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The Queen’s first major event at Buckingham Palace – her christening

On 29 May 1926, the christening of the future Queen Elizabeth II, took place. The baptismal service was performed at the private chapel at Buckingham Palace and the occasion of HM The Queen’s 91st birthday provides a pleasant opportunity to revisit this important event. Photographs were made of the Duchess of York leaving 17 Bruton Street in her wedding attire to make her way to Westminster Abbey to marry the Duke of York in 1923. The Duchess was photographed leaving the same house in Mayfair – which was one of the homes of her parents, the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne – and setting out for Buckingham Palace for the baptism of her first child, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, who had been born at the house on 21 April. The christening took place in the private chapel which today no longer exists but roughly occupies the space on the Palace’s west front, where The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace now stands. The chapel was a victim of one of the nine raids during the Blitz in which the Palace itself was hit, which famously prompted Queen Elizabeth to comment with courageous presence of mind, “Now I can look the East End in the face”.

The chapel was the private place of worship of the Royal Family and had formed the setting for royal christenings. Many babies were christened here, among others Princess Helena, third daughter of Queen Victoria in 1846 and Prince Albert Victor, eldest son of the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1864. Another preferred venue for royal christenings within Queen Victoria’s family, was the private chapel at Windsor Castle, where the Prince of Wales was christened in 1842. The artist Douglas Morrison made a watercolour of the chapel at Buckingham Palace in 1843-44, which shows the decorative interior design that had been instigated by Prince Albert. The private chapel was housed within the space that had once been a conservatory built by the great architect John Nash. It was hit by a bomb on 13 September 1940. It was the initial wish of George VI to rebuild and restore the chapel but instead, a plan was conceived by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh to use the space to house a gallery, showcasing art to the public.

The baby princess was christened Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, after her own mother the Duchess of York, Alexandra after her paternal great-grandmother Queen Alexandra, consort of King Edward VII and Mary, after her paternal grandmother, Queen Mary. A photograph was made to commemorate the event, showing the Duke and Duchess of York, with the Countess of Strathmore. The group also contains the baby princess’s godmothers, Lady Elphinstone, Princess Mary, Viscountess Lascelles and Queen Mary, and her godfathers King George V and Queen Victoria’s third son Arthur, the Duke of Connaught. The Archbishop of York, Cosmo Gordon Lang, performed the christening. Lang was made Archbishop of Canterbury two years later in 1928. The royal christening gown dates back to 1841, when it was made for Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria, The Princess Royal and made of Honiton lace and Spitalfields silk. It was inspired by the design of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress, which today is displayed at Kensington Palace, as part of the permanent exhibition, ‘Victoria Revealed’. The same gown was used for the future Queen Elizabeth II and for HRH The Prince of Wales. Since the baptism of Lady Louise Windsor, the original 172 year-old christening gown has proved too delicate for repeated use and for conservational reasons, a replica was commissioned which was used for the christening of the first child of TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George in 2013. Queen Victoria also commissioned the so-called ‘Lily Font’ in 1840, which was used for the christening of Victoria, the Princess Royal.

The Queen’s Gallery opened on the site of the private royal chapel in 1962 and the space where the chapel was corresponds approximately to that of the so-called Nash Gallery. The private chapel now occupies a separate site within the Palace. Since the bombing of the chapel, christenings have tended to take place in the Music Room at Buckingham Palace, which is where the baptisms of The Queen’s first three children were performed and where for state purposes is used both for entertaining and for presenting guests to The Queen.  

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