Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod

Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod

The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, generally shortened to Black Rod, is an official in the parliaments of several Commonwealth countries. The position originates in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.


The office was created in 1350 by royal letters patent, though the current title dates from 1522. The position was adopted by other members of the Commonwealth when they adopted the British Westminster system. The title is derived from the staff of office, an ebony staff topped with a golden lion, which is the main symbol of the office's authority.

Black Rod in the United Kingdom


Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, to whom he reports. Prior to 2002 the office rotated among retired senior officers from the Royal Navy, the British Army and the Royal Air Force. It is now advertised openly. Black Rod is an officer of the English Order of the Garter, and is usually appointed knight bachelor if not already knighted. His deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.

Official duties

He is responsible, as the representative of the Administration and Works Committee, for maintaining the buildings, services, and security of the Palace of Westminster. Black Rod's official duties also include responsibility as the usher and doorkeeper at meetings of the Most Noble Order of the Garter; the personal attendant of the Sovereign in the Lords; as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain and as the Sergeant-at-Arms and Keeper of the Doors of the House, in charge of the admission of strangers to the House of Lords. Either Black Rod or his deputy, the Yeoman Usher, is required to be present when the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, is in session, and plays a role in the introduction of all new Lords Temporal in the House (but not of bishops as new Lords Spiritual). Black Rod also arrests any Lord guilty of breach of privilege or other Parliamentary offence, such as contempt or disorder, or the disturbance of the House's proceedings. His equivalent for security in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.

Ceremonial duties

The Mace

Black Rod is in theory responsible for carrying the Mace into and out of the chamber for the Speaker of the House of Lords (formerly the Lord Chancellor, now the Lord Speaker), though this role is delegated to the Yeoman Usher and Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms, or on judicial occasions, to the Lord Speaker's deputy, the Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms. The mace was created in 1876.

State Opening of Parliament

Black Rod is best known for his part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Throne speech. He summons the Commons to attend the speech and leads them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, as Black Rod approaches the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons to make his summons, they are slammed in his face. This is to symbolize the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with his staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend. This ritual is derived from the attempt by King Charles I to arrest the Five Members in 1642, in what was seen as a breach of the constitution. This and prior actions of the King led to the Civil War. After that incident, the House of Commons has maintained its right to question the right of the monarch's representative to enter their chamber, though they cannot bar him from entering with lawful authority.

In recent years, Black Rod has received friendly jibes on this annual occasion from the outspoken Labour MP Dennis Skinner.[1]

List of Black Rods in England, Great Britain and the UK from 1361

  • c.1361–1387: Walter Whitehorse
  • 1387–1399: John Cray
  • 1399–1410: Thomas Sy
  • 1410–1413: John Sheffield
  • 1413–1415: John Athelbrigg
  • 1415–1418: William Hargroave
  • 1418–1423: John Clifford
  • 1423–1428: John Carsons
  • 1428–1459: William Pope
  • 1438–1459: Robert Manfield (joint)
  • 1459–1461: John Penycok
  • 1461–1471: vacant?
  • 1471–1485: William Evington
  • 1483–1485: Edward Hardgill (joint)
  • 1485–1489: Robert Marleton
  • 1489–1513: Ralph Assheton
  • 1495–1513: Hugh Dennys (joint)
  • 1513–1526: Sir William Compton
  • 1526–1536: Sir Henry Norreys
  • 1536–1543: Anthony Knyvett
  • 1543–1554: Sir Philip Hoby
  • 1554–1565: John Norreys
  • 1554–1591: Sir William Norreys (joint)
  • 1591–1593: Anthony Wingfield
  • 1593–1598: Simon Bowyer
  • 1598–1620: Richard Coningsby
  • 1605–1620: George Pollard (joint)
  • 1620–1642: James Maxwell
  • 1642–1661: James Maxwell and Alexander Thayne (Parliamentary)
  • 1645–1661: Peter Newton (Royalist)
  • 1661–1671: Sir John Ayton
  • 1671–1683: Sir Edward Carteret
  • 1683–1694: Sir Thomas Duppa
  • 1694–25 August 1698: Sir Fleetwood Sheppard
  • 5 December 1698–1 June 1710: Admiral Sir David Mitchell
  • 1710–1718: Sir William Oldes
  • 1718–1727: Sir William Saunderson, 1st Baronet
  • 1727–1747: Sir Charles Dalton
  • 1747–1760: Sir Henry Bellenden
  • 1760 – 6 September 1765: Sir Septimus Robinson
  • 1765 – 1812: Sir Francis Molyneux, 7th Baronet
  • 1812 – 25 July 1832: Sir Thomas Tyrwhitt
  • 25 July 1832 – 8 February 1877: Admiral Sir Augustus Clifford
  • 3 May 1877 – 23 June 1883: General Sir William Knollys
  • 24 July 1883 – 7 October 1895: Admiral Sir James Drummond
  • 11 February 1896 to 23 July 1904 - Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Biddulph
  • August 1904 – 16 December 1919: Admiral Sir Henry Stephenson
  • January 1920 – 14 May 1941: Lieutenant-General Sir William Pulteney
  • October 1941 – 15 August 1944: Air Chief Marshal Sir William Mitchell
  • January 1945 – 18 January 1949: Vice Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake
  • 18 January 1949 – 18 June 1963: Lieutenant-General Sir Brian Horrocks
  • 18 June 1963 – October 1970: Air Chief Marshal Sir George Mills
  • October 1970 – 18 January 1978: Admiral Sir Frank Twiss
  • 18 January 1978 – January 1985: Lieutenant-General Sir David House
  • January 1985 – January 1992: Air Chief Marshal Sir John Gingell
  • January 1992 – 8 May 1995: Admiral Sir Richard Thomas
  • 9 May 1995 – 8 May 2001: General Sir Edward Jones
  • 9 May 2001 – 30 April 2009: Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Willcocks
  • 30 April 2009 – 28 October 2010: Lieutenant-General Sir Freddie Viggers
  • 21 December 2010 – Present: Lieutenant-General David Leakey[2]

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in Ireland

Before the Act of Union of 1800, which united the Kingdom of Ireland with the Kingdom of Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, there was also a Black Rod in the Irish House of Lords. (The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in December 1922 upon the separation of the Irish Free State.)

  • William James

The Senate of Northern Ireland also had a Black Rod throughout its existence.[11]

Other UK ushers

Before the Acts of Union 1707 united the English and Scottish parliaments, there was a Heritable Usher of the White Rod who had a similar role in the Estates of Parliament in Scotland.[12] This office is currently held by The Rt Rev. Dr John Armes, Lord Bishop of Edinburgh, but the role carries no duties.

Gentleman ushers exist for all the British orders of chivalry, and are coloured as follows:

Black Rod in other Commonwealth countries

As in the United Kingdom, Black Rod is responsible for arresting any senator or intruder who disrupts the proceedings.


See Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate of Canada


The current Usher of the Black Rod for the Australian Senate is Ms Bronwyn Notzon and Mr John Baczynski is the Deputy Usher of the Black Rod. Each bicameral Australian state (that is, all but Queensland) also has its own Black Rod.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, where the Legislative Council was abolished in 1951, the Usher of the Black Rod continues to summon MPs to the chamber for the Throne Speech. It is not a full-time position. Colonel William 'Bill' Nathan, OBE, ED was Usher of the Black Rod 1993 to 2005. The position is currently held by David Baguley.[13]

Counterparts in other countries

United States

In the United States of America, the Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate is the law enforcer for the United States Senate. The Sergeant at Arms can also request the attendance of absent Senators. With the Architect of the Capitol and the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives, he serves on the Capitol Police Board, responsible for security in and around the Capitol proper and Congressional office buildings. The Sergeant at Arms of the Senate is empowered to arrest any person upon their violating Senate rules (including the President of the United States). The incumbent is Terrance W. Gainer.


External links

  • The British Parliament's information about the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod
  • The Canadian Parliament's information about Black Rod
  • The Australian Parliamentary Education Office's information about the Usher of the Black Rod