A Christmas tree will hang from a ceiling at Windsor Castle in a recreation of Queen Victoria’s Christmas. From Saturday, 26 November, visitors to the Castle will see how the Queen and Prince Albert celebrated Christmas at Windsor with their young family. The State Dining Room and Octagon Dining Room will be transformed with displays of Victorian festive dining and a reconstruction of Victoria and Albert’s Christmas gift tables.
Monarchs have celebrated Christmas at Windsor since the 12th century, but Victoria and Albert are most associated with the Castle at this time of year. Prince Albert popularised the Christmas tree in Britain – although he displayed some of them rather differently from how we do today. In 1860 a visitor to the Castle described how the rooms ‘were lighted up with Christmas trees hung from the ceiling, the chandeliers being taken down. These trees…were covered with bonbons and little wax coloured lights, some of the trees were made to appear as if partially covered in snow.’ Inspired by such contemporary descriptions, an artificial tree will be suspended from the Octagon Dining Room ceiling, where the chandelier usually hangs.
In the German tradition, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. Presents were laid out on tables, each of which had a Christmas tree at its centre. On 24 December 1850 the Queen wrote in her journal, ‘My beloved Albert first took me to my tree and table, covered by such numberless gifts, really too much, too magnificent.’ At the Castle this year, two gift tables will be recreated with presents exchanged by Victoria and Albert. Among them is a painting of a young nun and her suitor by Sir Charles Eastlake. It was commissioned by Victoria in 1844 as a gift for Albert – it is said that Eastlake had to paint for 19 hours without a break to finish it in time.
In 1850 Queen Victoria wrote, ‘The 7 children were then taken to their tree, jumping and shouting with joy over their toys and other presents: the boys could think of nothing but the sword we had given them and Bertie some of the armour, which however he complained, pinched him’. Among the gifts on display at Windsor are sculptures of the royal children, including a tender representation of Victoria and Albert’s youngest child, Princess Beatrice, as a baby lying in a shell. The sculpture was given to the Queen by Prince Albert for Christmas 1858.
In the Castle’s State Dining Room, the table will be laid for a Victorian Christmas feast with a magnificent porcelain dessert service by Minton of Staffordshire. Known as the Victoria Service, the set was purchased by the Queen at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and includes four porcelain figures of the four seasons, ice pails, cream and bon-bon dishes, and a pair of silver-gilt sauceboats shaped like sleighs. During Christmas 1860 a visitor to Windsor described the ‘mighty sight’ of 50 turkeys being roasted in the Great Kitchen, a huge baron of beef and a woodcock pie of 100 birds presented to the Queen each Christmas by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
Christmas trees from the Windsor Great Park will also be on display in St George’s Hall and the Crimson Drawing Room from 5 December. They will be decorated with crown-shaped baubles produced exclusively for the Royal Collection and available to purchase from www.royalcollection.org.uk/shop.
On selected dates in December and January, visitors can join a tour of Windsor’s State Apartments out of public opening hours on an Exclusive Evening Tour. Tours are limited to 30 and include a copy of the official guidebook, a glass of champagne and 20% discount in the Royal Collection shop. Please visit www.royalcollection.org.uk for further information and to book.
The Victorian Christmas displays at Windsor Castle will be on show from 26 November 2011 to 8 January 2012.
Windsor Castle is open daily, except 25 and 26 December. Visitor information and tickets are available from www.royalcollection.org.uk.
For images and further information, please contact Public Relations and Marketing, the Royal Collection, +44 (0)20 7839 1377 or e-mail email@example.com.
Admission to Windsor Castle is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity in England and Wales (1016972) and in Scotland (SCO39772).