The Royals

A true British institution, the Royal Family is considered to be one of the country’s main attractions. From their illustrious palaces and their intriguing traditions to their deep roots in Britain’s history, the Monarchy continues to be a symbol of the nation.

With HM Queen Elizabeth II celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall winning over the hearts of the world, there’s never been a better time to be a Royal

The Queen has received in excess of three million items of correspondence during her 60-year reign


Victoria and Albert: Love and Art

A charming exhibition at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October looks at the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, from their engagement through to his untimely demise.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, The Royal Family in 1846
Franz Xaver Winterhalter, The Royal Family in 1846

THREE OF THE smallest objects shown in Victoria and Albert: Love and Art at London’s Queen’s Gallery until 31 October are also three of the most evocative in this charming exhibition. Each symbolises the couple’s devotion to each other and their young family. I liked the simple, pebble bracelet made from tiny pieces of agate they’d found on their first journey together in 1841. Prince Albert had the stones sent back to London for polishing and then mounting in gold. It became a tradition on future trips to everywhere from Brighton to Woburn Abbey and each location is engraved on the mount. The second piece I found touching is a winged cherub brooch, inspired by a Raphael painting and designed by Albert. The wings are studded with precious stones, but the cherub’s face is Princess Victoria, their first child. In contrast is a tiny gold and enamel thistle brooch. Its flower is actually the Princess’s first lost milk tooth. On the reverse, an inscription notes that it was pulled by her father at Adverikie (Scotland) on 13 September 1843.

Queen Victoria's Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851
Queen Victoria’s Costume for the Stuart Ball, 1851

Assistant Curator Katherine Jones commented, “Albert often designed jewellery himself and no occasion was left unmarked or unrecorded by the couple in one way or another.” Which is why this fascinating exhibition, which focuses on the period of Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert, from the time of their engagement in 1839 to the Prince’s untimely death in 1861, covers everything from intimate family occasions and country walks to State occasions and official gifts sparkling with diamonds. Katherine’s particular favourite is the rarely seen Queen’s costume for the Stuart Ball of 1851. Designed by Huguenot artist Eugene Lami in beautiful silks and lace, it’s decorated with faux pearls and silver fringes. “It’s so delicate and sums her up somehow,” she said.

Here are Landseer’s paintings of Eon, Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound – “very friendly if there’s plum cake in the room” wrote the Queen – and the couple dressed as King Edward III and Queen Philippa of Hainault at a Bal Costume in 1842. William Ross’s delicate miniatures on ivory of the young couple are exquisite.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, 1843
Winterhalter, Queen Victoria, 1843

One painting would probably have shocked her subjects – and it is still considered quite saucy for a royal! Queen Victoria  shown with her head tilted provocatively and her brown hair flowing down her shoulder. By Winterhalter, she commissioned it as a surprise birthday present for Albert and it was in his dressing room.

Among the tasteful things on show are their occasional lapses, though fashionable at the time. Few could live with the stag’s horn, hoofs and teeth furniture from the Horn Room at Osborne, the over-the-top German carved writing table, or my particular dislike: the carved marble arms and feet of the Royal children. Awfully creepy.

Arguably the most extraordinary exhibit is the South Indian throne and footstool. Made of elaborately carved ivory and hardwood, set with gold, diamonds, emeralds and rubies, it’s upholstered with embroidered silk velvet. Originally shown in the India section of the 1851 Great Exhibition, it was presented by the Maharajah of Travancore when the Queen became Empress of India in 1876. 

Victoria and Albert were very interested in new technology and they especially liked photography. There’s an entire cabinet of carte-de-visite portraits, which would be given to friends and family or arranged in albums by the Queen. In 1860, she posed for some to sell to the public, which were a great success. The couple’s favourite image from the newly formed Photographic Society is also on show: Obaysch the Hippopotumus sleeping at London Zoo!

Roger Fenton, The Queen and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 1854
Roger Fenton, The Queen and Prince Albert, Buckingham Palace, 1854

Among the art exhibits are some delightful and well-executed watercolours of her children by Queen Victoria, watercolours of interiors of the Royal residences and some master works collected by Prince Albert for the Royal Collection. Included here are Frith’s Ramsgate Sands, Cranach’s Apollo and Diana and Landseer’s Isaac van Ambergh and his Animals. The lion tamer was a favourite with Queen Victoria who saw him six times. “One can never see it too often, for it is different each time,” she wrote.

The last part of the exhibition deals with Albert’s death. There is a heart-rending photograph of Victoria gazing mournfully at a bust of Albert while her daughter Princess Alice looks sadly at the camera. It would be another 40 years before she would be laid beside him in the mausoleum she had built at Frognal and this great love story would finally end.

Victoria and Albert: Love and Art is on until 31 October at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1. Tel. (020) 7766 7301; www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Report by Pat Moore

Images: Royal Collection (c) 2009, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II


The Duchess of Cornwall goes back to school

THE DUCHESS of Cornwall was greeted by flagwaving when she visited Westonbirt’s new school for its official opening. She also toured the gardens which are being restored by the Holford Trust.

The Duchess of Cornwall at the school opening

THE WESTONBIRT ESTATE in Gloucestershire, home of the National Arboretum, received a royal visitor recently. Staff and pupils of Rose Hill Westonbirt School, now open on the Gloucestershire estate, welcomed the Duchess of Cornwall to the new school for its official opening on 30 November. Her Royal Highness toured the campus, meeting the pupils and teachers, then was taken to see the Italian Garden and the Camellia House, which are being restored by the Holford Trust and which can be visited by the public on special heritage tours.

The school choir entertains the Duchess of Cornwall

There she was entertained by the school choir, before unveiling a plaque in the Palm House. The new school is just part of the estate around Westonbirt House in Gloucestershire, which is also home to the famous National Arboretum.

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By Royal Appointment: History of Royal Warrants

Fancy sharing suppliers with the Queen? today, with around 850 royal warrant holders, ranging from tailors to toothpaste, chances are you do. here we take a look at the history of this royal sign of approval.

A Fortnum & Mason hamper delivered by horsedrawn carriage
A Fortnum & Mason hamper delivered by horsedrawn carriage.

Ever since King Henry II gave a Royal Charter to the Weavers’ Company in 1155 for clothes and castle hangings and William Caxton became the King’s Printer in 1476, Britain’s tradesmen and crafts people have aspired to serving Sovereign and Court.

Today, there are around 850 Royal Warrant Holders granted by three members of the royal family: The Queen, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and Charles, Prince of Wales. Their Coats of Arms and ‘By Appointment’ are proudly and prominently displayed on the outside of shops and factories, bills, stationery – and sometimes on the product itself – because, if it’s fit for a royal, then it must surely be the very best available.

Not everyone can apply. The applicant must have provided goods or services on request to the Royal Household for a minimum of five years before they are considered by the Grantor. In the Prince of Wales’ case, they also have to “demonstrate that they have a workable environmental policy.” The Lord Chamberlain then advises on the final decision. The Grantee – a named person, not the company – is personally responsible for the quality of his product.

Everything from crowns to cutlery, confectionery to candles, silverware to silks, furniture to frying pans appear on Sovereigns’ shopping lists over the centuries, but some of the orders have changed with time. Queen Mary Tudor’s Royal Skinner – fur dealer and tailor – made a spectacular outfit for her Fool (court jester) William Somer. “A Turquey Coate with vi (sic) blewe coneyes (rabbits) and gresseled (probably ostrich feather) clowdes” begins the description. Unlike Henry VIII, the present Queen doesn’t have a supplier of “Swannes and Cranes, price the piece two shillings” nor I imagine does she give her Purveyor of Fish “£10 a year for “entertainment” plus £22.11s.8d. for losses and necessaries” like Elizabeth I.

In the 18th century there was a Royal Rat-catcher and Mole-taker, but Andrew Cooke, the incumbent Royal “Bug-taker” seems to have fallen out of favour despite having “cured 16,000 beds with great applause”.

And it wasn’t until William IV’s reign that tradesmen were allowed to use the Royal Arms in public. Some of the king’s holders’ descendents still serve the Royal household: Wilkinson Sword are Her Majesty’s Sword Cutlers and Mattieson Wall’s of Banbury are Suppliers of Sausages and Meat Pies. Caleys of Windsor, Supplier of Household and Fancy Goods are descended from Mrs Caley, William IV’s mother Queen Charlotte’s Milliner and Dressmaker.

The Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, explore the rough stuff department at John Lobb
The Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, explore the rough stuff department at John Lobb

Except for Queens themselves, women have perhaps unfairly played a small part in the history of Royal Warrants. It wasn’t until 1700 that King William and Queen Mary saw fit to grant one to Anne Bridge, their Purveyor of Oysters. Some of the names are very quaint: in 1830 there was Robert Rogg, the “Chinaman”, actually a supplier of tableware and the glamorous sounding Plumassier, or feather worker and supplier. Paperhangers, pencutters and globe makers figure prominently and after Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 over 2,000 shops – including Twinings tea merchants and Fortnum and Mason – craftspeople and factories would receive the Royal accolade. She also revived the Oath for Warrant Holders, as used in Charles II’s time which was taken on the Bible, except by Jews who swore on the Old Testament and Quakers who affirmed, “I hereby solemnly swear that I will be a true and loyal servant to our sovereign Lady Victoria…” it began.

The Royal Tradesmen themselves were justifiably proud of their accolade and decided in 1840 to form an Association “for the celebration of Her Majesty’s birthday in May”. The first meeting was held in The Freemasons Tavern, Great Queen Street in the City and the original minute book with its spidery writing is kept in The Royal Warrant Holders’ Association headquarters in London’s Buckingham Gate.

Being Victorian men, the members immediately formed a dining club! They paid one guinea a year “with attendance right” to the dinner. Sons were allowed if fathers were indisposed, but “if a lady or firm of ladies” held a Royal appointment, they “could appoint a Gentleman to represent them”. The first year there were 25 at the dinner, the next 80 and today members and guests total well over 1,500. Queen Victoria was so impressed she sent venison as one of the seven courses. Word got around and by 1896 the Association was keeping a firm eye out for people pretending to be Royal Tradesmen.

The Royal Warrant Holders’ Assocation (known as the Royal Tradesmen in Scotland) still holds an annual banquet. Its members, as in the past often come from the areas around the royal residences: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyroodhouse, Sandringham.

Unless it’s obvious – like Lobb’s the royal shoemaker’s and Wolsey’s hosiery – members are not allowed to boast about which products the royals use. Crowing “The Queen eats Buggins’ Bread for breakfast” is definitely not on.

For details of all Royal Warrant holders, contact The Royal Warrant Holders Association. Tel: (020) 7828 2268.


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