Queen Victoria: New Buckingham Palace exhibition shows how to dance and dine like royalty


Every summer Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public. This year marks the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria with a new exhibition exploring the creation of new rooms which transformed the empty and echoing building into a family home and the spectacular heart of the nation and the Empire. As well as the expected grandeur, there are also intimate glimpses into the private life of the royal couple and a moving tribute to one of the queen’s most famous servants.

At just 18, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne on June 20, 1837, and moved into the newly completed palace three weeks later. Early in the tour, you pass through the East Gallery which includes Sir George Hayter’s breathtaking portrait of the young queen draped in her sumptuous cloth of gold coronation supertunica. 

Another enormous painting shows the coronation in all its splendour. But the one detail we noticed was the young attendant staring boldly out at the viewer, the only person to do so. Hayter did individual portrait sittings of almost every individual to then insert into the larger finished painting, so why is hers different? See if you can find out who she was… 

On February 10, 1840, Victoria married her Albert and a grand painting captures the moment. The queen was known to be rather fond of her husband’s well-turned legs and the portrait shows him flaunting them in sleek white knee-breeches, complete with garter and bejewelled ties. Perhaps the artist flattered the prince, whose breeches are noticeably tighter than anyone else in the image. His young bride, no doubt, would have been amused.

From the gallery, you move into the first of the three main rooms which form part of the new annexe commissioned by Victoria.

A large chamber houses a treasure trove of costumes, instruments, books, sketches and personal family items. 

Victoria’s love of balls was well-known, but she also used them to promote local industries as well as build relationships with dignitaries and showcase the monarchy. The 1842 Plantagenet Ball was credited with reviving the struggling textile and silk weaving industries based in Spitalfields.

Queen Elizabeth was seen admiring her ancestor’s costume for the lavish 1851 Stuart Ball, a frothy concoction of grey moire over gold and silver brocade underskirts. She also stopped to look at a tiny dress worn by Albert Edward, Prince Of Wales, later King Edward VII.

The room is full of family keepsakes, from fine sketches of the children by Victoria herself to a grand gold casket containing their teeth, some on display, others in neatly labelled pouches.

Victoria’s closeness with her staff is also marked in a book of portraits, but pride of place is given to an 1880 framed portrait of Nancy Skerrett, the queen’s beloved dresser, decades after the events shown in the ITV show.

Next is the new Ballroom, completed in 1856 and the largest room in the palace at the time. It was inaugurated that same year with another ball to celebrate the end of the Crimean War. 

Projections recreate the colourful silk hangings and cartoons chosen by Albert, while a 3D illusion of the ball takes centre stage, using the Victorian technique known as Pepper’s Ghost. Queen Elizabeth can be seen in our video, watching as four couples recreate the opening bars of a waltz set to Verdi’s La Traviata.

At the end of the room, Queen Victoria’s throne sits on a pedestal, two smaller thrones behind it under heavy red velvet drapes.

If all that dancing leaves you peckish, waltz down a connecting corridor grander than most homes into the Ball Supper Room.

History buffs and fans of the ITV show will know that Charles Elme Francatelli was the queen’s Chief Cook. A gleaming table groans under recreations of his extravagant puddings, sat regally on silver-gilt pieces from George Iv’s Grand Service.

The table is also set with recreations of the ‘Victoria’ dessert service which the queen herself bought from the stand of Minton & Co at the famous 1851 Grand Exhibition in Hyde Park.

From there, you move into the jaw-dropping opulence of the main State Rooms. The Blue and White Drawing Rooms are themed in each colour and it takes a while to take in the chandeliers, gilt plasterwork, ornaments, rugs, paintings and perfectly plumped silk damask cushions.

Do leave time, though, to soak in the simpler delights of the Music Room. This is perhaps the most personal moment of the tour. It is the room where Victoria and Albert played music and sang, just the two of them, delighting in each other and a respite from the responsibilities waiting outside the doors.

And then it’s time to leave through the beautiful gardens. The extremely polite and welcoming staff are entirely far too well-trained to bat an eyelash if you have a little waltz in your step as you go.


TICKET AND INFO AT www.rct.uk.


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