Kensington Palace is to mark the date Queen Elizabeth II becomes Britain’s longest-serving monarch with a new film installation celebrating the reigns of The Queen, and her predecessor as longest serving monarch, Queen Victoria.
The Palace is a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens and has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th century.
Drawing parallels between the lives of two era-defining monarchs, who have both presided over momentous changes in British history, the new display will explore key moments in the two reigns through imagery: from the milestone coronations, weddings and births, to the roles of both women in public life.
Staged moments from the very spot where a young Princess Victoria met her future husband, Prince Albert for the first time, the free display will compare some of the most iconic images of the two Queens. Included are the strikingly similar coronation portraits by George Hayter and Cecil Beaton, their wedding portraits, and images of both monarchs undertaking largely unchanged ceremonial duties throughout their long reigns: meeting world leaders, and representing Great Britain on the global stage.
Queen Victoria appointed George as ‘Principal Painter in Ordinary’ (a similar role to ‘Kings Painter’) and also awarded him a Knighthood 1841. Several significant examples of Hayter’s works from this period remain a part of the Royal Collection, and both the State Portrait and Wedding painting are amongst those displayed to the public at Buckingham Palace. There is also a full-scale version of the State Portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and smaller copy at Holyrood House.
Beaton had received royal patronage years before the coronation of Elizabeth II. His diary account of July 1939 reads:
“The telephone rang. ‘This is the lady-in-waiting speaking. The Queen wants to know if you will photograph her tomorrow afternoon.’ In choosing me to take her photographs, the Queen made a daring innovation. It is inconceivable that her predecessor would have summoned me – my work was still considered revolutionary and unconventional.”
Cecil Beaton attended the ceremony, along with 8,000 other guests. He sat in a balcony close to the pipes of the great organ, recording his impression of the glorious pageant in animated prose and black ink sketches. After the ceremony, he returned to the Palace to make final preparations for the official portrait sitting. Similarly, Beaton was awarded a Knighthood in 1972.
The installation will highlight the impact of the development of technology on the monarchy. A portrait of Queen Victoria before a small audience opening the Great Exhibition in 1851 – is contrasted with an image of Her Majesty The Queen at the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2012, addressing a global television audience of 900 million. Both Queens have presided over eras of rapid growth in the industry. Whilst the steam engine revolutionised Victorian Britain, an image of Her Majesty The Queen delivering her first tweet highlights the power of the internet, invented during her reign.
Victoria was the first reigning monarch to use trains – she made her first train journey in 1842. On August 16th, 1858 the first message sent via the cable was, “Europe and America are united by telegraphy. Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and goodwill toward men.”
Queen Victoria then sent a telegram of congratulation to President James Buchanan expressing a hope that it would prove “an additional link between the nations whose friendship is founded on their common interest and reciprocal esteem.” The messages were hard to decipher, and Queen Victoria’s message of 98 words took sixteen hours to send. So, not only has the way in which the two monarchs communicated changed, but the lightning speed of today’s communication could not be a more stark comparison.
Deirdre Murphy, Senior Curator, Kensington Palace, stated: ‘We wanted to mark this important moment in the reign of Her Majesty The Queen by paying tribute both to her, and to her predecessor as longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, who was born and raised at Kensington Palace. By drawing parallels between the reigns of these two remarkable women, we hope that visitors to Kensington will reflect again on the impact and importance of the reign of Queen Victoria, whose life we explore in a permanent exhibition in the rooms where she grew up in the palace.”
Kensington Palace was the scene of some of some of the most notable events of Queen Victoria’s life. Victoria’s father, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (fourth son of King George III) was allocated two floors of rooms in the south-east corner of the palace, below the State Apartments, which he renovated for his use.
Victoria was born in the Palace on 24th May 1819 and tragically, her father died just nine months later of pneumonia, on 23rd January 1820. Edward had died only six days before his father, George III. He predeceased his father and his three elder brothers. As none of his elder brothers had any surviving legitimate children, his daughter, Victoria, succeeded to the throne on the death of her uncle King William IV in 1837.
On 20th June, 1837, at the tender age of 18, Princess Alexandrina Victoria was awakened in her apartments at Kensington Palace to be told that her uncle, King William IV had died, and she was now Queen.
Her life and reign are explored today in the ‘Victoria Revealed’ exhibition, at the palace which tells Queen Victoria’s story in her words. It uses extracts from her journals and letters, in the rooms where she grew up. On display in the exhibition are items from throughout her long reign. Included in the exhibit is the first declaration she signed as monarch, and a boxwood cradle, commissioned for her daughter Princess Louise, which was displayed in the Great Exhibition.
Photo credit: © Cindy Stockman 2015