Recollections of Three Reigns

By Colin Welch; Frederick Ponsonby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
State functions -- Private entertainments -- The Queen's taste -- The Queen in France -- The Queen's eyesight fails -- Stalking near Balmoral -- The Queen's daughters

DURING Queen Victoria's reign functions out of London, especially visits to big towns, were hardly arranged at all. The main features were decided upon by letter, but the local or municipal officials were left to decide the details. There seemed little or no preparation and yet everything went well. Nowadays when every small detail is arranged beforehand and elaborate programmes are printed, it seems wonderful that in those days no hitch in the proceedings ever occurred.

The Queen herself lent so much dignity to even a trifling ceremony that nothing else really mattered. She, however, was very punctilious about ceremonies being well done and noticed any fault. It was the custom for all the officials to play for safety and ensure that everybody was in time by adding a margin of safety to the time the ceremony was due to take place. For instance, I remember that when the son of the Amir of Afghanistan came to Windsor, the Queen said he was to arrive at 12.30. The Lord Chamberlain ordered everyone to be in his place by 12-15. The Grand Staircase was to be lined by men of the Blues, and the Equerry, determined there should be no risk of their being late, ordered the men to be there at 12 noon. The Commanding Officer of the Blues determined also to be on time, so he ordered the men to be in their places at 11.45, and when the Adjutant received the order he made it 11.30. The result was that the men arrived one whole hour too soon.

All this was, however, unknown to the Queen, but once it happened to me to get involved in a miscalculation of this sort. There was a small investiture, but it necessitated a guard of honour being mounted in the Quadrangle. I had nothing to do with the arrangements, but it so happened that Sir Henry Byng, the Senior Equerry, was not well on the day, and so I had to do his duty. I ascertained that all the orders had been given and everyone had been summoned. The ceremony was to be at 11 A.M. I happened to be walking across the Quadrangle about 10 A.M. when I heard the band coming up the Castle Hill, and that meant that the guard of honour would be in its place an hour too soon. I rushed off and with difficulty silenced the band. I explained the situation to the captain of the guard of honour and suggested they should go to the riding-school in the Royal Mews, pile arms, and fall out. He agreed that this would be best, and accordingly the band and guard of honour disappeared to the stables. Unfortunately the Queen had heard

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