MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
It all started with vellum. We were led to believe that Queen Elizabeth's speech opening a new session of the British Parliament next week was being delayed because it had to be printed on vellum, a parchment made from the skin of a calf, and that ink on vellum takes quite a while to dry, hence the delay. Fascinating, so British. Well, it turns out the queen's speech used to be inked on vellum but those days are long gone. Now, it's printed on goatskin parchment. But don't be fooled, there is no actual goatskin in the queen's goatskin. Stay with me here.
Next week, when she addresses Parliament, the queen will be holding thick archival parchment which is called goatskin but which does not contain animal hide. And apparently, the ink on this goatskin will take several days to dry. But apart from the problem of the extended drying time, the speech is being delayed for political reasons, too.
The queen's speech at the State Opening of Parliament lays out the government's agenda for the next session. And as you might imagine, that agenda is a bit up in the air since the Conservative Party failed to hold on to its majority in Parliament and is scrambling to build a coalition, so delays. And what a crushing disappointment to learn that this year, the queen will be dressing down for her speech, wearing just a day dress and hat, not the royal robes. And there will be reduced ceremonial elements, which is a real shame because in most years, the queen's speech to Parliament is a full-on royal spectacle full of pomp and wonder.
Here's how it usually goes. The queen delivers her speech, also known as the Gracious Address, seated in the chamber of the House of Lords on the throne. On her head, the Imperial State Crown, which is delivered to Westminster in its own horse-drawn carriage. Its cap is purple velvet perched on a frame larded with thousands of precious gems. It weighs more than two pounds - poor queen.
And there's so much more. There's the Cap of Maintenance, the Great Sword of State and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod. And then there's the speech, not written by the queen herself, but she reads it dutifully. Truth be told, the speech itself is usually a bit of a snooze, a pro forma government blueprint. But the pageantry? Now, that is worth waiting for. And apparently, we'll have to wait until 2018 for all that because, this year, the queen is dressing down.
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