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Trooping the Colour: 19 Vintage Photos of the Queen’s Annual Parade

Since the 18th century, Trooping the Colour has been the birthday celebration of the British monarch, but it's also a military exercise—and it brings the royals together in all their spring finery.

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British Troops Saluting the Flag During the Queen's Birthday Celebrations in Cairo

The day on which the birthday of the monarch is celebrated

“The Trooping of the Colour has marked the official birthday of the British Sovereign for over 260 years,” according to the official website of the royal family. Regardless of when a monarch’s actual birthday is, the Trooping of the Colour takes place on a Saturday in June (because the weather tends to be pleasant in June in Britain), but Queen Victoria, whose birthday is being celebrated here in this photo from 1899, was born on May 24, so the event closely coincided with her actual birthday. The Trooping of the Colour is one of 10 royal birthday traditions you never knew existed.

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The Young Princess Elizabeth at the Trooping of the Colour 1931

First, it was a military tradition

Trooping the Colour was already a longstanding military tradition when King George II decided to double up on it to celebrate his own birthday in 1748. “Colours” refers to the flags of the regiments of the British army. “Trooping” refers to displaying them for the benefit of the regiment members (so they’ll recognize them in battle). Britain was in between World Wars during the 1931 celebration, at which the future Queen Elizabeth II is pictured. At the time, the monarch was the Princess Elizabeth of York’s grandfather, King George V.

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Queen Mary drives in her carriage with the duchess of York

Three generations of royalty

In this photo, taken at the 1933 Trooping the Colour, in celebration of King George V’s 68th birthday, we see then-Princess Elizabeth riding in a horse-drawn carriage beside her grandmother, Queen Mary, and across from her mother, the then-Duchess of York.

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Trooping The Colour - 1935

The future Queen’s signature royal wave

In 1935, the future Queen, Princess Elizabeth, is shown perfecting the wave for which she will one day become famous. Practicing the royal wave is one of many rules royal children must follow.

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Princess Elizabeth in her first appearance on horseback
John Rider/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Her first official appearance on horseback

The 1947 Trooping the Colour was also the occasion of 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth making her first appearance on horseback at an official royal ceremony. She’s riding behind King George V, wearing the uniform of a Colonel in the Grenadier Guards, and she’s riding side-saddle, which is how she was trained to ride as a little girl. When she goes riding in a non-ceremonial capacity, however, Her Majesty always rides astride.

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Trooping The Colour 1957. Queen Elizabeth II On Horseback.

A decade later

In 1957, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, now a wife of ten years and a mother of two, had been Queen for five years (since February 6, 1952).

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Queen Elizabeth II Prince Andrew On The Balcony Of Buckingham Palace After Trooping The Colour Ceremony. 1962.
Evening News/REX/Shutterstock

The Queen and her second Prince

At the 1962 Trooping the Colour, Her Majesty The Queen was now the mother of three, the youngest of whom Prince Andrew stands beside her, looking adorable, as the Royal Air Force flies overhead.

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Queen Elizabeth II takes the salute at the traditional Trooping the Color

Great Britain London Horse Guards Parade Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, now a mother of four (Prince Edward was born just 12 weeks earlier), salutes the First Battalion of the Coldstream Guards at her 38th Trooping the Colour in 1964, her 12th as Queen.

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Queen Elizabeth II holds up 12-week-old son Prince Edward

Trooping the new Prince

Here, also at the 1964 Trooping the Colour, Queen Elizabeth holds up her 12-week-old son, Prince Edward, to an enthralled crowd outside Buckingham Palace. We can’t get enough of these 21 adorable royal baby photos.

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1969 Queen Elizabeth II during the trooping of the colour
Joan Williams/REX/Shutterstock

The scarlet tunic of the Grenadier Guards

Her Majesty The Queen always wore the scarlet tunic of the Grenadier Guards to the Trooping the Colour ceremony when she arrived on horseback (which she did until 1987). Here she’s seen saluting at the 1969 ceremony.

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PRINCESS DIANA, PRINCE WILLIAM Trooping of the Colour, London, Britain - 1984

Princess Diana and Prince William

Pictured here at the 1984 Trooping the Colour, is Princess Diana with Prince William. Diana was pregnant with Prince Harry at the time.

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Britain's Prince Harry sticks out his tongue for the cameras on the balcony of Buckingham Palace
Steve Holland/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Cheeky baby Harry

Prince Harry was born in September 1984. Here he is at nearly four years old, sticking his tongue out for the cameras as his mum, Diana, holds him at her hip. Prince William stands directly in front of Harry.

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A couple of galpals

Looking up at the air show at the 1991 Trooping the Colour ceremony, Diana stands with her sister-in-law, Sarah Ferguson, the then-wife of Prince Andrew. Here are 18 things you probably don’t know about Sarah, Duchess of York.

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Extended Royal Family

At the 1993 Trooping of Colour, the Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, are seen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with their niece-in-law, Serena, then-Viscountess Linley and the Duchess of Kent.

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Lovely in lavender

Her Majesty looks lovely in a lavender suit and matching hat at the 1996 Trooping of Colour, her 70th. Here’s why Queen Elizabeth almost always wears bright colors.

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Britain's Queen Elizabeth
Max Nash/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Glorious green

In a glorious green suit with matching hat, Her Majesty arrives at Buckingham Palance for her 76th Trooping the Colour in 2002.

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Prince Harry, left, and Prince William in a carriage return to Buckingham Palace from Horse Guards Parade
Sang Tan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Royal Heart-throbs

At the 2003 Trooping of Colour, Princes William and Harry, both still single and in their early 20s, look dashing as they ride in their carriage to Buckingham Palace.

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Trooping the Colour ceremony, London, UK - 09 Jun 2018

Five of the first six in line for the throne

The 2018 Trooping the Colour was Meghan Markle’s first as Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex. Her wedding to Prince Harry was less than one month earlier. Standing on the Buckingham Palace balcony with the newlyweds are Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton with Prince George and Princess Charlotte, and Savanna Phillips (the young girl in pink), granddaughter of Princess Anne.

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British Royal Air Force Red Arrows jets fly past over Buckingham Palace in central London
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP/REX/Shutterstock

What everyone’s looking up at

You know how everyone’s staring up at the sky as they stand on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour celebrations? Here’s a quick flash of the airshow they’re watching. Find out about more royal ceremonies you never knew existed.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren has covered knowledge, history, the British royal family, true crime and riddles for Reader's Digest since 2017. She sharpened her research skills as an attorney in the 1990s, became an early HuffPost blogger in the 2000s, then began reporting local news in the 2010s. She's been writing news, features and celebrity interviews for a variety of publications since and values being a source of trusted information on the topics her readers care about. In addition to Reader's Digest, her byline appears in The Healthy, Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Mashed, Tasting Table, Eat This, Not That!, Grown and Flown, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, Insider and Business Insider.