The throne room
The principal rooms of the palace are contained on the piano nobile behind the west-facing garden facade at the rear of the palace. The centre of this ornate suite of state rooms is the Music Room, its large bow the dominant feature of the facade. Flanking the Music Room are the Blue and the White Drawing rooms. At the centre of the suite, serving as a corridor to link the state rooms, is the Picture Gallery, which is top lit and 55 yards (50m) long. The Gallery is hung with works by Rembrandt, van Dyck, Rubens, and Vermeer, among many others. Other rooms leading from the picture gallery are the Throne Room and the Green Drawing Room. The Green Drawing room serves as a huge anteroom to the Throne Room, and is part of the ceremonial route to the throne from the guard room at the top of the grand staircase. The guard room contains a white marble statue of Prince Albert, in Roman costume set in a tribune lined with tapestries. These very formal rooms are used only for ceremonial and official entertaining.
Piano nobile of Buckingham Palace. A: State Dining Room; B:Blue Drawing Room; C:Music Room; D:White Drawing Room; E:Royal Closet; F:Throne Room; G:Green drawing Room; H:Cross Gallery; J:Ball Room; K:East Gallery; L:Yellow Drawing Room; M:Centre/Balcony Room; N:Chinese Luncheon Room; O:Principal Corridor; P:Private Apartments; Q:Service Areas; W:The Grand staircase. On the ground floor: R:Ambassador's Entrance; T: Grand Entrance. The areas defined by shaded walls represent lower minor wings.
Directly underneath the state apartments is a suite of slightly less grand rooms known as the semi-state apartments. Opening from the marble hall, these rooms are used for less-formal entertaining, such as luncheon parties and private audiences. Some of the rooms are named and decorated for particular visitors, such as the '1844 Room', which was decorated in that year for the State visit of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. At the centre of this suite is the Bow Room, through which thousands of guests pass annually to the Queen's garden parties in the gardens beyond. The Queen uses privately a smaller suite of rooms in the north wing.
Between 1847 and 1850, when Blore was building the new east wing, the Brighton Pavilion was once again plundered of its fittings. As a result many of the rooms in the new wing have a distinctly oriental atmosphere. The red and blue Chinese Luncheon Room is made up from parts of the Brighton banqueting and music rooms, but has a chimney piece, also from Brighton, in design more Indian than Chinese. The Yellow Drawing Room has 18th-century wall paper, which was supplied in 1817 for the Brighton Saloon, and the chimney piece in this room is a European vision of what the Chinese equivalent would look like, complete with nodding mandarins in niches and fearsome winged dragons.
Prince Albert's music room, one of the smaller less formal rooms at the palace, in 1887. At the centre of this wing is the famous balcony, with behind its glass doors the Centre Room. This is a Chinese-style saloon enhanced by Queen Mary in the late 1920s, although the lacquer doors were brought from Brighton in 1873. Running the length of the piano nobile of the east wing is an immense gallery, modestly known as the Principal Corridor. It has mirrored doors, and mirrored cross walls reflecting porcelain pagodas and other oriental furniture from Brighton. The Chinese Luncheon Room and Yellow Drawing Room are situated at each end of this gallery, with the Centre Room obviously placed in the centre.
Visiting heads of state today, when staying at the palace, occupy a suite of rooms known as the Belgian suite, which is on the ground floor of the south-facing garden front. These rooms, with corridors enhanced by saucer domes, were first decorated for Prince Albert's uncle Léopold, the first King of the Belgians. King Edward VIII lived in these rooms during his short reign. Most presidents of the United States have occupied this suite at one time or another.
The State Ballroom is the largest room at Buckingham Palace. It was added by Queen Victoria and is used for ceremonies such as investitures and state banquets.
During the current reign court ceremony has undergone a radical change, and entry to the palace is no longer the prerogative of just the upper class.
Formal court dress has now been abolished. In previous reigns, men not wearing military uniform wore knee breeches of an 18th-century design. In the evenings, women wore dresses with obligatory trains, and tiaras or feathers (or even both) in their hair. So rigid was the palace dress code that after World War I, when Queen Mary wished to follow fashion by raising her skirts a few inches from the ground, she asked a Lady-in-Waiting to shorten her skirt first to gauge the King's reaction. King George V was horrified and Queen Mary's hemline remained unfashionably low. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth were slightly more fashionable, and daytime skirts were allowed to rise.
In 1924 Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald was the first man to be received by a monarch inside the palace wearing a lounge suit; however, this was a one-off concession. Prescribed evening court dress remained obligatory until World War II.
Today, most men invited to Buckingham Palace in the daytime choose to wear service uniform or morning coats, and in the evening, depending on the formality of the occasion, black tie or white tie. If the occasion is 'white tie' then women, if they possess one, wear a tiara, although no dress code is officially demanded.
One of the first major changes was in 1958 when the Queen abolished the presentation parties for debutantes. These court presentations of aristocratic girls to the monarch took place in the Throne Room. Debutantes wore full court dress, with three tall ostrich feathers held precariously in their hair. They entered the Throne Room, curtsied, performed a choreographed backwards walk and a further curtsey, while perilously manoeuvring a dress train of a prescribed length.
The Queen felt this ceremony, which corresponded to the "court drawing rooms" of earlier reigns, to be elitist and antiquated, and replaced the presentations with large and frequent palace garden parties, to which a more varied cross section of British society is invited. The late Princess Margaret is reputed to have said of the debutante presentations: "We had to put a stop to it, every tart in London was getting in" (Blaikie). The Throne Room today is used for the reception of formal addresses such as that given to the Queen on her jubilees. It is here on the throne dais that royal wedding photographs are taken.
The Queen photographed with Commonwealth Prime Ministers in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace, in the 1950s. To her right, Sir Winston Churchill and Sidney Holland of New Zealand; to her left, Robert Menzies of Australia and Louis St. Laurent of Canada Investitures, which include the conferring of knighthoods by dubbing with a sword, and other awards take place in the palace's Victorian Ballroom, built in 1854. At 37m by 20m (123ft by 60ft), this is the largest room in the palace. It has replaced the Throne Room in importance and use. During investitures the Queen does not sit on the throne, but stands on the throne dais beneath a giant, domed velvet canopy, known as a shamiana, used at the coronation Durbar in Delhi in 1911. A military band plays in the musicians' gallery, as the recipients of awards approach the Queen and receive their honours, watched by their families and friends. The Beatles were among the first non-establishment artists to be awarded honours at the palace.
State banquets also take place in the Ballroom. These formal dinners take place on the first evening of a state visit by a visiting Head of State. On these occasions, often over 150 guests in formal "white tie and decorations" including tiaras for women, dine off gold plate. The largest and most formal reception at Buckingham Palace takes place every November, when the Queen entertains members of the foreign diplomatic corps resident in London. On this occasion all the state rooms are in use, as the entire Royal Family proceed through them, beginning their procession through the great north doors of the Picture Gallery. As Nash had envisaged, all the large, double-mirrored doors stand open, reflecting the numerous crystal chandeliers and sconces, causing a deliberate optical illusion of space and light.
This 1870 drawing shows guests ascending the Grand Staircase. Smaller ceremonies such as the reception of new ambassadors take place in the '1844 Room'. Here too the Queen holds small lunch parties, and often meetings of the Privy Council. Larger lunch parties often take place in the curved and domed Music Room, or the State Dining Room. On all formal occasions the ceremonies are attended by the Yeomen of the Guard in their anachronistic uniforms, and other officers of the court such as the Lord Chamberlain.
Since the bombing of the palace chapel in World War II, royal christenings have sometimes taken place in the Music Room. The Queen's first three children were all baptised here, in a special gold font. Prince William was christened in the Music room; however, his brother, Prince Harry, was christened at St. George's Chapel Windsor.
The largest functions of the year are the garden parties, when up to 9,000 people attend, taking tea and sandwiches in a series of marquees. The guests first assemble, then as a military band plays the National Anthem, the Queen emerges from the Bow Room, and slowly walks through the guests, greeting those previously selected for the honour, to her own more private tea tent. If the guests at these functions do not actually have the opportunity to meet the Queen, they at least have the consolation of being able to admire the gardens.
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