2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Queen Victoria, one of Britain’s most famous Monarchs; this year she is taking centre stage at Buckingham Palace for the summer opening, an exhibition entitled ‘Queen Victoria’s Palace’.
The Royal Collection is presenting what they describe as ‘an immersive experience’ in the Ballroom, to explore the history of Buckingham Palace as Victoria’s family home and the headquarters of the British Monarchy.
When Princess Alexandrina Victoria became Queen, she decided that the empty palace across London would be a better place to begin her reign, out from under the close eye of her mother at Kensington Palace. Her uncle, King William IV, had preferred to live at Clarence House than to follow his brother, George IV, and reside at Buckingham; George had refitted and spent a great amount of money with architect John Nash to make the residence a formal palace.
Victoria’s ministers advised her to stay at Kensington until Buckingham Palace could be brought up to a suitable standard. However, the headstrong young Queen decided to move into the unfurnished residence immediately.
Some of the artefacts on display include Thomas Sully’s portrait of Queen Victoria, painted soon after she moved to Buckingham Palace. It is ‘one of the most striking early likenesses of the young Queen’, who wears the George IV diadem. The artist noted through their three sittings that Victoria laughed and talked, ‘a happy innocent girl of Eighteen’.
Soon after her accession, Victoria ordered a new set of personal insignia for each of the six British Orders of Chivalry (Garter, Thistle, St Patrick, Bath, Saint Michael and Saint George, and Victoria). Shown below is her Star and Collar of the Order of the Bath, which were made to be these were considerably lighter and longer than previous versions, so they could be worn just below the shoulders to complement the necklines of formal dresses fashionable in the era.
Victoria and Prince Albert’s love story is well-known, with the couple marrying in 1840. Eight of the couple’s nine children were born at Buckingham Palace, but by 1845, with children, it was clear that Buckingham Palace was no longer large enough to accommodate the royal couple’s rapidly expanding family.
On 10 February 1845, the Queen wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, talking of ‘the urgent necessity of doing something to Buckingham Palace’ and ‘the total want of accommodation for our growing little family’. In the summer of 1846, Parliament granted Victoria £20,000 for the completion and extension of Buckingham Palace. A further £50,000 came from the sale of George IV’s seaside retreat, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. This work saw a new wing added to the east (the front) of the u-shaped residence, creating a courtyard at its centre. Marble Arch, which acted as the formal entrance to the palace grounds, had to be removed and was relocated to Hyde Park.
Work on the palace during Victoria’s reign also saw the addition of the Ballroom, which – when opened in 1856 – was the largest room in Europe. This watercolour of the Crimean Ball by Louis Haghe shows the original Italian Renaissance-style interior. Notice Victoria seated on her throne at the far end of the room.
A lover of dancing, Victoria hosted a Stuart Ball in 1851, with a theme of the Restoration period. Guests had to dress in the style of Charles II’s court. Queen Victoria had a costume made by the artist Eugène Lami for the occasion; it has a bodice and full skirt of grey moiré trimmed with gold lace and an underskirt of gold and silver brocade.
“I was so proud and pleased to see my beloved Albert looking so handsome, truly royal and distinguished, and so much admired. I must say our costumes were beautifully made,” the Queen wrote in her diary, and even illustrated it with a sketch of her and her husband, with Prince Charles Leiningen (Victoria’s half-brother).
‘Queen Victoria’s Palace’ will run from Saturday, 20 July 2019 – Sunday, 29 September 2019. Get tickets here.