A serious spectacle
The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
, formally known as Guard Mounting, is a tradition going back to the beginning of the 17th century. It is an elaborately choreographed military ceremony in which troops of the Queen’s personal guard march out, accompanied by a traditional band, and exchange posts as well as the palace keys with a royal degree of pomp and formality.
While the King or Queen has always had their own troops, a household guard has only protected the sovereign and their palaces since the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 under Charles II. This was deemed necessary after the brief revolution of Cromwell saw Charles’ predecessor and father King Charles I deposed and killed.
When Queen Victoria made Buckingham Palace her London residence in 1837 she took a detachment of the Queen’s Guard with her for protection and left the remainder to guard St. James’s Palace in Westminster - still the most senior palace of the monarchy, though it is no longer the primary residence.
Out with the old?
The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11.15 am every day in summer and every second day in winter. Two detachments of the ‘Old Guard’ form into tight groups at St. James’s and at Buckingham Palace. After thorough inspection, the ‘Old Guard’ at St. James’s and the ‘New Guard’ which forms at Wellington Square with the band march out towards the forecourt of Buckingham Palace, regimental banners flying.
Both groups present their arms and then the commanders solemnly exchange the palace keys. Today, the ceremony of the Changing of the Guard appears to be a piece of military theatre; a spectacle for the crowds of tourists outside the palace gates. The Guard Band even depart from traditional music sometimes and play contemporary pop songs. Yet the Queen’s Guard perform the ceremony with a deep sense of pride, exerting the same focus and precision each day, and see it as an honour to keep this tradition alive.