From proclamations to parades, there were many ways to let the public commune with the blue bloods. But one of the most enduring and effective ways to demonstrate institutional power and glory was art, especially portraits. A new 8-part BBC 4 series The Art of Monarchy explores precisely this topic. So now seems as good a time as any to take a closer look at The Royal Collection.
This repository of the palaces, art, musical instruments, royal conveyances and regalia of the British Royal Family is maintained and overseen by The Royal Collection Trust. In a world of Instagram selfies and rabid paparazzi, it’s hard to truly appreciate the ways that royalty and the royal image was carefully controlled and meted out in eras past. But any one of these sites will go a long way to helping you understand. Come, learn more about the royals.
The Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, London
If unicorns existed, they’d be living in here by choice. The carriages are just that fabulous! The gentle-folk who work in The Royal Mews are responsible for all the Queen’s road travel arrangements, and those of the Royal Family. Take a selfie in a royal carriage and wave at the commoners like Queen Victoria at the Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, back in June 1897. Try tacking up a wooden pony (just because). You can even meet the four-legged Windsor Greys and Cleveland Bays and see the grand, gilded Gold State Coach commissioned by George III in 1762. Bling isn’t even close to the word.
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London
The Queen’s Gallery is the place to see changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection; favorites of her majesty’s perhaps? Check out old master paintings, rare furniture (again, please refrain from sitting – there are cold wooden benches for us plebs), and decorative arts and images from the huge photograph collection. The exhibition is both far-ranging and in-depth. From now until 13 May 2018, visit the Charles II: Art & Power Exhibition and see some incredible paintings of the king (1630-1685), documenting his time on the throne. The wig and jeweled-buckled shoes he’s wearing in one painting suggest he was posing patiently (or impatiently – he doesn’t look too impressed) in the 1670s. Wonder what he’d think of Instagram…
Windsor Castle, Windsor
The royal residence of Windsor Castle happens to be the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. It goes all the way back to William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Since then it’s been inhabited by 39 monarchs. But one of its biggest draws is a Dolls’ House built for Queen Mary in 1924. Also of note, Queen Elizabeth II spends most of her private weekends at the Castle, so maybe you’ll bump into her? Unlikely, but just the chance it may happen is thrilling. You can also see the private apartments created for George IV – there’s more glittering red and gold in here than in a Katy Perry world tour changing room.
Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
Edinburgh is all curry shops, comedy clubs, the faint sound of bagpipes and then, right at the end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile – the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Associated with some of Scotland’s most famous and influential historical figures, it’s still used by The Queen when she’s doing all her important, royal stuff in Scotland. On a trip here you’ll see Sir David Wilkie’s portrait of the king in his kilt (made of Royal Stewart tartan) in the Royal Dining Room, visit the opulent staterooms, see the changing exhibitions and imagine Mary, Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie running about the place, drunk on whiskey. (Again, unproven, but highly likely).