By Jonathan Reed
Video supplied by The Royal Family©
Photography supplied by Reed Gallery©
“A small village which belongs to Buckingham Palace”. These are the affectionate words of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, when used to describe the Royal Mews. Dating back to 1377, this unique and insightful living part of British Heritage has helped shape the Monarchy as we know it. As each Reign has begun and ended, the Royal Mews has remained, ready and prepared for service to all future kings and queens.
Originally located at Charing Cross, the mews were transferred alongside George III’s purchase of Buckingham House in 1764. Redesigning the house as an earlier version of the Palace which stands today; he utilised the already existing stables. It wouldn’t be until 1825 when under George IV, within the gardens of Buckingham Palace, that he would build the Royal Mews we see today. And from here onwards, this house of royal carriages, coaches and cars has been both an exhibit of the Royal Family’s history and a working part of their heritage also.
There are many misconceptions regarding this impressive piece of royal life, though the most common is believing these are stables simply housing horses and carriages. The mews is fundamentally a working mews with a Riding School, used by Queen Elizabeth II, where she learned how to ride side-saddle.
It is here where the famous Windsor Greys are housed with many of the Monarch’s other horses. The saddles and reins which are used during State Visits are also kept here and maintained within the walls of the mews. But arguably, visitors flock to these royal stables to see the Queen’s collection of carriages and coaches which remain unrivalled.
Ostentatious and exuding opulent grandeur is The Gold State Coach, arguably the most important and renowned within the mews collection. Commissioned by George III in 1762, it has been used for every single coronation since that of George IV in 1821. Weighing a staggering four tonnes, eight horses are required to draw it, and due to its immense size and weight, can only travel at walking speed.
Standing at 7.3 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and 3.9 metres high, it is an impressive piece of craftmanship. With its completely gilded frame the coach glimmers as if it belongs to the crown jewels themselves, and featuring panels by the Florentine artist Giovanni Battista Cipriani, this magnificent coach is a moving piece of art.
But whilst it may look glorious, you’ll struggle to find any Monarch who will share in the same adulation. William IV likened The Gold State Coach “to a ship tossing in a rough sea”. King George VI stated that when travelling in his coronation procession, the journey was “one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life.” And even our very own Queen described in a recent BBC documentary that the coach was “horrible”.
Away from the comfortability of The Gold State Coach, there is no denying its physical presence. Its indisputable beauty is awe-inspiring and by itself represents the Monarchy’s power, prestige and unchanging continuity.
Besides the grandest of coaches, the Royal Mews showcases many other carriages used by the Royal Family. And perhaps another which in recent years has received just as much attention as The Gold State Coach, is the 1902 State Landau.
Specifically built for King Edward VII in 1902, it was originally intended for the King’s coronation, though instead was first used for Edwards VII’s state drive to London the same year. Since then the State Landau has been present for many iconic moments within the Royal Family’s history. Three of those moments combined the coach with the global spectacle of a Royal Wedding.
Used to carry the Prince of Wales to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1981, and then back again to Buckingham Palace with his new bride Diana, Princess of Wales, the coach would follow suit 5 years later at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of York. But perhaps in recent years, one wedding well-and-truly launched the State Landau onto the world’s stage.
In 2011 at the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the newly-married couple returned to Buckingham Palace from Westminster Abbey in the State Landau. Painted in a lighter maroon than the other Royal carriages and adorned with gold leaf, it exuded regal elegance befitting to the occasion.
Carriages have always been a vital part of Royal pomp and circumstance. Throughout Royal history they have carried sovereigns, dignitaries, Presidents, Prime Ministers and Royal Brides. The Glass Coach is renowned for transporting the latter. Both Princess Diana and The Duchess of York used the Glass Coach, which is said to be the most comfortable out of the Queen’s collection. Usually the second coach in royal processions it also carried a then Princess Elizabeth and her new husband The Duke of Edinburgh from the church after their own wedding.
The Royal Mews is a record of Royal history and heritage, but it also looks forward to the future. Amongst the many coaches, the Royal Mews is also home to the Monarch’s collection of cars. There are seven limousines currently stationed at the mews: three Rolls Royce, two Bentleys and two Jaguars. Each one is without a licence plate and are only ever driven by the Head Chauffeur, the Deputy Head or the Assistant Chauffeur, if the Queen is passenger.
In 2014 the Diamond Jubilee State Coach made its first appearance after almost 8 years of delay and is the most current coach within the collection. Built by W. J. Frecklington, who was responsible for the Australian State Coach in 1988, the Diamond Jubilee State Coach is one of the most frequently used.
And alongside building new carriages, there is constant maintenance of the historic ones, ensuring that they are always looking their best and prepared for any state event. Whether it be painting the wheels or reupholstering the interior, this work is always overseen by the Queen, who also selects which coaches are to be used when and where.
With attention mostly placed on the “public” carriages, there are many still used behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace. A Brougham coach is used to transfer the internal post between royal residences, a tradition harking back centuries. And the historic Queen Alexandra’s State Coach is used to transfer the Crown Jewels and Serjeant-at-Arms for the State Opening of Parliament.
The Royal Mews is a thriving, working institution which allows the public a small glimpse into the life of a working palace. But what is evident, is that each coach and car, saddle and horse, beautifully reminds you of why prestige, pomp and circumstance are so vitally important to both the Monarchy and Britain. These coaches are trinkets of mystique and magic that only the Royal Family can cast. They provide a heightened sense of grandeur and signify the continuation of Monarchy, sovereignty and royalty.
This most beloved “village belonging to Buckingham Palace” is adored by the Queen. It is an emblem of important recollection that Britain’s history and heritage is one that is unrivalled or unblemished in past, present and into the future.
Thanks to The Royal Collection Trust and all the wonderful staff at The Royal Mews for helping organise our visit!