Queen Victoria: A Personal History

By Christopher Hibbert | Go to book overview

61
DINNER PARTIES

'The tears ran down my cheeks which set off the Queen.
I never saw her laugh so much.'

THE COUNTESS OF LYTTON, who arrived at Court in 1895 to fill a vacancy which had occurred among the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, found most of Her Majesty's dinners rather irksome affairs. On her arrival one bitterly cold October afternoon she was greeted by Harriet Phipps, the Queen's Personal Secretary, who, like all the bedchamber women and maids-of-honour who did not have titles, was given the rank of a baron's daughter and was therefore known as the Honourable Harriet Phipps. Miss Phipps took Lady Lytton into a small room, formerly the Prince Consort's dressing room which was used for receiving visitors upstairs. She was presented with the Victoria and Albert Order which all the Queen's ladies wore, attached to a white ribbon, on their dresses. And, on returning to her room, she was told by a servant who knocked on the door: 'You are invited to dine with the Queen, miladi.'

She went down to the dining room where she waited with the other guests until the announcement, 'The Queen has arrived' drew them all to the door. The Queen came into the room, leaning on the arm of an Indian servant, went through to the dining room and took her place at the table. 'The beginning of the dinner was rather solemn,' Lady Lytton recorded in her diary. The Queen hardly spoke at all during the early courses; and it was not until she made some remark about the Spanish Ambassador having 'come in the afternoon and [expecting] to be received at once without making an appointment' that the atmosphere became more relaxed as the guests laughed 'for some little time' at this odd ignorance of protocol. 1

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