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Britain's Queen's Speech Explained For Americans And Other Confused People

Lol, the monarchy still exists.

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Hey Americans, it's the Queen's Speech on Wednesday!

It's possible that you may have some questions about this.
Chris Jackson / PA Images

It's possible that you may have some questions about this.

Questions like “why would I have heard of something that happens in the UK?" or “what the fuck is a Queen’s Speech?"

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Also, people listen to the Queen? That doesn't sound very American. Isn't it, like, 2016?

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These are excellent questions, America!

Basically, the Queen's Speech is the thing that happens at the opening of the UK's parliament every year. It is a cornerstone of British democracy, and as such it makes absolutely no sense.

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The point of the speech is for the government to explain what its policies are going to be and what laws it's going to pass over the next year, hopefully.

Here is prime minister David Cameron explaining his policies and what laws he's going to pass to an average British citizen.
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Here is prime minister David Cameron explaining his policies and what laws he's going to pass to an average British citizen.

But because Britain is kind of confused about who is actually in charge, the prime minister doesn't get to make the speech. No. It's THE GODDAMN QUEEN.

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This is because ages ago we had a war between parliament and the monarchy about who was better.

Parliament won, but really it ended with a weird compromise where parliament is actually in charge, but the monarch is officially the one with the power. Which means that parliament is very polite and keeps asking nicely if the Queen would mind doing stuff, or just suggesting that maybe she might like to pass a law, all with the subtext of "but we'll cut your head off if you don't".It's all extremely fucking British.
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Parliament won, but really it ended with a weird compromise where parliament is actually in charge, but the monarch is officially the one with the power. Which means that parliament is very polite and keeps asking nicely if the Queen would mind doing stuff, or just suggesting that maybe she might like to pass a law, all with the subtext of "but we'll cut your head off if you don't".

It's all extremely fucking British.

So yeah, about once a year the Queen has to go to parliament to tell the government what the government has told her to tell it that it is going to do.

This...makes sense?
Wpa Pool / Getty Images

This...makes sense?

So anyway, before the Queen rocks up in parliament on the day of her big speech, these men — the YEOMEN OF THE GUARD — have a very important job, which they do in very stupid hats.

Seriously, look how stupid their hats are.
Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images

Seriously, look how stupid their hats are.

Their important job is to have a quick check of the cellars for some bombs, which they do by candlelight, which is frankly not the best way to check for bombs, is it?

Like, guys, we have electricity now. But yeah, the YEOMEN OF THE GUARD use candles anyway because it's old-fashioned, so it must be right.See, in the UK, every idea from hundreds of years ago is still considered really great. Like bloodletting, wearing ruffs, and shitting directly into drinking supplies.
John Stillwell / AFP / Getty Images

Like, guys, we have electricity now. But yeah, the YEOMEN OF THE GUARD use candles anyway because it's old-fashioned, so it must be right.

See, in the UK, every idea from hundreds of years ago is still considered really great. Like bloodletting, wearing ruffs, and shitting directly into drinking supplies.

Also, another important point about the YEOMEN OF THE GUARD is that they wear these stupid-ass shoes.

What are thooooooose???
Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images

What are thooooooose???

Anyway the YEOMEN OF THE GUARD do a symbolic check of the cellars for Guy Fawkes twats, in case anybody wants to blow up parliament like in 1605.

Twats.
Dominique Faget / AFP / Getty Images

Twats.

After the YEOMEN are done checking for Guy Fawkes twats, the Queen rocks up in this motherfucking carriage like, "Everyone look at me, I'm a motherfucking monarch."

Again, to reiterate, it's 2016.
Chris Jackson / Getty Images

Again, to reiterate, it's 2016.

When she's done with her fun carriage the Queen then walks up in the club like:

And by club we mean the House of Lords.
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And by club we mean the House of Lords.

Wait, did you say "HOUSE OF LORDS"? Is that like the lord I pray to when I'm feeling guilty?

No. This is the House of Lords. It is the second chamber of the British parliament (the main one, where all the elected members of parliament live, is the House of Commons). So it's kind of like the Senate, if senators weren't democratically elected but instead appointed to their jobs for life because they were important people, or because they were old washed-up politicians, or because they were once mates with Churchill or something.
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No. This is the House of Lords. It is the second chamber of the British parliament (the main one, where all the elected members of parliament live, is the House of Commons). So it's kind of like the Senate, if senators weren't democratically elected but instead appointed to their jobs for life because they were important people, or because they were old washed-up politicians, or because they were once mates with Churchill or something.

These guys are also there. They are Britain's top judges. They actually wear these wigs.

Wigs. Can you imagine?Wigs.
Wpa Pool / Getty Images

Wigs. Can you imagine?

Wigs.

Right here's a great bit of the Queen's Speech, saddle up. Are you ready? Good. OK. This man, Americans, is called Black Rod.

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OK, his full title is "Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod", which obviously makes a lot more sense, but everybody calls him Black Rod.

What happens is that when the Queen is going to give her speech, Black Rod has to march from the House of Lords to the House of Commons to summon the MPs to come and listen to the Queen give a speech that they wrote for her.When he gets to the Commons, they actually slam the door in his face. This is ~symbolic~ of the fact that the Commons is independent of the monarchy, and won't be told what to do by the Queen, which is again because of that time we had that war. So now parliament gets to show off that they won that war by slamming doors in people's faces like an angry teenager shouting "you're not the boss of me".So now Black Rod has to bang three times on the door of the Commons to ask them to open it again.
Dan Kitwood / PA Images

What happens is that when the Queen is going to give her speech, Black Rod has to march from the House of Lords to the House of Commons to summon the MPs to come and listen to the Queen give a speech that they wrote for her.

When he gets to the Commons, they actually slam the door in his face. This is ~symbolic~ of the fact that the Commons is independent of the monarchy, and won't be told what to do by the Queen, which is again because of that time we had that war. So now parliament gets to show off that they won that war by slamming doors in people's faces like an angry teenager shouting "you're not the boss of me".

So now Black Rod has to bang three times on the door of the Commons to ask them to open it again.

Here's Black Rod tappin' that door.

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Tap that door, Black Rod.

Wait, why is he called Black Rod?

Because he's got a fancy-ass black rod, and also he wears almost all black like a fuckin' ninja, and carries a sword. His black rod made of ebony and has the words "Honi soit qui mal y pense" written on it, which means: "Shame be to him, who evil thinks."Black Rod...may be a wizard? It is unclear.
Leon Neal / AFP / Getty Images

Because he's got a fancy-ass black rod, and also he wears almost all black like a fuckin' ninja, and carries a sword. His black rod made of ebony and has the words "Honi soit qui mal y pense" written on it, which means: "Shame be to him, who evil thinks."

Black Rod...may be a wizard? It is unclear.

Black Rod is not alone though! Also there are people with job titles like Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary, Rouge Croix Pursuivant and Maltravers Herald Extraordinary.

House of Lords filling up, but obviously no party can start without the Maltravers Herald Extraordinary.

It's 2016.

Anyway, after Black Rod is done banging, all the MPs have to walk slowly through parliament to the House of Lords to hear the Queen. On the way they have to make awkward small talk with their political opponents, like the worst dinner party ever.

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For her special speech, the Queen gets to wear her Imperial State Crown, instead of just her regular, day-to-day, business-casual crown.

It's always nice to have a reason to dress up.
Wpa Pool / Getty Images

It's always nice to have a reason to dress up.

Crown in place, the Queen then actually gives the speech. You may think that this is where things get normal. Nope.

For one thing, the Queen has to say stuff like "My government will...ban the new generation of psychoactive drugs."
Alastair Grant / PA Image / BuzzFeed

For one thing, the Queen has to say stuff like "My government will...ban the new generation of psychoactive drugs."

Also until a few years ago, the speech that she gave was written on...goatskin. Like, the actual skin of a goat.

Alastair Grant / PA WIRE
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It is thought that the goatskin was replaced a few years ago with “goatskin parchment paper”, which may or may not be (but is probably not) made out of actual goat. But still, the paper it is written on is so posh that it takes several days for the ink to dry, which means they don't get to do any last-minute changes even if they really want to.

Also while the Queen gives her speech, Prince Philip (her hubby), the Prince of Wales (her son), and the Duchess of Cornwall (her son's bae) have to sit there doing nothing but pretending to be interested, like total mugs.

It's not 100% clear why Charles and Camilla are there, unless they're like the substitutes bench, waiting to come on if the Queen isn't performing well enough.None of the hot or cute bits of the royal family get to take part.
Ben Stansall / PA Images

It's not 100% clear why Charles and Camilla are there, unless they're like the substitutes bench, waiting to come on if the Queen isn't performing well enough.

None of the hot or cute bits of the royal family get to take part.

OK, but wait. There's more. While all this is going on, at the same time as the speech there's this nonsense going on across town at Buckingham Palace.

Traditionally an MP is ‘held hostage’ at Buckingham Palace til the Queen returns. Today it’s Vice Chamberlain @krishopkins2015 #QueensSpeech

Yes, hostage. During the Queen’s Speech a member of parliament is actually HELD HOSTAGE in Buckingham Palace until the Queen has done her business, as leverage in case she's, like, murdered.

(This is not an actual picture of the hostage.)(Or is it?)(No, it is not.)
Nomadsoul1 / Getty Images

(This is not an actual picture of the hostage.)

(Or is it?)

(No, it is not.)

Again, this is a holdover tradition from when British politics was more murdery! In 1649, after the defeat of the royalists in the English Civil War, the victorious parliamentarians murdered the crap out of King Charles I after finding him guilty of treason.

The hostage MP is kept in the palace, and although they aren't actually locked up, they definitely aren't allowed to leave, which is pretty creepy. They also have to wear “stripy trousers”, because tradition.AGAIN, WE CANNOT REITERATE ENOUGH THAT IT IS THE YEAR TWO THOUSAND AND SIXTEEN.
commons.wikimedia.org / Creative Commons / BuzzFeed

The hostage MP is kept in the palace, and although they aren't actually locked up, they definitely aren't allowed to leave, which is pretty creepy. They also have to wear “stripy trousers”, because tradition.

AGAIN, WE CANNOT REITERATE ENOUGH THAT IT IS THE YEAR TWO THOUSAND AND SIXTEEN.

Anyway after the speech is over and the hostage has been released (or murdered), the MPs will debate the things that the Queen said, for ages.

PA / PA WIRE

They begin this debate with something that is called, we shit you not, the "Humble Address".

Here is what they actually say, even though — as a reminder — they are real people who live in the 21st century: I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:"Most Gracious Sovereign – We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
giphy.com

Here is what they actually say, even though — as a reminder — they are real people who live in the 21st century:

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as followeth:
"Most Gracious Sovereign – We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

Yes, they're humbly thanking the Queen for giving them a speech they wrote for her.

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And that's how British democracy works!

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In the year two thousand and sixteen.