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Christmas at the Palace: Windsor Castle's exciting new exhibit

<![CDATA[It is finally here, that wonderful time when winter's looming chill succumbs to the soothing comforts of warm hot chocolate and spiced mulled wine, the sweet smell of gingerbread, and the magical trails of fairy-lit trees and treasure-filled cottages… The Christmas spirit fills the air, and nowhere more glamourous than at Her Majesty's favourite weekend retreat, Windsor Castle.
The Grand Service on display in the State Dining Room at Windsor Castle. Courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust

From 1 December to 6 January, one of the United Kingdom’s most iconic landmarks, and the world’s oldest and largest inhabited castle, becomes a genuine feast for the senses as it reveals its eagerly anticipated annual Christmas transformation.
Built as a military fortification by William the Conqueror in the 11th century following his victory at the Battle of Hasting, Windsor Castle has served as a glorious venue for Christmas celebrations since the 12th century.
Set in the magnificent State Apartments and Semi-State Rooms (George IV’s Private Apartments) in the Upper Ward of the Castle, the festive display is a special treat for royal fans. Initially designed by Charles II to rival cousin Louis XIV’s splendid Château de Versailles, George III and George IV redesigned them to reflect a harmonious mix of Neoclassical, Gothic, Baroque and Rococo styles.
The Grand Staircase
Tread in the footsteps of Heads of State as you ascend Anthony Salvin’s majestic Grand Staircase dressed in all its seasonal splendour. Lined with festive garlands, the Gothic Revival styled Staircase was commissioned by Queen Victoria in 1866, and leads to the sumptuous State Apartments above. Flanked on either side by two suits of armour made for James I’s young son Henry (elder brother of Charles I), the staircase bows before the watchful eye of Sir Francis Chantrey’s towering rendition of George IV as Patron of the Arts.
The State Dining Room
Aptly themed for this joyous time of year, the lavishly decorated State Dining Room is a celebration of all things gold and crimson, and a stunning reflection of George IV’s opulent style. Furnished by Morel & Seddon, the intricately carved Gothic Revival pieces are believed to have been designed by 15-year-old prodigy A. W. N. Pugin in 1827.
Awaiting its guests for a sumptuous Christmas feast, a crisp linen covered table is canvas to a most glittering selection of the silver-gilt Grand Service commissioned from the firm of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell by George IV while he was Prince Regent. In 1811, his father George III’s 73rd birthday provided the perfect occasion to break out the magnificent new service.
Grand Service at Windsor Castle
Coated in a thin layer of gold, the solid silver Grand Service comprises some 5,000 pieces, many of which could easily be mistaken for delicate sculptures of mythological inspiration. Each piece is carefully cleaned, dried and polished by the Yeoman of the Silver Pantry for guests to enjoy at Her Majesty’s grand State Banquets, during Royal Ascot week and at ‘dine and sleep’ parties during Easter Court.
Specially featured in this year’s exhibition is an exquisite centrepiece designed by Prince Albert circa 1842-3. Presiding over the table at a height of 80cm, the piece ornately captures the likeness of the family’s favourite pets: the Prince’s devoted greyhound Eos, the dachshund Waldmann, and the Highland terriers Cairnach and Islay.
Of all the monarchs, the most cherished Christmas memories at Windsor Castle are undoubtedly those of lovebirds Queen Victoria and Prince Albert whose young family spent most Christmases there until his untimely passing during the holidays at the age of 42.
A typical Christmas menu consisted of many courses at the Victorian court – up to 20 dishes or so, and would have definitely included roast beef, their favourite dish. A boar’s head featured prominently in the middle of the table would not have been unusual, as well as an array of exotic birds such as snipe or capercaillie. While they were not particularly fond of turkey, they occasionally included swan on the menu. A fanciful assortment of pies, plum pudding, roasted chestnuts and sweets accompanied by warming spirits, brandy especially, rounded up the most delectable affair.
Crimson Drawing Room
Though Queen Charlotte is credited for having introduced the tradition of Christmas trees at the Palace, Prince Albert was the first to bring Christmas trees inside the home. He imported them from Germany, and set them in various locations throughout the Palace. Some were even hung from the ceiling to illuminate the rooms where the chandeliers had been. Bedecked with small toys, candied fruit, bonbons and almonds in ribboned purses, brightly coloured candles and artificial snow, Prince Albert and his bride decorated them themselves on Christmas Eve before revealing them to the children along with their gifts before Christmas morn.
Prince Albert enjoyed displaying Christmas trees throughout the house as well as on Christmas gift tables.

Prince Albert enjoyed displaying Christmas trees throughout the house as well as on Christmas gift tables.

And so, following this tradition, a richly decorated tree adorns the Crimson Drawing Room, providing the perfect excuse to feast one’s eyes on one of the Castle’s most breathtakingly beautiful rooms.
Designed by Sir Jeffry Wyatville on the site of Queen Charlotte’s former apartments overlooking the East Terrace Garden, the Crimson Drawing Room served as The King’s main reception room. The luxurious curtains with their finely detailed golden passementerie (decorative trim) constituted an important focal point in the room. In fact, the folds upon folds of striped poppy-coloured velvet used in their fabrication were the most expensive fabric used anywhere in the Castle. Unbearably destroyed in the devastating fire of 1992, the room has since been impeccably restored.
Family Saturdays in St George’s Hall
Saturdays 6,13 and 20 December: Children are very special guests indeed at the Palace this year as families are invited to gather by the fire and feast their eyes and ears in St George’s Hall, the Castle’s largest banquet room. Its 53.3m table can easily accommodate up to 162 royal guests.
Unlike the other State Rooms that were restored according to their original plans, St George’s Hall was redesigned in ‘Downesian Gothic style’, aptly named after its architect after the fire, Giles Downes, and reflects a more modern interpretation of Gothic style… The new roof is the largest of its kind to be built in green oak since the Middle Ages, and bears the brightly coloured shields of the Knights of the Order of the Garter, the white shields representing knights disgraced by reason of crime or treason.
Against the backdrop of George IV’s sumptuously gilded private apartments, a magnificent six-metre Nordman Fir from Windsor Great Park, Henry VIII’s hunting grounds, brightens up St George’s Hall, where a professional storyteller will delight visitors with royal Christmas memories of horse-drawn sleigh rides and extravagant feasts. These sessions for families will run at 11:30, 13:30 and 14:30 and places will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Children’s Workshop, Saturday 27 December
Mark your calendars for an exclusive opportunity for children to make their very own Victorian Christmas decorations as they make angel peg dolls, mini wreaths, Christmas cards and baubles to take home. All activities and materials are included in the standard price of admission price.
Exclusive Evening Tours
Take in a fascinating ‘behind the ropes’ tour of the magnificent State Apartments, and conclude with a glass of champagne, a copy of the Official Souvenir Guide, and a 20% discount in the Royal Collection Trust shop.
Other exhibits
Finally, while you are there, why not delight in some of the other exhibits running at the Castle? Discover some of the rare and priceless works of artists Canaletto, Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck housed in the State Apartments and the Drawings Room… Indulge your childlike senses as you take in Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, complete with flushing lavatories, electricity and working lifts.
For tickets and visitor information, please visit the Royal Collection Website.
More later on Holyroodhouse Palace and Buckingham Palace’s Christmas exhibits.
photo credits: The Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014]]>