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Queen hands over Black Rod to first woman to take on historic role

Sarah Clarke is the first Lady Usher of the Black Rod in 650 years of the role.

The Queen has presented the first female Black Rod with her ceremonial staff, marking the historic appointment.

The monarch invested Sarah Clarke as Lady Usher of the Black Rod in the private audience room at Buckingham Palace, by presenting her with the thin, ebony Black Rod and chain of office.

Ms Clarke is the first woman to hold the post in the House of Lords in the 650-year history of the role.

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She has taken over from former Black Rod David Leakey, and met the Queen ahead of her formal introduction into the Lords next week.

Black Rod is the senior official responsible for maintaining order at the House of Lords, and is thrust into the spotlight each year at the State Opening of Parliament, when sent to bang on the door of the House of Commons to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech.

Ms Clarke was responsible for the organisation of the annual Wimbledon tournament as championships director at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club, and has previously held roles at four Olympic Games, the London Marathon and UK Sport.

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Black Rod is appointed by the monarch, and the Queen approved Ms Clarke’s position in November, on the recommendation of a selection panel chaired by the Lord Speaker.

The present rod dates from 1883 and is emblazoned with the heraldic motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, translated as “Shame be to him, who evil thinks”.

It is three-and-a-half feet long, decorated with a gold lion and garter and has a gold orb as a chivalric centrepiece.

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The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod knocks on the door to the House of Commons (PA)

As well as organising access to and maintaining order within the House of Lords, Black Rod acts as secretary to the Lord Great Chamberlain, with responsibility for major ceremonial events in the Palace of Westminster.

Ms Clarke has said she is “both deeply honoured and delighted” to be offered the post.

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