Black Rod (officially known as the Lady Usher of the Black Rod or, if male, the Gentleman Usher of the 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 position is similar to one known as a serjeant-at-arms in other bodies.

Lady Usher of the Black Rod
House of Lords.svg
Sarah Clarke 2019 (crop).jpg
Sarah Clarke

since 12 February 2018[1]
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Reports toClerk of the Parliaments
AppointerThe Crown (de jure)
Clerk of the Parliaments (de facto)
First holderWalter Whitehorse (known)
DeputyYeoman Usher of the Black Rod
WebsiteParliamentary information page
Caricature from Vanity Fair of Admiral Sir Augustus W. J. Clifford, 1st Bt, as Black Rod.

In the United Kingdom, Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[2] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Since early 2018, the post has been held for the first time by a woman, Sarah Clarke.[3]


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.

A ceremonial rod or staff is a common type of symbol indicating the authority of the office-holder. Depictions of ancient authority figures in many cultures include such a rod (alternatively called a sceptre). Another early example was the fasces (literally a bound bundle of rods) carried by guards ("lictors") who accompanied certain high-level officials in the Roman Republic and later Empire.

United KingdomEdit


Black Rod is formally appointed by the Crown based on a recruitment search performed by the Clerk of the Parliaments, who is the employer of all House of Lords officials. 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. Their deputy is the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod.[4]

Official dutiesEdit

Black Rod is principally responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords and its precincts,[2] as well as for ceremonial events within those precincts. Previous responsibilities for security, and the buildings and services of the Palace of Westminster, have been passed, respectively, to the Parliamentary Security Director (as of the post's creation in January 2016) and Lords Director of Facilities (as of that post's creation and the retirement of the then-Black Rod in May 2009).[5]

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 Serjeant-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 their 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. Their equivalent in the House of Commons is the Serjeant at Arms.

Former Black Rod David Leakey said that 30% of his work as Black Rod was within or for the House of Commons.[6]

Black Rod, along with their deputy, is responsible for organising ceremonial events within the Palace of Westminster, providing leadership in guiding the significant logistics of running such events.

Ceremonial dutiesEdit


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 introduced in 1876.[citation needed]

State Opening of ParliamentEdit

Black Rod is best known for their part in the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament and the Speech from the throne. They summon the Commons to attend the speech and lead them to the Lords. As part of the ritual, the doors to the chamber of the House of Commons are slammed in the approaching Black Rod's face. This is to symbolise the Commons' independence of the Sovereign. Black Rod then strikes the door three times with the staff, and is then admitted and issues the summons of the monarch to attend.[7]

This ritual also happens whenever the Lords have a commission to be read and Black Rod summons MPs to hear it. For example, on Tuesday 17 December 2019 this ritual happened twice.[8]

This ritual is derived from the attempt by King Charles I to arrest 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, although they cannot bar them from entering with lawful authority.

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

This list is derived from one published by the Parliamentary Archives in 2011, with alterations from later research.[9]

List of Serjeants-at-Arms of the House of LordsEdit

Technically the serjeant at arms attending the Lord Chancellor (the former presiding officer of the House of Lords) was regarded as an officer of the House of Lords. He was appointed for life until 1713 and during good behaviour thereafter, originally receiving a daily remuneration and from 1806 an annual salary. The post was merged with that of Black Rod in 1971.

Since 1971 the office of Serjeant at Arms has been held by the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in IrelandEdit

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. From 1783 the Irish Black Rod was also Usher of the Order of St Patrick, so the office continued after the Union. No one was appointed to the office after the creation of the Irish Free State in December 1922.

The Senate of Northern Ireland also had a Black Rod throughout its existence.[35]

Other UK ushersEdit

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.[36] This office is currently held by The Rt Rev. John Armes, Bishop of Edinburgh, but the role carries no duties.

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

In other Commonwealth countriesEdit

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


The Black Rod for the Senate of Canada is the equivalent to the office for the House of Lords. The Legislatures of Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island have also incorporated Black Rods into their respective parliamentary systems.[37]


Both the Australian Senate and houses in the parliament in each Australian state (except Queensland, which does not have an upper house) have their own Usher of the Black Rod. The current Usher of the Black Rod for the Australian Senate is John Begley.[38] In the Australian Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod assists with the administration and security of the Senate and has the power to take anyone into custody who causes a disturbance in or near the Senate chamber.[39]

New ZealandEdit

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. As of 2020 the first female Black Rod is Sandra McKie.[40]

South AfricaEdit

The Senate of South Africa had a Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod from its inception in 1910 to abolition in 1980. When the Senate was restored in 1994 the renamed position of Usher of the Black Rod returned with it, continuing in the new National Council of Provinces.[41]

Gentlemen Ushers of the Black Rod in JamaicaEdit

  • 1820–1836: Anthony Davis


  1. ^ a b "New Black Rod starts chamber duties". UK Parliament. 20 February 2018. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Black Rod". UK Parliament. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Sarah Clarke appointed to the role of Black Rod". 17 November 2017. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Yeoman Usher". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  5. ^ Torrance, Michael (12 December 2017). "Governance and Administration of the House of Lords" (PDF). House of Lords Library. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  6. ^ "'Scandal' if Bercow got peerage - ex-Parliament official", BBC News, 5 February 2020, retrieved 6 June 2020
  7. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Black Rod" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  8. ^ "House of Commons – Hansard".
  9. ^ "Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod". Archived from the original on 16 September 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  10. ^ Sainty, J.C. (October 2014). "Black Rod and the Office of Usher of the Parliament Chamber". Parliamentary History. 33 (3): 511–515. doi:10.1111/1750-0206.12109.
  11. ^ a b c Sainty, J.C. (June 2018). "A Biographical Note on James Maxwell, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod". Parliamentary History. 37 (2): 293–298. doi:10.1111/1750-0206.12366. S2CID 149684886.
  12. ^ a b c "Appendix: Biographical Notes". Parliamentary History. 34: 75–76. October 2015. doi:10.1111/1750-0206.12158.
  13. ^ Biddulph, Michael. "London Gazette Issue: 26697Page:81". The Gazette. The Parliamentary Press, London.
  14. ^ Biddulph, Michael. "The London Gazette: Issue: 27363 Page:6569". The Gazette. The Parliamentary Press, London.
  15. ^ "No. 47433". The London Gazette. 10 January 1978. p. 321.
  16. ^ "New appointment as Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod". Archived from the original on 9 May 2013. Retrieved 3 August 2013.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Chris Cook and John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1688–1760 (1988) p. 97.
  18. ^ a b c d Chris Cook and John Stevenson, British Historical Facts 1760–1830 (1980) p. 50.
  19. ^ a b c d e Chris Cook and Brendan Keith, British Historical Facts 1830–1900 (1975) p. 104.
  20. ^ "No. 28437". The London Gazette. 15 November 1910. p. 8163.
  21. ^ "No. 34252". The London Gazette. 4 February 1936. p. 729.
  22. ^ "No. 34608". The London Gazette. 17 March 1939. p. 1844.
  23. ^ "No. 37806". The London Gazette. 3 December 1946. p. 5913.
  24. ^ "No. 42627". The London Gazette. 20 March 1962. p. 2327.
  25. ^ "No. 45274". The London Gazette. 5 January 1971. p. 137.
  26. ^ "ELLYS, Thomas (1685–1709), of Mitre Court, Inner Temple". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  27. ^ Peerage and Baronetage of Great Britain and Ireland. 1839. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  28. ^ Lodge, John. The Peerage of Ireland: Or,A Genealogical History of the Present ..., Volume 4.
  29. ^ "MONTAGU, George (c. 1713–1780), of Windsor, Berks". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  30. ^ "EDMONSTONE, Archibald (1717–1807), of Duntreath, Stirling". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m The Most Illustrious Order by Peter Galloway; ISBN 0-906290-23-6
  32. ^ Dodsley. The Annual Register 1783.
  33. ^ Galloway, Peter (1 January 1983). The Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0850335088.
  34. ^ "BERNARD (afterwards BERNARD MORLAND), Scrope (1758-1830), of Nether Winchendon, Bucks". History of Parliament online. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  35. ^ Morton, Grenfell (January 1980). Home rule and the Irish question. Longman. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-582-35215-5. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  36. ^ Facts about Edinburgh. The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
  37. ^ "2nd Session, 41st Parliament, Volume 149, Issue 19 (Senate of Canada)". Parliament of Canada. Queen's Printer for Canada. 27 November 2013.
  38. ^ corporateName=Commonwealth Parliament; address=Parliament House, Canberra. "No. 16 – Usher of the Black Rod".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  39. ^ Odgers, James Rowland (2016). Odgers' Australian Senate practice / As revised by Harry Evans / edited by Rosemary Laing (14th ed.). p. 104. ISBN 978-1-76010-503-7.
  40. ^ "NZDF staff member makes history at Parliament Opening". New Zealand Defence Force. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  41. ^ "The Black Rod for the National Council Of Provinces - Parliament of South Africa". Retrieved 21 March 2022.

External linksEdit