Britain names first woman to ceremonial role of Black Rod

Queen Elizabeth II has approved the appointment of the first woman as Black Rod, the House of Lords official who is instrumental in the state opening of Britain's Parliament.

Sarah Clarke, currently director of the Wimbledon tennis championships, will assume the 650-year-old post early next year.

The most visible role of Black Rod is to summon the House of Commons to hear the Queen's Speech in the House of Lords at the opening of Parliament. Black Rod traditionally bangs on the door of the chamber with a black staff, only to have the door slammed shut as a sign of the House of Commons' independence.

It is a moment of political theater that celebrates British democracy. Black Rod is named after the staff of office — an ebony rod topped with a golden lion.