Official of the House of Lords whose duties include maintaining order and who has the power to arrest a peer for breach of privilege of the House or other offences noticed by the House. Black Rod is also the official messenger from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, most notably during the state opening of Parliament. These duties correspond to those of the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons and may also be performed by a deputy, the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.
The name ‘Black Rod’ is derived from the staff, the insignia of the office, an ebony rod topped with a golden lion. The office dates from the reign of Henry VIII. Black Rod is also the first usher of the court and the kingdom, and as such takes part in all court and other ceremonials. Furthermore, Black Rod is the principal usher of the Order of the Garter, with duties including the guarding of the door at a chapter of the knights.
Certain formalities and ceremonies are observed, dating from the attempt of Charles I to arrest five members of Parliament in 1642, and signify the right of the Lower House to freedom of debate and security from interruption. When the House of Commons is summoned to the House of Lords to hear the sovereign's speech from the throne or to attend at the giving of the royal assent to bills, Black Rod has to summon their attendance; at his or her approach the doors are closed; he or she knocks three times, and announces his or her presence. On admittance he or she addresses the Speaker, and if the sovereign is present in person, the message is that ‘the king (or queen) commands the presence of the honourable House’; if he (or she) is represented by commissioners, then the word is ‘desires’. Since 1971 Black Rod has also carried out the functions of the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Lords.
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