Black Rod

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, or Lady Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to Black Rod, is an official in the parliaments of several Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom, Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[1] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Since early 2018, the post has been held for the first time by a woman, Sarah Clarke,[2] who is therefore known as the Lady Usher of the Black Rod.

United Kingdom
Gentleman/Lady Usher of the Black Rod
House of Lords
Sarah Clarke

since 13 February 2018
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Reports toClerk of the Parliaments
AppointerThe Crown (de jure)
Clerk of the Parliaments (de facto)
First holderWalter Whitehorse (known)
DeputyYeoman Usher of the Black Rod
WebsiteParliamentary information page
Augustus Clifford Vanity Fair 11 October 1873
Caricature from Vanity Fair of Admiral Sir Augustus W. J. Clifford, 1st Bt, as Black Rod.


The office was created in 1350 by royal letters patent, though the current title dates from 1522. The position was adopted by other members of the Commonwealth when they adopted the British Westminster system. The title is derived from the staff of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion, which is the main symbol of the office's authority.

A ceremonial rod or staff is a common type of symbol indicating the authority of the office-holder. Depictions of ancient authority figures in many cultures include such a rod (alternatively called a sceptre). Another early example was the fasces (literally a bound bundle of rods) carried by guards ("lictors") who accompanied certain high-level officials in the Roman Republic and later Empire.

United Kingdom


Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is the employer of all House of Lords officials. Prior to 2002, the office rotated among retired senior officers from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. It is now advertised openly. Black Rod is an officer of the English Order of the Garter, and is usually appointed Knight Bachelor if not already knighted. Their deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.[3]

Official duties

He or she is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[1] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Previous responsibilities for security, and the buildings and services of the Palace of Westminster, have been passed, respectively, to the Parliamentary Security Director (as of the post's creation in January 2016) and Lords Director of Facilities (as of that post's creation and the retirement of the then-Black Rod in May 2009).[4]

Black Rod's official duties also include responsibility as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords; as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain and as the Serjeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House, in charge of the admission of strangers to the House of Lords. Either Black Rod or their deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, is in session, and plays a role in the introduction of all new Lords Temporal in the House (but not of bishops as new Lords Spiritual). Black Rod also arrests any Lord guilty of breach of privilege or other Parliamentary offence, such as contempt or disorder, or the disturbance of the House's proceedings. Their equivalent in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.

Black Rod, along with their deputy, is responsible for organising ceremonial events within the Palace of Westminster, providing leadership in guiding the significant logistics of running such events.

Ceremonial duties


Black Rod is in theory responsible for carrying the Mace into and out of the chamber for the Speaker of the House of Lords (formerly the Lord Chancellor, now the Lord Speaker), though this role is delegated to the Yeoman Usher and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, or on judicial occasions, to the Lord Speaker's deputy, the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms. The mace was introduced in 1876.

State Opening of Parliament

Black Rod is best known for his or her part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the throne. He or she summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are slammed in his or her face. This is to symbolize the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with the staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend.[5]

This ritual is derived from the attempt by King Charles I to arrest the Five Members in 1642, in what was seen as a breach of the constitution. This and prior actions of the King led to the Civil War. After that incident, the House of Commons has maintained its right to question the right of the monarch's representative to enter their chamber, although they cannot bar them from entering with lawful authority.

List of Black Rods in England, Great Britain and the UK from 1361

List of Serjeants-at-Arms of the House of Lords

Technically the serjeant at arms attending the Lord Chancellor (the presiding officer of the House of Lords) was regarded as an officer of the House of Lords. He was appointed for life until 1713 and during good behaviour thereafter, originally receiving a daily remuneration and from 1806 an annual salary. The post was merged with that of Black Rod in 1971.

incomplete before 1660

Since 1971 the office of Serjeant at Arms has been held by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in Ireland

Before the Act of Union of 1800, which united the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, there was also a Black Rod in the Irish House of Lords. From 1783 the Irish Black Rod was also Usher of the Order of St Patrick, so the office continued after the Union. No one was appointed to the office after the separation of the Irish Free State in 1922.

The Senate of Northern Ireland also had a Black Rod throughout its existence.[30]

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in Jamaica

  • 1820 – 1836 Anthony Davis

Other UK ushers

Before the Acts of Union 1707 united the English and Scottish parliaments, there was a Heritable Usher of the White Rod who had a similar role in the Estates of Parliament in Scotland.[31] This office is currently held by The Rt Rev. John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, but the role carries no duties.

Gentleman ushers exist for all the British orders of chivalry, and are coloured as follows:

Black Rod in other Commonwealth countries

As in the United Kingdom, Black Rod is responsible for arresting any senator or intruder who disrupts the proceedings.


The Black Rod for the Senate of Canada is well known in the Canadian public. The Legislatures of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island have also incorporated Black Rods into their respective parliamentary systems.[32]


Both the Australian Senate and houses in the parliament in each Australian state (except Queensland) have their own Usher of the Black Rod. The current Usher of the Black Rod for the Australian Senate is John Begley.[33] In the Australian Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod assists with the administration and security of the Senate and has the power to arrest or detain Senators.[34]

New Zealand

In New Zealand, where the Legislative Council was abolished in 1951, the Usher of the Black Rod continues to summon MPs to the chamber for the Throne Speech. It is not a full-time position. Colonel William "Bill" Nathan, OBE, ED was Usher of the Black Rod 1993 to 2005. The position is currently held by David Baguley.[35]


  1. ^ a b "Black Rod". UK Parliament. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  2. ^ "Sarah Clarke appointed to the role of Black Rod". 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Yeoman Usher". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  4. ^ Torrance, Michael (12 December 2017). "Governance and Administration of the House of Lords" (PDF). House of Lords Library. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Black Rod" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Biddulph, Michael. "London Gazette Issue: 26697Page:81". The Gazette. The Parliamentary Press, London.
  7. ^ Biddulph, Michael. "The London Gazette: Issue: 27363 Page:6569". The Gazette. The Parliamentary Press, London.
  8. ^ "No. 47433". The London Gazette. 10 January 1978. p. 321.
  9. ^ "New appointment as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod". Archived from the original on 9 May 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  10. ^ "First female Black Rod in 650 years". 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017 – via
  11. ^ a b c d e f Chris Cook and John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1688–1760 (1988) p. 97.
  12. ^ a b c d Chris Cook and John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1760–1830 (1980) p. 50.
  13. ^ a b c d e Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, British Historical Facts 1830–1900 (1975) p. 104.
  14. ^ "No. 28437". The London Gazette. 15 November 1910. p. 8163.
  15. ^ "No. 34252". The London Gazette. 4 February 1936. p. 729.
  16. ^ "No. 34608". The London Gazette. 17 March 1939. p. 1844.
  17. ^ "No. 37806". The London Gazette. 3 December 1946. p. 5913.
  18. ^ "No. 42627". The London Gazette. 20 March 1962. p. 2327.
  19. ^ "No. 45274". The London Gazette. 5 January 1971. p. 137.
  20. ^ "ELLYS, Thomas (1685-1709), of Mitre Court, Inner Temple". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  21. ^ Peerage and Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland. 1839. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  22. ^ "The Peerage". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  23. ^ Lodge, John. The Peerage Of Ireland: Or,A Genealogical History Of The Present ..., Volume 4.
  24. ^ "MONTAGU, George (c. 1713-1780), of Windsor, Berks". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  25. ^ "EDMONSTONE, Archibald (1717-1807), of Duntreath, Stirling". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The Most Illustrious Order by Peter Galloway; ISBN 0-906290-23-6
  27. ^ Dodsley. The Annual Register 1783.
  28. ^ Galloway, Peter (1 January 1983). The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0850335088.
  29. ^ "BERNARD (afterwards BERNARD MORLAND), Scrope (1758-1830), of Nether Winchendon, Bucks". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  30. ^ Morton, Grenfell (January 1980). Home rule and the Irish question. Longman. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-582-35215-5. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  31. ^ Facts about Edinburgh. The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
  32. ^ "2nd Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 149, Issue 19 (Senate of Canada)". Parliament of Canada. Queen's Printer for Canada. 27 November 2013.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ "State opening of Parliament". The New Zealand Herald. 9 December 2008.

External links

Augustus Clifford

Admiral Sir Augustus William James Clifford, 1st Baronet, (26 May 1788 – 8 February 1877) was a British Royal Navy officer, court official, and usher of the Black Rod.

Brian Horrocks

Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Gwynne Horrocks, (7 September 1895 – 4 January 1985) was a British Army officer, chiefly remembered as the commander of XXX Corps in Operation Market Garden and other operations during the Second World War. He also served in the First World War and the Russian Civil War, was taken prisoner twice, and competed in the modern pentathlon at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Later he was a television presenter, wrote books on military history, and was Black Rod in the House of Lords for 14 years.

In 1940 Horrocks commanded a battalion during the Battle of France, the first time he served under Bernard Montgomery, the most prominent British commander of the war. Montgomery later identified Horrocks as one of his most able officers, appointing him to corps commands in both North Africa and Europe. In 1943, Horrocks was seriously wounded and took more than a year to recover before returning to command a corps in Europe. It is likely that this period out of action meant he missed out on promotion; his contemporary corps commanders in North Africa, Oliver Leese and Miles Dempsey, went on to command at army level and above. Horrocks' wound continued to impair his health and led to his early retirement from the army after the war.

Since 1945, Horrocks has been regarded by some as one of the most successful British generals of the war, "a man who really led, a general who talked to everyone, down to the simplest private soldier" and the "beau ideal of a corps commander". General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, called him "the outstanding British general under Montgomery".

David Leakey

Lieutenant General Arundell David Leakey, (born 18 May 1952) is a former British military commander. He was Director General of the European Union Military Staff in the Council of the European Union, Brussels. In 2010 he was appointed Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, a role he held until February 2018.

Dennis Skinner

Dennis Edward Skinner (born 11 February 1932) is a British politician of the Labour Party serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970. Skinner became the longest continuously serving Labour MP on 16 December 2017. He was Chairman of the Labour Party for a year from 1988 to 1989 and served as a member of Labour's National Executive Committee, with brief breaks, for thirty years.He is known for his left-wing views and an acerbic wit. He is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs.

Edward Jones (British Army officer)

General Sir Charles Edward Webb Jones (25 September 1936 – 14 May 2007) was a senior officer in the British Army. He served as Quartermaster-General and as Britain's military representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). He retired from the Army in 1995 to become Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (or simply Black Rod) in the British Parliament's House of Lords, serving in that office until 2001.

Gentleman Usher

Gentleman Usher is a title for some officers of the Royal Household of the United Kingdom. See List of Gentlemen Ushers for a list of office-holders.

George Mills (RAF officer)

Air Chief Marshal Sir George Holroyd Mills, (26 March 1902 – 14 April 1971) was a senior Royal Air Force commander. After his retirement from the RAF, Mills served as Black Rod in the Houses of Parliament until 1970. He was also a trustee of the Imperial War Museum.

Henry Frederick Stephenson

Admiral Sir Henry Frederick Stephenson (7 June 1842 – 16 December 1919) was a Royal Navy officer, courtier, and Arctic explorer.

John Gingell

Air Chief Marshal Sir John Gingell, (3 February 1925 – 10 December 2009) was a senior Royal Air Force commander.

Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan is the deliberative assembly of the Saskatchewan Legislature in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada. Bills passed by the assembly are given royal assent by the Queen of Canada in Right of Saskatchewan, (represented by the Lieutenant Governor of Saskatchewan). The legislature meets at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina.

There are 61 constituencies in the province, which elect members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to the Legislative Assembly. All are single-member districts, though the cities of Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw have been represented by multi-member constituencies in the past.

The legislature has been unicameral since its establishment; there has never been a provincial upper house.

Michael Willcocks

Lieutenant General Sir Michael Alan Willcocks, (born 27 July 1944) is a retired officer of the British Army and former Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod for the Parliament of the United Kingdom's House of Lords.

Richard Thomas (Royal Navy officer)

Admiral Sir William Richard Scott Thomas (22 March 1932 – 13 December 1998) was the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (or simply Black Rod) in the British Parliament's House of Lords from January 1992 to 8 May 1995.

Sarah Clarke (Black Rod)

Sarah Clarke is a British administrator. Since 13 February 2018, she has served as Black Rod, the first female Black Rod in the 650-year history of the role. The role is formally "The Lady Usher of the Black Rod" (for previous incumbents "Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod"). Before taking this role, she was in charge of the administration of The Championships, Wimbledon.

State Opening of Parliament

The State Opening of Parliament is an event which formally marks the beginning of a session of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It includes a speech from the throne known as the Queen's Speech (or the King's Speech). The State Opening is an elaborate ceremony showcasing British history, culture and contemporary politics to large crowds and television viewers.

It takes place in the House of Lords chamber, usually in May or June, but traditionally in November, in front of both Houses of Parliament. The monarch, wearing the Imperial State Crown, reads a speech that has been prepared by his or her government outlining its plans for that parliamentary year. A State Opening may take place at other times of the year if an election is held early due to a vote of no confidence in the government. In 1974, when two general elections were held, there were two State Openings.

Queen Elizabeth II has opened every session of Parliament since her accession, except in 1959 and 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward respectively. Those two sessions were opened by Lords Commissioners, headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Geoffrey Fisher in 1959 and Michael Ramsey in 1963), empowered by the Queen. The Lord Chancellor (Viscount Kilmuir in 1959 and Lord Dilhorne in 1963) read the Queen's Speech on those occasions.


Usher may refer to:

Several jobs which originally involved directing people and ensuring people are in the correct place:

Usher (occupation)

Church usher

Field usher, a military rank

Court usher, a court official

Usher of Justice, a judicial official in some countries

Usher of the Black Rod, a parliamentary official in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand

Gentleman Usher, a category of royal official in the United Kingdom

White House Chief Usher

Usher (Switzerland), a largely ceremonial function in Swiss federal, cantonal, and local governments

Usher of the Black Rod (Canada)

The Usher of the Black Rod (often shortened to Black Rod; French: Huissier du Bâton Noir) is the most senior protocol position in the Parliament of Canada.

The office is modelled on the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod of the House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Black Rod leads the Speaker's Parade at the beginning of each sitting of the Senate and oversees protocol and administrative and logistical details of important events taking place on Parliament Hill, such as the opening of parliament and the Speech from the Throne. Upon the appointment of the first woman to the position of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod on 20 October 1997, the title was changed to Usher of the Black Rod.The usher carries an ebony and gold staff modelled on that used in the House of Lords. The top consists of a crown and crest bearing the words Honi soit qui mal y pense and motif for George IV of the United Kingdom.

William Compton (courtier)

Sir William Compton (c. 1482 – 30 June 1528) was a soldier and one of the most prominent courtiers during the reign of Henry VIII of England.

William Mitchell (RAF officer)

Air Chief Marshal Sir William Gore Sutherland Mitchell, (8 March 1888 – 15 August 1944) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the first RAF officer to hold the post of Black Rod.

William Pulteney (British Army officer)

Lieutenant General Sir William Pulteney Pulteney, (18 May 1861 – 14 May 1941) was a British general during the First World War.

Officers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords
House of Commons House of Lords


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