This weekend marked the annual festivities of the Queen’s birthday, celebrating her 88th year. Saturday saw the parade of the Troop of the Colour, a ceremony presented by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies, which sees over 1400 of the Queen’s personal troops, officers and her household division on horse guard’s parade. They march from Buckingham Palace along the mall to Whitehall and back again. The troop is joined by around 200 horses and over 400 musicians, accompanied by the Queen.
This tradition began in the 17th century during the reign of Charles II, when the colours of a regiment were used as a way of assembly in battle. The practice was used to ensure each army member could recognise those in his own regiment. It was ordered to mark the sovereigns birthday in 1748, and was put into practice by George III. From this point onwards it became an annual event.
It may be said that the values upheld in this royal ceremony are dated and traditional, challenging societal diversity as encouraged by parliament. However, this recognition of the Queen’s birthday allows for people to unite in a shared purpose, to pay their respects to the sovereign. It can be recognised that Queen Elizabeth has consistently served the nation as a neutral role model throughout her reign, and has remained so during the challenges our country has faced. This event also allows Britain to present our patriotism to the world, upholding our country’s popular royalist trademark.
Events such as these also work to maintain Britain’s tourism trade, generating large amounts of revenue for the country whilst keeping our unique royal focus alive.
An enriching aspect of the festivities is the knighthoods (or damehoods – the female equivalent) chosen by the Queen and revealed during her birthday honours. This allows the nation to recognise the work of figures in our society who may have previously gone unnoticed. Historically, this practice was reserved for merit displaying members of the military. Today however, it is used to commend those who have made important influences upon national life in a variety of fields.
Amongst the 1,149 people to be honoured in the ceremony are Robert Francis QC who will be knighted for ‘services to healthcare and patients’. He led the recent revolutionary investigation into the NHS, making 290 recommendations for reform, which have subsequently improved the service. Additionally, 33 head teachers were awarded knighthoods and damehood’s including Dr Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College who began a scheme to connect state and private schools. He also designed his own curriculum, which included lessons in happiness.
A surprising selection for some was the knighting of 70 year-old Professor Colin Blakemore, a prominent neuroscientist and medical researcher. Whilst he is a leading figure in his field, this selection is perhaps debatable due to his defence of medical research on animals. This made him a sole target for animal rights protesters, who on occasion campaigned outside his house. His recognition may be unwelcome for some, however Blakemore’s commendation allows for a championing of defending ones beliefs and the bringing of sensitive topics into public debate, whatever the consequences. He nominated himself to stand on the front line of a challenging situation due to his confidence in the productivity animal research can bring to the field of medicine. This also allows us to remember that some of the privileges we enjoy today would hardly exist without the work of those like Blakemore.
Whilst we can celebrate the achievements of those selected for knighthood, it may be noted that the majority of those selected share roles of power and high status positions in our community (many celebrities were included). Professor Blakemore, for example enjoyed a privileged education at Cambridge University. Events such as this may work to reinstate hierarchical positions and sustain class boundaries. Moving forward from this we can be inspired by the work of these people and work towards such achievements ourselves. Or we can use them to consider what values are important to us, values that could make a difference all the same, regardless of whether they constitute a knighthood.
What qualities would you look for, if you were to issue a knighthood?