What Is The British Trooping Of The Colour?

The British do enjoy their lavish ceremonies and theatricality — a healthy service of both pomp and circumstance (both the Edward Elgar music and the general concept of pageantry). Visitors to Britain are often keen to take in the much-ballyhooed Changing of the Guard. According to the BBC's Newsround, this ceremony sees one group of Old Guard soldiers join with another (from Buckingham Palace and St James' Palace, respectively) at Buckingham Palace. The New Guard arrive from Wellington Barracks, and as their names suggest, the Old are replaced at their station by the New. This could all take place subtly and practically, with little to no fanfare, but the traditional process continues today and takes almost an hour of elaborate movement and posturing to complete. It's quite a thing to behold, and dates back to the mid-17th century, continuing as official royal residences changed.

The Trooping of the Colour is another British military to-do, and is perhaps even more significant and spectacular. It's not a daily occurrence, which adds to its spectator appeal.

Saluting Queen Elizabeth II's official birthday in style

The Trooping of the Colour, according to the official website of the British Royal Family, is essentially an elaborate military parade to mark the birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Her official birthday, that is to say, which means that it occurs in June rather than on the day Elizabeth was actually born (which was April 21, 1926, per the Independent).

To honor this illustrious occasion, the British Royal Family website goes on, more than 1,400 soldiers take part in the parade, not to mention several hundred horses and military band members. Though they wear their eye-catching traditional bright-red uniforms, these soldiers are absolutely the real thing: Each of them is in active service. The great procession travels down the iconic stretch of The Mall from Buckingham Palace, watched by admirers from around the world, various members of the queen's family and, naturally, Her Majesty herself.

The British Army explains why the parade is so named: To troop the colour is to pass a sort of standard of a given regiment between a line of soldiers of said regiment. There are five Household Regiments (Irish Guards, Scots Guards and Welsh Guards, plus the Coldstream and Grenadier regiments), and a different regiment troops their color each time this extraordinary parade occurs.

A long, noble tradition

The Trooping of the Colour is an annual event that dates back much further than Queen Elizabeth's lengthy reign. According to Trooping the Colour, the tradition has its roots in the 17th century, a period when the close-quarters chaos of battle meant that an army's regiments carried identifying standards, or colors (or in England, colours), so that everybody knew where the heck everybody was.

The tradition as we know it today is a more elaborate version of the daily parades during the time of King George III (who reigned from 1760 until his death in 1820, per Britannica) and even earlier. It was George, Trooping the Colour goes on, who was the first monarch to have his birthday celebrated in such a theatrical fashion.

All these years later, the Royal Family's official website states, the tradition continues annually. The parade follows the route to Horse Guard's Parade, returning to Buckingham Palace and culminating in an RAF formation flying overhead. According to the BBC, Queen Elizabeth has attended the Trooping of the Colour every single year she has been queen (even when the event was stripped down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), except one: In 1955, it was cancelled because of a train strike.