For the first time in its 650-year history, a woman on Monday takes up the position of “Black Rod,” the senior executive role in Britain’s House of Lords.
Sarah Clarke, champions director of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, will take responsibility for the most recognized aspect of the position – banging on the door of the House of Commons with a ceremonial staff during the annual state opening of Parliament.
But Clarke also takes charge of the day-to-day running of Britain’s upper legislative house, managing a 30-strong team.
“The House of Lords is a place where the smallest detail is as important as the big picture and the depth of heritage and tradition is second to none. I am truly looking forward to starting work,” Clarke said in a statement.
“I am very pleased to welcome Sarah Clarke to the role of Black Rod. As the first woman to take on the role, this is a historic moment for the House,” said Lord Fowler, speaker of the House of Lords.
“The Lords has a great record of women taking on senior political roles. Five of the last seven Leaders of the Lords and the current Leader of the Opposition have been women as well as both my predecessors as Lord Speaker. I am sure Sarah will continue that tradition and do an exemplary job as Black Rod,” Fowler said.
The role can be traced back to 1348 and the time of King Edward III. The King established a council of advisers known as the Knights of the Garter, whose ceremonial processions needed to be organized. An “usher” was established to take on the role, and was awarded a ceremonial staff, or rod, in order that his status would be recognized.
One of the enduring roles of Black Rod is to summon members of the House of Commons to attend the monarch’s speech in the House of Lords at the state opening. To symbolize the primacy of the Commons, the door is slammed in Black Rod’s face, and the holder of the office is required to bang three times before the door is opened.
As the first woman to hold the office, Clarke will be known formally as the Lady Usher of the Black Rod.