What Is Trooping The Colour?

Birthdays are a cause for celebration, and that goes double if you're monarch of the U.K. During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth celebrated her birthday twice: once in April (her actual birthday) and again in June. Now it's King Charles III's turn to celebrate his birthday in November (actual) and again in June. Known as Trooping the Colour, these June festivities involve a massive parade of 1,400 soldiers and 200 horses and culminate in an RAF fly-past and royal balcony appearance. On Saturday, June 17th, Charles will celebrate his first Trooping of Colour as monarch. 

In 2022, this balcony group was limited to working members of the royal family, a tradition that will likely continue based on Charles' decision to use this same criterion for the coronation balcony group. In addition to the balcony, royals participate in the parade itself, either in carriages or riding horses, providing fans with an excellent opportunity to see family members who are in the public eye less frequently.

Spectators can experience the procession in person by standing along the edge of the parade route. Residents in the U.K. can also watch the festivities live on the BBC from the comfort of their homes, while international audiences can watch without cable via YouTube. Beyond each year's celebration, Trooping the Colour is an event steeped in history. Here's a deeper look at the backstory of the monarch's birthday parade with the unusual name.

Trooping the Colour's history is based on practicality

Trooping the Colour originated from a British military practice of educating soldiers on what their regiment's flag or "colors" looked like so that they could stay together during the chaos of battle. "Trooping" involved officers moving up and down the lines so everyone could see the flag up close. As an official parade, Trooping the Colour reportedly got its start when King Charles II was on the throne from 1660-1685. 

The parade morphed into a birthday celebration in 1748, again due to practical considerations. Since his birthday was in November, George II thought it was a better idea to hold the festivities in warmer weather. In 1760 George III followed in his grandfather's footsteps and made the birthday parade a yearly tradition. Even so, Trooping the Colour has been skipped in some years due to extenuating circumstances, like World War I and II, and a 1955 nationwide rail strike. 

In 2020 and 2021, Trooping the Colour adapted to health and safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, taking place on a dramatically smaller scale at Windsor Castle rather than Buckingham Palace. The 2020 ceremony was private with only 85 participants, and a year later, the event was open to the public with 274 participants and 70 horses. By 2022, the celebration and parade were back up to their usual location and number. Besides celebrating Queen Elizabeth's birthday, the festivities honored her 70th anniversary as monarch during day one of her four-day Platinum Jubilee celebration.

Trooping the Colour showcases royal fashions and personalities

Between the parade and the balcony appearance, Trooping the Colour features numerous members of the royal family. In keeping with the pomp and splendor, elegant dresses, hats, and fascinators are on display, as well as military uniforms. In 2022, many of the royal family members honored Queen Elizabeth by wearing her favorite color, blue. As Colonel of the Blues and Royals, Princess Anne wore their uniform, a striking outfit she repeated for King Charles' coronation.

With all the photo ops, the event is a showcase of royal personalities, especially the youngest members of the family. In 1988, Prince Harry stuck out his tongue Princess Diana held him. His nephew, Prince Louis, stole the show in a similar fashion with a range of faces on the balcony, including a wide open mouth and hands covering his ears in reaction to the loud RAF planes roaring overhead. In contrast, Princess Charlotte exuded big sister vibes by taking Louis' hand when she deemed his waving overzealous during the carriage ride. 

Trooping the Colour also provides interesting behind-the-scenes photos. "Some of the kids were in the window of Buckingham Palace waiting with their nanny, watching as the [then] Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came back, so that made some quite fun pictures," Shutterstock royal photographer Tim Rooke told Hello! in 2021, referring to his experiences in 2019. His pictures of Louis and Charlotte waving from the window occurred moments before Louis' first-ever balcony appearance.