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Press release

A Royal Christmas

Release date: Thursday, 13 September 2018

A Royal Christmas, published by Royal Collection Trust

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Through a thousand years of British history, the celebration of Christmas has been one of the most important events in the royal calendar.  A Royal Christmas is the first official publication to explore the festive traditions of generations of the royal family, through more than 150 objects, photographs and documents from the Royal Collection and the Royal Archives, many published for the first time.

Through seven thematic chapters, such as 'Ceremonies and Traditions' and 'Festive Feasting', this beautifully illustrated gift book offers new insights into the royal family's influence on the Christmas customs we know and love today.  These range from the Christmas trees first brought by Queen Charlotte from her native Germany, to the roast turkey popularised by King Edward VII.  A Royal Christmas also details the history of the Christmas Broadcast, watched each year by millions of people around the world.

Among the most personal items detailed in the book are gifts exchanged between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during the many Christmases they spent together at Windsor Castle.  A jewelled brooch, given to the Queen by Prince Albert in 1841, features an enamel portrait miniature of their first child, Victoria, Princess Royal, in the guise of a cherub.  In her journal the Queen declared that 'the workmanship & design are quite exquisite, & dear Albert was so pleased at my delight over it, it having been entirely his own idea & taste'.

Christmas cards were first produced in the UK in the 1840s, and the royal family's love of the festive season meant that they were quick to adopt this new trend.  Featured in the book are a number of the earliest Christmas cards surviving in the Royal Collection, which were handmade by Queen Victoria's children for their family, as well as Christmas cards from the 20th century featuring photography of The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and her sister Princess Margaret by Marcus Adams.

Food and drink have for centuries played a key part in royal Christmas festivities.  As well as Christmas dinner menus and recipes, readers will discover some of the more surprising fare eaten by royalty at Christmas, from the roast swan and gilded peacocks dined on by medieval monarchs, to the plum broth served to George IV on Christmas Day, which contained large quantities of port, brandy, madeira, sherry and claret.  

Christmas plays and pageants have been performed at the royal court since the Middle Ages. Queen Victoria was especially fond of the theatre, and the royal family would often attend a play during the Christmas season.  On Boxing Day 1833, the then Princess Victoria went to Drury Lane Theatre to see the grand Christmas spectacle St George and the Dragon.  A watercolour by the 14-year-old Princess depicting a fiery confrontation between the principal characters, as well as vivid descriptions of the production in her journal, demonstrates how the performance captured her imagination.

After her marriage to Prince Albert and the birth of their children, Queen Victoria continued to enjoy visits to the theatre as well as festive performances at Windsor Castle, where it was traditional for members of the royal family to take part.  The theatricals often involved musical performances, and Prince Albert was himself a talented composer.  Featured in the book is a handwritten Christmas hymn composed by the Prince in 1847, which survives in a beautifully bound volume in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

Performances featuring members of the Royal Family continued into the wartime years of the early 1940s, when Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret took part in a series of Christmas pantomimes at Windsor Castle.  A Royal Christmas features photographs of the Princesses performing in Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin and Old Mother Red Riding Boots, an original combination of the best parts of many pantomimes.  Proceeds from the productions were donated to the Wool Fund, which supplied knitting wool for the making of comforters for the armed forces.


A Royal Christmas is published by Royal Collection Trust and is available from 18 October 2018 at £12.95 from www.royalcollection.org.uk/shop and from Royal Collection Trust shops in London and Edinburgh, and at £14.95 from all good bookshops.   

Christmas displays at the official residences of Her Majesty The Queen are from 1 December 2018 to 6 January 2019 at Windsor Castle, and from 7 December 2018 to 5 January 2019 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.  On selected dates in December, private evening tours are available at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

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