Buckingham Palace, the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen, is one of the most well-known buildings in the world. Bought by George III for Queen Charlotte in 1762, ‘Buck House,’ as it is affectionately known, has been a royal family home ever since.
Every year, the Palace hosts a special exhibition as part of the Summer Opening. This year’s display, entitled Royal Childhood, shows what a child’s life was like growing up in a royal palace over the past 250 years.
Life for Royal Children in Buckingham Palace
Royal Childhood features items from the Royal Collection, the Royal Archives, and the private collections of members of the Royal Family. Exhibits range from favourite toys, miniature tea sets, diaries and exercise books, to baby and children’s wear.
A velvet ‘walking suit’ worn by the future King George V, dating from about 1867-8, gives a valuable insight into the wardrobes of royal children in the nineteenth century.
We see how things have changed since then. A pink coat worn by nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth, now Queen Elizabeth II, is on show together with a ‘sailor suit’ worn by Prince William in 1986, as a page-boy at the wedding of The Duke of York.
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Also on display are Parisian dolls dressed in haute couture gowns, belonging to the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Rocking horses, jigsaws, train sets, prams and a carved wooden wheelbarrow in the shape of a dog, together with Princess Victoria’s (the future Queen Victoria) ‘behaviour book’ are also on show.
A magnificent gilt Lily Font, commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1840, is on public view in the Music Room for the first time. Other exhibits include a baby’s beautiful silver rattle and a pink wool blanket embroidered by Queen Victoria in 1883 for her granddaughter Princess Alice.
A photograph depicts Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on one of their rocking horses; and Prince George’s rocking horse, presented by President Obama and Mrs. Obama in 2013, is also on show.
Of all the royal children, Prince Andrew was probably the most envied when he received a replica DB5 from Aston Martin for his sixth birthday. The miniature car is a replica of the vehicle used in the James Bond films Goldfinger and Thunderball.
Royal Births Over the Centuries
Since the mid-eighteenth century, Buckingham Palace has seen many royal births and christenings. Anticipating their first child, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria commissioned a magnificent silver-gilt Lily Font in 1840.
The baptism of Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise took place on 10th February 1841, which was also the Queen and Prince Albert’s wedding anniversary.
The font has a bowl in the form of an open flower with a border of leaves and water lilies. The stem resembles leaves supported by three cherubs playing lyres. The font sits on a circular plinth bearing coats of arms. Lilies represent purity and water lilies in particular represent new life.
These motifs appeared later on a christening present from Queen Victoria to her grandson, Prince Albert Victor.
Since 1841, the family has used the Lily Font for most of the major royal baptisms right up to Prince George of Cambridge in October 2013.
Prince George’s christening robe, a replica of the original commissioned by Queen Victoria, is also on show.
The Little House – Y Bwthyn Bach
Y Bwthyn Bach, or The Little House, was a gift to Princess Elizabeth from the people of Wales in on her sixth birthday in 1932.
The miniature cottage, with thatched roof, running water and electricity, was a favourite with ‘Lilibet,’ as she was known to close family, and her younger sister, the Princess Margaret.
The Royal Childhood exhibit includes a recreation of the cottage’s kitchen.
The original house is in the grounds of Royal Lodge in Windsor, and is still a firm favourite with the newest generation of royal children.
Silver Filigree Rattle – Too Beautiful to Play With?
Royal Childhood showcases a silver filigree rattle, a gift to the Prince of Wales (the future King George IV) in 1763. It’s hard to imagine children playing with such a beautiful item.
Used by all the prince’s brothers and sisters, the rattle was later passed to Queen Victoria for her own children to use.
The club-shaped toy has an intricate spiralling twisted pattern with rosettes at the top and bottom of the handle. Small bells suspended inside give the rattle its voice.
Was the Future Queen Victoria Ever Naughty?
For me, the highlight of the exhibition is Princess Victoria’s ‘behaviour book.’ It records, written in her own hand when she was twelve years old, her daily behaviour with comments ranging from ‘very good‘ to ‘very very very very horribly naughty!!!!.‘
The young Princess Victoria, (the future Queen Victoria) was kept to an extremely strict regime by her German governess, Baroness Lehzen, and we see that most of the time Victoria was fairly well-behaved, but like all children, she had her moments!
Royal Childhood Offers Rare View
Royal Childhood forms part of the Summer Opening of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, 26th July – 28th September 2014.
The Royal Collection Trust provides tickets and further information.