of Lords.

7. The UK isn’t the only parliament to have the position of Black Rod

Royal Visit to Canada – Day Three
(Chris Jackson/PA)

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