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Trooping the Colour – what’s meant by ‘the colour’?

This year’s Trooping the Colour takes place on 11th June. The ceremony of Trooping the Colour is held annually in celebration of the Sovereign’s birthday (hence it’s also known as ‘The Queen’s Birthday Parade’). But what are the origins and what is meant by ‘the colour’?

It dates back to the regimental flags of the British Army, which were historically described as ‘colours’ as they displayed the uniform colours worn by the soldiers of the different units. A regiment’s colours were vital on the battlefield, providing a rallying point for the troops, where it was easy to become separated.

horse-343646_1920But this meant that the troops needed to be able to recognise their colours easily, and so they had to be displayed. This was done on a regular basis with the ensign (or ‘standard bearer’) marching slowly up and down the ranks of troops holding the colours high in the air, to allow the soldiers to recognise and remember them. This gives us the origin of the phrase ‘trooping the colour’, which is still used today.

Whilst the tradition goes back to the 17th Century, the roots go back even earlier. In 1748 the decision was taken to mark the official birthday of the Sovereign with the Trooping the Colour ceremony and parade, and it became an annual tradition a few years later.

So the colours were practical and essential, helping with battlefield recognition. But they were much more than that, as they also came to embody and represent the spirit of the regiment. If you lost your colours on the battlefield, this was considered a great shame. Equally, the capture of the enemy’s colours was a big victory and something to be celebrated. Before and after a battle the colours would be ‘trooped’ so that all the soldiers could see that they were intact. This tradition has been retained, although is now ceremonial.

So the regimental colours held both practical and symbolic meaning for the troops.

horses-258003_1920Today, the ceremony remains as one of the most colourful celebrations of the Sovereign’s birthday and one of the UK’s best known ceremonial events. It takes place on a Saturday in June each year and is a huge and colourful display of pageantry, attended by the Queen herself. Well over 1,000 soldiers take part, along with horses and musicians, parading along a route from Buckingham Palace along the Mall and Horse Guards Parade, and back again.  We wish them good weather and very colourful event!

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    Geoff

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    A very topical passage and I’ll certainly view the ceremony in a different light now.
    Does anyone know of any dyeing recipes used for any of the older Colours? How did they ensure accurate colour matching. Did they have problems of light fastness given that strong red shades are quite common in such Colours.

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