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Honoured and Decorated: The Experience of an Investiture

A bright blue sky, the sun twinkling through the slight scattering of hazy clouds and a crisp Autumn breeze rustling the trees. These were the things that greeted me as I stepped off the train at Windsor and Eton Riverside station this morning.

This was only the second or third time that I’ve ever visited Windsor and covering an Investiture was certainly something that I never thought I’d be doing so to be invited to sit in on one of these magnificent ceremonies as a guest, I felt incredibly privileged.

Investitures are held each year with members of the public receiving awards for a variety of reasons from The Queen or a member of the Royal Family. Each year around 2,600 people attend Investitures, the majority taking place in the ballroom at Buckingham Palace.

As was the case this morning, Investitures take place in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle and others at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Usually, Her Majesty will conduct the Investitures although The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and The Duke of Cambridge hold some on behalf of The Queen.

Windsor Castle: Today's Investiture was held in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle.

Windsor Castle: Today’s Investiture was held in the Waterloo Chamber of the Castle.

This morning’s Investiture honoured 70 people from across the UK in a variety of different fields and industries. With a strict time schedule to adhere to, guests begin to take their seats in The Waterloo Chamber from 10:30am, the Investiture commencing at 11:00am. When I arrive at the Castle, I am welcomed by the Royal Communications team and taken to the cloakroom where I leave my possessions including my mobile phone and trusty notebook, before being escorted to the Chamber where I am introduced to one of the Ushers.

Photography, in all forms, is not permitted in the Chamber as some recipients do not wish broadcasters to use this material. Therefore, I was unable to capture any of the individual Investitures myself. British Ceremonial Arts (BCA) is contracted to film inside the various Palaces during ceremonies and this footage is available for each recipient to keep as a record of their Investiture.

Each recipient of an honour or award is asked if they are content for the moment of Investiture to be released for broadcast purposes, and, if the recipient agrees, news stations (BBC, ITV and Sky) may contact BCA to ask for this footage.

The Usher takes me into the Chamber and the first thing that struck me was the sheer scale of the room. Grand and ornate panelling surrounds the walls, on which hangs portraits of great historical figures. The room itself, as the name suggests, was built as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo and dates from 1830 to 1831.

Sir Thomas Lawrence, a portrait painter and former President of the Royal Academy of Arts, acquired the patronage of The Prince Regent (later King George IV) in 1810 and was commissioned to paint the major figures whom all came together to defeat Napoleon.

Amongst the portraits in the Chamber are Field-Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, King George IV, King George III, Tsar Alexander I of Russia; Emperor Francis I of Austria; King Frederick William III of Prussia; Field-Marshal Karl Philip, Prince of Schwarzenberg; Archduke Charles of Austria, Napoleon II, Pope Pius VII and Cardinal Consalvi.

I am guided to my seat and, on the way, the Usher informs me that I will be sitting next to Lady Cash; the wife of Sir William Cash who was the recipient of a knighthood this morning. Sir William, MP for Stone, became a Knights Bachelor for his political service and was one of the four gentleman who received knighthoods today.

Sir Sebastian Wood, the UK Ambassador to China, became a Knight Commander of The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George for his services to British prosperity and British interests in China.

Becoming Knights Bachelors alongside Sir William were Professor Sir Thomas Kibble for his services to Physics as Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics and Professor Sir Tejinder Virdee for his services to science, both at Imperial College London.

Five members of The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard ceremoniously arrive in the chamber around 10:50am and make their way to the Royal dias at the far end of the room. Created in 1485 by Henry VII, they are the oldest military corps in the United Kingdom. They are accompanied by four Gentleman Ushers who are on hand to ensure that the Investiture runs smoothly and direct guests.

As 11am arrives, the Gentleman Ushers gesture everybody to stand as Her Majesty enters the Chamber, escorted by two Gurkha Orderly Officers, the Lord Steward, her Equerry and The Secretary of the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood. After the National Anthem is played, The Queen instructs the room to be seated.

Witnessing the ceremony, it becomes clear that there is a very strong team working to ensure that each of the insignia is correctly presented, the correct person is in the right place at the right time and, having read about The Queen’s tactic for signalling when the conversation is over, so to speak, I was interested to see it first hand.

The Lord Steward announces each of the recipients names, the Order to which their decoration belongs and the achievement they are being decorated for. As the recipient makes their way towards the dais, The Queen’s Equerry gives Her Majesty details on the recipient’s background.

Stopping short of the dais, gentlemen bow from the neck and ladies curtsy before moving forwards where The Queen bestows their decoration and spends a few moments talking to each one. The subtle signal that she gives to indicate the recipient should move on is a simple shake of the hand.

Amongst those honoured today was actress Dame Maggie Smith, who was the first recipient of the ceremony and was awarded the insignia of a Member of The Order of the Companions of Honour for her services to Drama. She becomes the 47th Companion of Honour, which is one of the United Kingdom’s highest honours.

As the ceremony goes on, I quietly pass on my congratulations to Lady Cash for her husband’s honour and we speak about the amazing stamina that not only the staff have but The Queen herself. The ceremony lasts for around one hour and, during that time, The Queen does not sit down once; constantly standing, presenting awards, speaking to recipients without so much as a glass of water. It is at events like the Investitures where you realise the effect that this stamina has on those who are being honoured – the smiles as people perform their final curtsy or bow before leaving the room.

As the final recipient receives their award (Flight Lieutenant Charles Lockyear is decorated with The Distinguished Flying Cross for great courage in the air in the Royal Air Force), the Gentlemen Ushers gesture for the room to stand as the National Anthem plays and The Queen exits the Chamber. The crowd begins to disperse and I thank Lady Cash for her conversation again before moving to the back of the room to allow the family members to congratulate their relatives.

Before I leave the Castle, I am shown some of the many historical artefacts that reside there as part of the Royal Collection, including the bullet that killed Vice-Admiral The Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Above all, I shall be returning to Windsor to discover its rich heritage and history and would thoroughly recommend the same to anybody else.

  • Mark

    I am going to ask for one correction. You state: “Sir William, MP for Stone, became a Knights Bachelor of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his political service and was one of the four gentleman who received knighthoods today.” However, the honor is Knight Bachelor. There is no connection to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Please understand, I am not trying to show off, but only to correct a mistake that I am sure others make. If a gentleman is made knighted in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, then he would be made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (KBE) or a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GCBE). Thank you!

    • Thank you Mark for raising that – I’ve adjusted the piece accordingly. There were lots of honours made in the Order of the British Empire during the ceremony so I must have confused it. My apologies.

      Thank you for your interest and continued reading again.

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