Black Rod

United Kingdom
Gentleman Usher of the
Black Rod
Lt Gen David Leakey CMG CBE

since 1 February 2011
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Reports to Clerk of the Parliaments
Appointer The Crown (de jure)
Clerk of the Parliaments (de facto)
Formation 1350
First holder Walter Whitehorse (known)
Deputy Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod
Website Parliamentary information page
Caricature from Vanity Fair of Admiral Sir Augustus W.J. Clifford, 1st Bt, as Black Rod.

The Gentleman 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 responsible for maintaining the buildings, services, and security of the Palace of Westminster.


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.

United Kingdom


Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to whom he reports. 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. His deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.[1]

Official duties

He is responsible, as the representative of the Administration and Works Committee, for maintaining the buildings, services, and security of the Palace of Westminster. 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 his 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. His equivalent for security in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.

Black Rod, along with his deputy, is responsible for organizing 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 part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne speech. He 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 face. This is to symbolize the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with his staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend.[2]

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 him from entering with lawful authority. In recent years, Black Rod has received jibes on this annual occasion from the outspoken Labour MP Dennis Skinner.[3]

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

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

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.[27]

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in Jamaica

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.[28] This office is currently held by The Rt Rev. Dr 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.[29]


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 Rachel Callinan.[30] 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.[31]

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.[32]


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

External links

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