Bedecked in jewels, Queen opens U.K. Parliament

Queen Elizabeth opens new session of Parliament
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II proceeds through the Royal Gallery toward the Chamber of the House of Lords in the Palace of Westminster during the State Opening of Parliament in London on May 9, 2012.
Getty Images/Leon Neal

(CBS News) LONDON - Wednesday in London, one of those lavish ceremonies the British do so well: the State Opening of Parliament. It is full of pomp and pageantry - a nod to history and tradition - if outdated and ever-so-slightly ridiculous.

"This is prom day at Parliament," says political historian and analyst Quentin Letts. "This is when everyone puts on their glad-rags and says, 'Aren't we great?' ... And, in a way, you know, maybe they are."

You could say that keeping the "Great" in Great Britain, is what it's all about.

Pictures: Queen Elizabeth II opens Parliament

At its heart, the State Opening is a symbolic reminder of the relationship between the monarchy and government.

Pulled in her gilded horse-drawn carriage, and flanked by her Household Cavalry, the Queen makes her way to the Houses of Parliament.

It's a task she's taken on since being crowned in 1953 - through 12 prime ministers, from Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair and now, David Cameron.

She's only missed the occasion twice -- when she was expecting Prince Charles' baby brothers, Andrew and then Edward.

It really becomes a royal prom at the House of Lords when Her Majesty arrives resplendent in her Imperial State Crown - blinging with 3,000 diamonds, and full ceremonial robes.

Then a man called The Black Rod goes to summon the House of Commons.

The door is slammed in his face, which is meant to represent the commons' independence from crown rule.

Three knocks, and an order: "Mr. Speaker, the Queen commands this honourable house to attend Her Majesty immediately in the House of Peers."

Then comes the Queen's Speech, not written by the Queen at all, but the very politicians she's delivering it to. It generally sets out the year ahead and discusses the goals and aspirations of the sitting government.