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Queen Victoria's Palace Exhibition

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth, a special exhibition, Queen Victoria’s Palace, will tell the story of how the young queen transformed Buckingham Palace from a private house into a working royal residence. Together with Prince Albert, she made Buckingham Palace a rallying point for the nation, a powerful symbol of the British Monarchy, & a family home for their nine children.

The Palace

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne on 20 June 1837, aged 18. Just three weeks into her reign, she moved into Buckingham Palace, despite the building being incomplete & many of the rooms undecorated & unfurnished. The Palace had been empty for seven years following the death of Victoria’s uncle, George IV, who had commissioned at great expense the conversion of Buckingham House into a Palace to the designs of John Nash. The King never occupied the Palace, & his successor, William IV, preferred to live at Clarence House during his short reign. The Queen’s ministers advised her to stay at Kensington Palace, her childhood home, until Buckingham Palace could be brought up to a suitable standard, but Victoria wanted to move immediately & begin her new life.


Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, on 10 February 1840. Over the next 17 years, they had nine children, eight of whom were born at Buckingham Palace. As early as 1845 it was clear that Buckingham Palace was no longer large enough to accommodate the royal couple’s rapidly expanding family. On 10 February that year, Victoria wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, concerning ‘the urgent necessity of doing something to Buckingham Palace’ & ‘the total want of accommodation for our growing little family’. On 13 August 1846, Parliament granted Victoria £20,000 for the completion & extension of Buckingham Palace. Additional funds were raised from the sale of George IV’s seaside retreat, the Royal Pavilion, to Brighton Corporation for £50,000.

Costume Balls

During their time together at Buckingham Palace, Queen Victoria & Prince Albert held three magnificent ‘themed’ costume balls. These occasions were both celebrations of British history & a showcase for the country’s textile industry. Guests were encouraged to commission elaborate costumes to give work to the Spitalfield silk weavers, whose business was in sharp decline. The Stuart Ball of 13 July 1851 had as its theme the Restoration period, with guests dressed in the style of Charles II’s court. A waltz danced at the Crimean Ball & the Ballroom’s original decorative scheme will be recreated as part of the exhibition. A Victorian illusion technique, known as Pepper’s Ghost, and projections around the room will enable visitors to imagine the Ballroom as Victoria & Albert would have known it.

Exhibition preview;

Portrait description; The Society of the Sons of St George at Philadelphia commissioned Sully to paint a portrait of the young Queen Victoria (now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York); this head is either a copy from that portrait or from a preliminary sketch for it. The Queen is shown looking over her shoulder, as if turning to address the viewer; she is wearing the diamond diadem, drop diamond earrings & a diamond necklace.

The Queen recorded in her Journal sittings for the Metropolitan Museum portrait in March, April and May 1838. At one of these her 'ladies of honour' were present & the Queen laughed & talked, 'a happy innocent girl of Eighteen'. The portrait was finished on 14 January 1839 but a contemporary, Lady Catherine Harcourt, did not consider it very pleasing or a correct likeness.

The most glamorous of all Queen Victoria’s surviving clothes, this costume was inspired by the court of Charles II. The rich brocade of the underskirt was woven in Benares. The lace of the berthe is a copy of seventeenth-century Venetian raised-point needle lace, probably made in Ireland & perhaps acquired at the Great Exhibition.

Victoria was very pleased with her costume, writing in her journal on 13 June that 'our dresses ... were really beautiful & so correct. Dearest Albert looked so handsome in his, & his admirable wig made him look so young. Our dresses were most exactly carried out from Eugène Lami's designs.' The Stuart ball costumé was the third such held at Buckingham Palace by Victoria & Albert, & it evoked the reign of Charles II.

Victoria ordered a new set of personal insignia for each of the six British Orders of Chivalry. As can be seen by her Star and Collar of the Order of the Bath, these were considerably lighter & longer than previous versions, so they could be worn just below the shoulders to complement the necklines of her formal dresses.

Visiting details; Next event: Saturday, 20 Jul 2019

Daily (Saturday, 20 Jul 2019 - Sunday, 29 Sep 2019)

Adult £25.00

Over 60 / Student £22.80

Under 17 / Disabled £14.00

Under 5 Free

Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) £64.00

If you are a disabled visitor we offer a free access companion ticket. To book please telephone +44 (0)303 123 7324 or e-mail Adults, Groups (15+ people)


All Images; Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2019


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