Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Queen's Life

Is it good to be queen?  I asked the kids this question as we toured two of her royal palaces: Holyroodhouse, her official residence in Scotland and Windsor Castle, her weekend retreat.  Their first response upon seeing the entrances of each was a resounding, YES! 

We visited Holyroodhouse on our last day in Edinburgh.  Beginning with the Queen’s Gallery, we viewed a tiny portion of the Queen’s royal art collection.  From Faberge eggs to Rembrandt portraits, the priceless display boggled the mind.  And this was only a fraction of her treasures!  The audio guide included in the tour gave much detail on each piece making the gallery an excellent art history lesson for all of us.  The tour also had a family activity pack for the children to search the collection for specific pieces like ISpy.  The kids stayed engaged the entire time!

Wyatt on Guard

Next, we entered the palace.  Queen Elizabeth was not in residence at the time so we were allowed in a couple of private quarters, as well as, the formal staterooms.  Room after room, we were amazed at the splendor.  The Grand Gallery, where awards and honors are presented, contained more priceless works of art with portraits of all the Stuart Royal Family, including the most famous Stuart, Mary, Queen of Scots.  But I preferred the personal touch of a little room Emma discovered.  Just off the Grand Gallery, the palace had a small family activity room.  Outfitted like a nursery or playroom, there were royal dress-up clothes, a wooden castle with dolls and furniture, and a large drawing table with coloring sheets of the Queen and her dogs and royal word search puzzles.  I thought this a very nice touch for visiting children and was surprised they thought of such things.  It’s something I would imagine Princess Diana would have done, not the Queen.  Emma tried on clothes while Wyatt and Anabel took a word search for the train ride to Glasgow.

The oldest section of the palace housed the rooms that Mary, Queen of Scots inhabited during her brief stay.  Much to the delight of many, the audio guide described in detail the stabbing of Mary’s secretary in the corner of her antechamber.  A plaque in the room noted the specific location of the killing and the number of stab wounds.  Yikes! Nothing like a brutal murder to get the attention of tourists!  People have been paying to see these rooms for almost 400 years.  Viewing executions and touring murder sites was hot ticket entertainment before horror movies.

We ended our tour with a walk through the gardens.  With the beautiful flowers and the incredible view of Arthur’s Seat, I would have tea in the garden with the Queen daily.

The Royal Standard
From our base in Bath, England, we journeyed to Windsor for the day to tour Windsor Castle; the Queen’s retreat- The oldest inhabited castle is a weekend getaway.  As fantastic as the Palace at Holyroodhouse was, Windsor Castle made it look like the redheaded stepchild (no ginger joke intended.)  At least twice the size and scope of the Scottish palace, Windsor reminded me of the grand old dame, Queen Elizabeth, herself; older, wiser, commanding, and more beautiful with age.  (And her flag was flying showing she was in residence while we were there!)

We began in the castle’s church: St. George’s Cathedral…Another gorgeous Catholic to Anglican cathedral.  How many amazing examples of great architecture can one process during one trip?  I know it sounds awful, but I started going, “Yeah, yeah.  Lovely buttresses.  Yeah, yeah.  More masterfully, stained glass.  Yeah, yeah.”  I was at my art intake limit, but not my limit for history.  Buried here are the great monarchs from Henry VIII, the lady-killer, to King George V who reigned during WWI, the war to end all wars (if only!)  Two tombs fascinated me.  First, the saddest place in the cathedral was Princess Charlotte’s tomb with its shrine to King George IV’s only child who died in childbirth.  The marble monument showed a corpse with one hand extended out from the draped sheet.  Above the dead princess was her soul and stillborn child being carried to heaven by two angels.  Her shrine materialized the pain even a royal family would feel in  the very sad, but very common cause of death in the 19th century.   Out of a horrible situation came Great Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, who was next in line after Princess Charlotte’s death.  The second moving crypt was that of Queen Elizabeth II’s family: King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (the queen mum) and Princess Margaret, her party-loving sister.  The tomb moved me because I fell in love with Bertie, her father’s nickname, in The King’s Speech.  (Maybe I just fell for Colin Firth, again.  I don’t know if you noticed this, but I relate my world to the cinema; A casualty of being a film major, I’m afraid.)

Next, we found our way around the cold and windy North Terrace, which we’re told Queen Elizabeth the first added to the castle so she had a sun-proof place to walk.  From here, we entered the official staterooms, after viewing Queen Mary’s mammoth dollhouse.  Anabel and Emma lit up at the sight of the tiny palace rooms and furniture.  All pieces were the real deal.  Artists made tiny copies of their paintings, tables, vases, and silverware. 

The official entrance, where heads of state are greeted, reminded me of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg with the massive show of weaponry- guns, swords and knights in armored suits surrounded the room.  We wandered from grandeur to splendor.  And that’s when Anabel said something amazing, “I don’t think I’d want to be queen.  You have all this stuff, but you can never be alone or have a pajama day or go shopping at Harrod’s.”  Well said, daughter.

Maybe it’s not so good to be queen.  I thought about all the regimentation of the Queen’s life.  My over scheduled life was nothing compared to hers over the past 60 years.  I bet she would have liked to take one year off to spend with her kids.  While I would love to be queen for a day, I don’t think I’d take the job permanently.

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