On this day in history….29th April 1986

On this day in history : 29th April 1986 – The funeral of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor – who is laid to rest alongside her husband, the abdicated King Edward VIII at Frogmore in Windsor….

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Public domain

The service at St. George’s Chapel was a simple affair, unlike most royal funerals…. One hundred guests attended, among them Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Leader of the Opposition Neil Kinnock…. The royal family was represented by Her Majesty the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, Princess Diana, Princess Anne and the Queen Mother….

At the Duchess’s request there was no funeral address and very few flowers…. Although a single striking wreath of orange, yellow and white lilies from the Queen lay on the English oak coffin – with its simple inscription on a silver plate ‘Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, 1896-1986’…. The final blessing was given by Dr. Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury….

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Wallis, 1919 – Public domain

Just eight personal friends and four members of the royal family – the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Diana – stood at the graveside for the burial…. The Queen had decided that the Queen Mother would not be present as she and Wallis had endured a difficult relationship…. The Queen Mother blamed the premature death of her husband, George VI, on the stress that came with being King – a role forced upon him after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII, to marry the woman he loved…. Something the Queen Mother could neither forgive nor forget….she was still angry…. Indeed she had once called the Duchess “the lowest of the low”….

The American divorcee married her second husband Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an Anglo-American executive and former officer in the Coldstream Guards and they settled down to live in London…. He had divorced his first wife Dorothea, with whom he had a daughter, to marry Wallis….

Not long after Wallis became friends with Thelma, Lady Furness – who was the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales…. On the 10th of January 1931 Thelma introduced Wallis to the Prince; he then met her with her husband several times more between 1931 and 1934 at various functions – Wallis was even presented at Court…. Meanwhile, Ernest was beginning to experience financial difficulties….

In January 1934 Lady Furness visited New York, whilst she was away Wallis and the Prince became lovers…. Soon he was besotted, showering her with gifts and jewels…. His parents however, particularly his father, King George V, were outraged….

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Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward 1935, Austria – Public domain

On the 20th of January 1936 King George V died and Edward succeeded to the throne…. Wallis was still married and the new King’s behaviour made him unpopular with the government and deeply upset his mother and brother, the Duke of York….

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King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson on holiday in Yugoslavia – via Flickr the Commons – Public domain

Wallis divorced Ernest, on the grounds of his adultery – but even now she was free to re-marry she was thought to be unworthy as a Consort…. So, to marry the woman he loved King Edward VIII had to give up the throne…. On the 10th of December 1936 he signed an Instrument of Abdication….

They married on the 3rd of June 1937 in France….and remained together until his death in 1972…. Afterwards Wallis lived in chosen exile in France…. There are some who believe she married Edward for his wealth….but for others their’s was the love story of the century….

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Wallis and Edward, 1970 with President Richard Nixon – Image credit: Jack E Kightlinger – Public domain

On this day in history….26th April 1923

On this day in history : 26th April 1923 – The marriage of Prince Albert, Duke of York (to become King George VI) to Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later the Queen Mother)….

Prince Albert, ‘Bertie’ to his family, was the second son of King George V and Queen Mary and was second in line to the throne – but was in fact to ascend the throne in 1936 after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII…. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the ninth of ten children born to Claude Bowes-Lyon, Lord Glamis and Cecilia Cavendish-Bentinck….

The Prince first proposed to Elizabeth in 1921 – but she refused him, thinking royal life was not for her….“afraid never, never again to be free to think, speak and act as I feel I really ought to”…. After three times of being asked she eventually agreed in January 1923 to become his wife….

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Albert, Duke of York with Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon – Public domain

The ceremony took place in Westminster Abbey….the first royal wedding to take place at the Abbey since 1383…. The newly formed BBC wanted to record and broadcast the service but was refused permission – The Archbishop of Canterbury expressed concerns that men may listen to it whilst in public houses….

Elizabeth had eight bridesmaids…. Her dress, designed by Madame Handley-Seymour – dressmaker to Queen Mary – was made in a deep ivory chiffon, embroidered with pearls and silver thread…. It had two trains, one flowing from the shoulders, the other attached at the hips…. Although in the fashion of the early 1920s it had a medieval style to it…. She wore no tiara – but a circlet of leaves held her veil in place….

The Duke of York wore the full RAF uniform of a group captain – his rank at the time….

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Wedding of George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon – Public domain

On the way into the Abbey Elizabeth did an unexpected thing…. She laid her bouquet of flowers on the tomb of The Unknown Warrior – in memory of her brother Fergus…. This is something that has now become a tradition with royal brides….only they lay their flowers on the way out after the ceremony….

The wedding rings were made from 22 carat Welsh gold, from the Clogau St. David’s mine in Bontddu – this has also now become a tradition….

After the ceremony the royal couple had a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace…. They then spent part of their honeymoon at Polesdon Lacey – a Manor House in Surrey that now belongs to the National Trust – before travelling to Scotland….

 

On this day in history….16th April 1953

On this day in history : 16th April 1953 – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II launches the Royal Yacht Britannia in a ceremony at the yard of John Brown & Co, Clydebank, Scotland….img_2198

30,000 people gathered at the dockside in the pouring rain; workers at the dockyard had been given a day’s holiday and children had been let out of school for the day…. The wet weather did not dampen the spirits of those who turned out to see the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, launch the new royal yacht….

The name of the ship had been kept a close-guarded secret….it was not until the moment of launch that it was revealed…. Her Majesty, dressed in a black coat with matching straw hat, pressed a button and a bottle smashed against the side of the yacht…. “I name this ship Britannia”….the rest of her words ….“I wish success to her and all who sail in her”….were almost drowned out by the cheers of the crowd…. The band then struck up ‘Royal Britannia’ and the crowd joined in by singing along….

The cost of the yacht was £1.8m (equivalent to over £49m today) – some might call this an extravagance so soon after the War but savings had been made where possible…. Many of the fixtures and fittings onboard had been recycled – particularly from Queen Victoria’s royal yacht ‘The Victoria and Albert’…. Even the bottle used in the launch ceremony contained Empire wine, as champagne was considered too extravagant….

For more information of HMY Britannia On this day in history….20th January 1997 ….

On this day in history….20th March 1974

On this day in history : 20th March 1974 – An attempt is made to kidnap Princess Anne as she and her husband Captain Mark Phillips are being driven down Pall Mall….

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Princess Anne 1974 – Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives and Museum via Flickr

The 23-year-old Princess and her husband were being chauffeur-driven back to Buckingham Palace after attending a charity event…. It was around 8pm when a white Ford Escort blocked their way, forcing the Rolls Royce to stop…. A man got out of the Ford, brandishing two handguns…. The Princess’s body-guard, Inspector James Beaton and the chauffeur, Alex Callender attempted to apprehend the man – but both were shot…. Despite his injuries Inspector Beaton got to his feet to try and stop the gunman again – and again….in total he was shot three times…. Also shot was a passer-by who tried to help – tabloid journalist, Brian McConnell….

The gunman then forced his way into the Rolls Royce…. He ordered Princess Anne out – to which she replied….“not bloody likely”…. She did eventually get out though and as the gunman followed after her another passer-by, former boxer Ron Russell, who had positioned his car to stop the Ford from escaping, struck the gunman on the back of the head…. Russell was then able to lead the Princess to safety….

Meanwhile, after hearing gun shots PC Michael Hills had rushed to the scene – he tried to detain the gunman – but was himself to be shot in the stomach…. The gunman attempted to run but was pursued by Detective Constable Peter Edmonds, who brought him to the ground and managed to disarm him….

The gunman was Ian Ball, a 26-year-old unemployed labourer, who suffered from a mental illness…. When his car was searched handcuffs, tranquillisers and a ransom note were found…. The note was addressed to the Queen and demanded that £2 million be paid to the National Health Service…. Ball later claimed he did it to highlight the lack of mental health care available…. He was prosecuted for attempted murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment – and was placed in a psychiatric hospital…. His remains the closest attempt anyone has ever made on abducting a member of the royal family….

All four men who were shot thankfully recovered…. Inspector James Beaton later received the George Cross….whilst PC Michael Hills and Ron Russell were given the George Medal…. Chauffeur Alex Callender, journalist Brian McConnell and Detective Constable Peter Edmonds were all awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for their bravery….

Russell later revealed that the Queen had said to him as he received his award….“The medal is from the Queen, the thank you is from Anne’s mother”….

 

On this day in history….20th January 1997

On this day in history : 20th January 1997 – Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Britannia begins her final official voyage – before she is due to be de-commissioned later in the year….

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Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia

This last foreign mission was to bring home the Prince of Wales and Chris Patten, who was the last Governor of Hong Kong before the handover to China on the 1st of July 1997….

HMY Britannia was originally commissioned for King George VI – the Queen’s father – but sadly he died even before the keel was laid…. One of the first things Her Majesty did on becoming Monarch was to change the plans for the decor of the Royal apartments of Britannia – she viewed the proposed plans as too formal and ‘stuffy’…. Instead she opted for white-painted walls, mahogany woodwork, brass fittings and chintz covered armchairs and sofas…. She wanted to create the feeling of a ‘country home at sea’…. The only thing she would have liked – but because of regulations was not allowed – was an open fire in the drawing room….instead she had to settle for an electric fire….

 

The Queen and the Royal Family loved HMY Britannia…. Her Majesty once described the yacht as being the one place she felt she could truly relax…. The Royal apartments were filled with personal photographs and heirlooms….

HMY Britannia was built at Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire and was launched by Queen Elizabeth on the 16th of April 1953…. She first went into service in 1954; her maiden voyage was from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta – departing on the 14th of April and arriving eight days later…. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to meet their parents who had just completed a Commonwealth Tour…. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh embarked on the 1st of May 1954 for the very first time….

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Ship’s Bridge Image credit: Salicia via Flickr

During her 43 year service HMY Britannia sailed some 1,087,623 nautical miles…. The 412ft long yacht, which weighs nearly 6,000 tons, completed 696 foreign visits and 272 official voyages on British waters….including annual Royal family holidays…. Known as the ‘Western Isles Tour’, each year Britannia would take the Royals on a cruise around the islands off of the west coast of Scotland…. She was also used for four Royal honeymoons…. Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones sailed to the West Indies upon her in 1960 and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips were also carried to the Caribbean in 1973…. In 1981 Prince Charles and Princess Diana enjoyed a Mediterranean cruise for their honeymoon, followed by the Duke and Duchess of York, who sailed to the Azores in 1986…. As recently as 2011 the yacht was used as part of Royal Wedding celebrations when Zara Phillips and Mike Tyndall held a pre-wedding reception onboard…. She has a capacity for 250 guests….

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When HMY Britannia was launched she was the largest yacht in the World…. In order for her to sail a crew of 21 Officers and 250 Royal Yachtsmen were required…. When the Royal Family were aboard they would be accompanied by up to 45 household staff, including a hairdresser, surgeon and chauffeur – (yes, a Royal limousine was carried onboard)…. The Royal party would travel with around five tons of luggage….and when she sailed Britannia would always be accompanied by a Royal Navy warship….

The crew, who were accommodated at the front of the yacht away from the Royal apartments, wore plimsolls to keep a tranquil ambience…. Orders were given by hand signals and shouting was forbidden – as was running…. Any work that needed to be done near the apartments had to be done in silence and completed by 8am….

 

However, HMY Britannia earned her keep…. She was built so she could be converted in to a hospital ship, able to accommodate approximately 200 patients if required during wartime…. Fortunately her services in this capacity were never needed…. In event of a nuclear war the intended plan (with the code name ‘Python System’) was for the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh – along with the Home Secretary – to take refuge onboard the yacht off the north-west coast of Scotland….

She was also used to entertain dignitaries…. American Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton all enjoyed hospitality onboard…. Used by the government to entertain prominent business figures HMY Britannia was an Ambassador for British trade and industry….during the period of 1991-1995 she earned some £3 billion for the Exchequer….

Nowadays she earns her keep as an award-winning visitor attraction…. Berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh she receives 300,000 visitors per year….

In 1997 the Conservatives committed to replacing her if re-elected…. Labour did not divulge their proposed plans…. On winning the election Tony Blair’s Labour Government announced HMY Britannia’s retirement and that there would be no replacement….

A de-commissioning ceremony was held on the 11th of December 1997 at Portsmouth Dockyard…. At 15.01 Her Majesty was piped ashore for the last time and all the clocks onboard HMY Britannia were stopped…. The Queen openly cried as The Band of HM Royal Marines played ‘Highland Cathedral’….

Since the de-commissioning of HMY Britannia the Queen has twice chartered MV Hebridean Princess – a private charter cruise ship – for a family holiday in the Scottish islands…. But surely, it could never be the same for Her Majesty, could it….

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