1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Black Rod

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BLACK ROD (more fully, “Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod”), an official of the House of Lords, instituted in 1350. His appointment is by royal letters patent, and his title is due to his staff of office, an ebony stick surmounted with a gold lion. He is a personal attendant of the sovereign in the Upper House, and is also usher of the order of the Garter, being doorkeeper at the meetings of the knights’ chapter. He is responsible for the maintenance of order in the House of Lords, and on him falls the duty of arresting any peer guilty of breach of privilege or other offence of which the House takes cognizance. But the duty which brings him most into prominence is that of summoning the Commons and their speaker to the Upper House to hear a speech from the throne or the royal assent given to bills. If the sovereign is present in parliament, Black Rod commands the attendance of the gentlemen of the Commons, but when lords commissioners represent the king, he only desires such attendance. Black Rod is on such occasions the central figure of a curious ceremony of much historic significance. As soon as the attendants of the House of Commons are aware of his approach, they close the doors in his face. Black Rod then strikes three times with his staff, and on being asked “Who is there?” replies “Black Rod.” Being then admitted he advances to the bar of the House, makes three obeisances and says, “Mr Speaker, the king commands this honourable House to attend his majesty immediately in the House of Lords.” This formality originated in the famous attempt of Charles I. to arrest the five members, Hampden, Pym, Holles, Hesilrige and Strode, in 1642. Indignant at this breach of privilege, the House of Commons has ever since maintained its right of freedom of speech and uninterrupted debate by the closing of the doors on the king’s representative.