Queen Victoria (r.1837-1901) was the first sovereign to rule from Buckingham Palace, acceding to the throne on 20 June 1837, following the death of her uncle William IV. Within 48 hours of taking up residence at the Palace on 13 July of that year, the Queen entertained a large party to dinner in the State Dining Room. On 10 May 1838, as part of the celebrations leading up to her Coronation, she held the first State ball in the Palace’s South Drawing Room.
The Queen’s marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1841 set the seal on the use of Buckingham Palace as a royal family home and as a place of entertainment, as well as official business. Lavish costume balls were held throughout the 1840s, and the Queen also gave a series of concerts, with her favourite composer Felix Mendelssohn playing at the Palace on five separate occasions during those years.
Over the course of 20 years, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert transformed the Palace into the centre of an energetic, cosmopolitan court. The State concerts continued regularly after Prince Albert’s untimely death in 1861, but all other entertainment came to an abrupt end. Queen Victoria was absent from Buckingham Palace for long periods after her husband’s death, preferring to spend her time at Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle in Scotland or Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. By the end of her reign in 1901, the Palace had begun to look neglected.
The King and his consort Queen Alexandra were determined to revive the high standards of royal entertaining. The Coronation Banquet of August 1902 comprised no fewer than fourteen courses. The King would preside at Evening Courts seated on the throne, and a new dais and canopy were set up in the Ballroom for this purpose. Throughout King Edward VII’s reign, the Palace was the undisputed focus of fashionable social life in London.
Queen Mary had a strong knowledge of furniture and decoration and, advised by curators from the Victoria and Albert Museum, soon set about making up for the Edwardian alterations to the Palace by restoring more of a Regency character to the rooms. In 1935, a year before the end of George V’s reign, the Palace was the focus of national celebrations for the King's Silver Jubilee.
During Germany’s night offensive on London, from early September to mid-November 1940, the King and Queen would leave the Palace each evening for Windsor and return the next morning. In September 1940 the north screen of the East Front was damaged after bombing raids, and the Victorian private chapel in the south-west pavilion on the garden front was destroyed. When the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945, the King and Queen, their daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, and the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony before huge crowds. This scene was repeated when hostilities finally came to an end in the Far East, on 15 August, VJ Day.