Saturday, June 12, 2010

United Colours of Britain

Magnet # 266: Sights of London Photo Montage

Material: Acrylic

Purchased By: Debbie

Trooping the Colours is being held today in London. It's an annual celebration that is held on the second Saturday in June and dates back to before the 17th century, when ensigns marched with their regimental flags, or colours, held high on the battlefield to help the troops stay connected with their leaders. Because of all of the smoke that was produced during war, colorful flags were needed to inspire and direct soldiers. They, in turn, became so devoted to the colours that they might even sacrifice their lives to keep them from falling into enemy hands. But it has since grown into an occasion to mark the birthday of the ruler of Britain, even if the current Queen, Elizabeth II, has her birthday in April - in fact, it was her father, King George VI, who established the current date for the celebration. He thought June to be an optimum month for an outdoor pageant of this nature. The entire Royal Family participates in the event, which also features many troops and about 400 musicians. And it's aired live on BBC so that anyone who's not in the throngs in attendance can still join in. But I once asked my friend, a native Londoner, about her take on this occasion. She told me that Trooping the Colour is mainly celebrated by tourists and that the locals tend to avoid it. However, she has watched it on television (or the telly) from time to time. So I guess it's not quite that big a deal to the British, but as they value tradition, it continues from year to year.

Although Elizabeth II now sits in a carriage during the Trooping the Colours, this was not always the case. When she was younger, Queen Elizabeth was a very competent rider and she was given a seven-year-old mare in 1969 by the Canadian Mounties. This black beauty, named Burmese, soon became a favorite of the monarch's. The two had a very visible connection, which would prove to be important for Queen Elizabeth. During 1981's Trooping the Colours, an insane 17-year-old named Marcus Serjeant shot at the Queen with a replica pistol, hoping to become famous for killing her. But the weapon was the only one he could find and the six cartridges he shot were all blanks. Still, Burmese was frightened and reared up. It was thanks to their bond that Queen Elizabeth was able to talk to her beloved horse and calm her down so that the pair could calmly continue with the ceremony. If she had been riding on the back of any other horse that day, it could have had dire consequences. Serjeant went onto be jailed for over three years. Burmese and the Queen later rode beside President Regan and Centennial, a gelding he was loaned, when he visited Britain the next year. And Burmese was a beloved part of the festivities until 1986, when she was retired. After that, the Queen no longer rode a horse for Trooping the Colour, as none could ever take the place of Burmese. She often visited Burmese at the Windsor Great Park until the horse passed away in 1990. Although Burmese is gone - the Queen and the public have certainly not forgotten her, in fact, in 2005, a bronze statue of the pair was placed outside of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Canada. It's a sign that Burmese will remain beloved by many for years to come.

Well, I certainly hope this year's Trooping the Colour will be less exciting than that of 1981. Britain has changed somewhat since that year - in fact, Prince Charles and Princess Diana wed later that same month. But this is one tradition that has kept it tied to its past, and even if the people of Britain might not get too involved in the event, I imagine most of them would be pretty upset to see it cease to exist.

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