‘Royal Gifts’ the focus of 2017 summer opening at Buckingham Palace

This year’s summer opening at Buckingham Palace is to feature an exhibit on official Royal gifts received by The Queen over the decades.

The Royal Collection Trust wants to tell the story of The Queen’s reign through the items she has been presented with from across the globe. More than 250 official presents will be on display, ‘representing a spectacular display of craftsmanship from across the globe’.

The Vessel of Friendship, a model of the ‘treasure ship’ sailed by the 15th-century navigator and diplomat Zeng He. Given to The Queen during the Chinese State Visit October 2015. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

There are always a number of odd gifts given to the Royal Family, and in 2015, this list included fairy dust(!). Amongst the items to be put on display this year are a totem pole, and a gilded ornamental ship and a beaded chair.

The Vessel of Friendship (above), was given to Her Majesty in 2015 during his State Visit to London. It is a model of the ‘treasure ship’ of 15th-century navigator and diplomat Zeng He; this is just one example of the effort foreign nations go to in order to impress the Sovereign, who is revered the world over.

A linen bag containing salt presented to Her Majesty by Salt Island. This gift reflected the tradition of the Island paying the monarch an annual rent of a pound of salt on their birthday. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

Gifts are an important part of the diplomatic process, and are exchanged during State Visits – the subject of the 2015 summer opening. They function as a symbol of good will between two countries, with the visit hoping to strengthen the ties.

Salt was given to The Queen, a tradition which began once more in 2015, by Salt Island, one of the Virgin Islands. The salt is taken as annual rent from the people.

A gilded bronze owl, a small-scale replica of the owls designed by John Thorp for the plinths outside Leeds Civic Hall (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

A gilded owl ended up in the Royal Collection after it came from closer to home: Leeds. The bird is a symbol in the city’s coat of arms, and is a replica of those outside the Civic Hall.

Following the Peat inquiry in 2003, rules regarding gifts were tightened, as it appeared some were being sold. Now, all items given to members of the Royal Family become part of the Royal Collection, held in a trust by The Queen for her successors and the country, much like the palaces.

A Buckingham Palace London Underground sign which will be on display at the summer 2017 opening of the palace. (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

Also on display is a tube sign you won’t see anywhere else in London as it designates the stop for Buckingham Palace itself! Her majesty called the present ‘fantastic’ when she was handed it in 2010.

Gifted by the Kwakiutl people of Canada’s north-west coast was a wooden totem pole. It was received in 1971 on a visit to Canada. There is also a basket woven from coconut leaves to see, which was given by Queen Sālote Tupou III of Tonga in 1953, when The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh toured the Commonwealth; she is remembered for riding in an open carriage to the coronation of the same year, smiling and waving at the crowds in the rain.

Amongst the expensive items on display will be this bowl of fruits; made entirely of hand-beaten silver, it was a gift at the CHOGM in 1991 from Zambia, featuring fruits grown in the country.

A hand-beaten silver bowl of fruits gifted to The Queen by the President of Zambia during a visit to Namibia and Zimbabwe for the Commonwealth Head of Government’s Meeting in 1991. (RCT/ HM Queen Elizabeth II)

The palace will be open to visitors from 22nd July to 1st October 2017, when The Queen will spend the summer at Balmoral. 

Finally, there will be a tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales, at the palace, in the 20th anniversary of her death. Her desk and numerous personal items will go on display, chosen by Prince William and Prince Harry.

Get your tickets here.

A tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales in the Music Room; her desk is on show for the summer opening of Buckingham Palace (Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017)

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