Accompanied by Richard Tilbrook, clerk of the council, the four counsellors – according to ancient, immutable and, as so often with the privy council, unwritten convention, there are always four – filed into the room, joining the Queen and Geidt.
The 1844 Room, the customary venue for council meetings at Buckingham Palace, is so called because it was decorated for a state visit that year by Tsar Nicholas I. It contains a number of ornate if spectacularly uncomfortable Regency armchairs and sofas on which no one sat: councils have been held standing ever since the day in 1861 when Queen Victoria discovered it helped get them over with sooner.
Clutching his sheaf of Orders, Clegg took up his position to the Queen's right, the other privy counsellors lining up opposite. As lord president, fourth of the great officers of state, Clegg is a fixture; the rest are not.
Each, we now know (but only since 1998, before when it was a crime to reveal it), has sworn a solemn oath "to be true and faithful servants unto the Queen's Majesty" as one of her privy council. Also, naturally, "to keep secret all Matters ... treated of secretly in Council". And – rather touchingly – to "assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-Eminences and Authorities granted to Her Majesty against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States or Potentates". For this, they get to be Rt Hons, and to assemble once every half-century or so when the reigning sovereign announces his or her engagement (which last happened in 1839), or dies.Transparency? Accountability? Democracy? Should this anachronistic nonsense have any place in a modern system of government?