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UK House of Lords appoints Sarah Clarke as first female Black Rod

Category: It`s interesting to know 

Black Rod, one of the most exotic figures in British parliamentary tradition, is to be a woman for the first time since the post was first recorded in 1361. Sarah Clarke, Championships Director at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, which hosts Wimbledon, will take on responsibility for ceremonial events at the House of Lords and take possession of the eponymous three-and-a-half foot ebony staff at the end of the year. Ms Clarke will be best known in her new role as the victim of an annual parliamentary snub, in which the doors of the House of Commons are slammed shut in the face of Black Rod.



The practice of slamming the door is thought to have started after Charles I’s ill-fated attempt to arrest the ‘five members’ — members of parliament he had charged with treason — in 1642. Ms Clarke’s ceremonial role will be to knock on the door with her rod, topped with a golden lion, to invite MPs to listen to the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords.


Her appointment is a reflection of the way the post has evolved through the years and most of Ms Clarke’s job will relate to organising official events in the upper house and crisis planning, rather than knocking on doors. In one of the more unusual “situations vacant” announcements, the post of Black Rod was advertised in the Guardian newspaper and Ms Clarke was approved by the Queen after a competitive interview process.The earliest known reference to the role of Black Rod as the Usher to the Order of the Garter is in letters patent from 1361 which refers to Walter Whitehorse performing the role.



The first reference to Black Rod in connection with parliament comes in a 1522 statute 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. There are thought to have been 60 holders of the position of Black Rod since 1361.Ms Clarke, who has also worked on four Olympic Games and the London marathon, said: “Over many years I have been fortunate to work at the heart of some of the world’s most complex events and institutions. To be given the opportunity to join such an experienced and dedicated team is a great privilege.”Lord Fowler, Speaker of the House of Lords said: “I am very pleased to welcome Sarah Clarke to the role of Black Rod. As the first woman to take on the role, this is a historic moment for the House.“Some of the most important work happens behind the scenes in organising addresses to parliament by visiting heads of state and other state events, as well as ensuring we have appropriate plans in place to keep the important work of the Lords going in a crisis.”He added: “The Lords has a great record of women taking on senior political roles successfully. Five of the last seven Leaders of the Lords and the current Leader of the Opposition have been women as well as both my predecessors as Lord Speaker. I am sure Sarah will continue that tradition and do an exemplary job as Black Rod.”



Tags: Black Rod Sarah Clarke

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