Dinner with Queen Victoria could be quite trying... “The etiquette is, do not open your mouth unless Royalty condescends to speak to you. Do not expect such a compliment. That is reserved for a few favored guests in the immediate vicinity of the regal hostess. The dinner occupies from sixty to ninety minutes, and, when ended, the Queen rises, all other ladies rising and retiring with her.” –1862
When Dining with a Queen
The London correspondent of the Philadelphia Press gives the following description of a dinner at Windsor Castle, with Queen Victoria:
At this season, except that fashion is slightly less bustling in Lent, London is generally very much alive— taking its tone from the Court. Queen Victoria’s little dinners always draw a certain number of invited - no, commanded guests; for the etiquette is, not that Royalty requests the pleasure of one's company, but orders it, indeed, for very autocratical is the system, that supposing you have arranged to give a dinner to a number of your own friends, and received a card from the Lord Chamberlain of the Queen’s household, desiring you to dine, on the same day, at the Queen’s table, there is no refusing on any other plea than that of positive illness.
Not to go would be a sort of petty treason, and you would have to send a circular round to your own guests, stating that the Queen’s command, compelling you to dine at the palace, has compelled you to uninvite them. Nor, except the honor and glory of the thing, can there be much comfort or satisfaction in having one’s legs under the Royal mahogany. First of all, the guest must put himself into a Court dress, which makes him look like a footman in private life, with knee breeches and silk stockings, lace cravat and ruffles, amplest of waistcoats and shad bellyist of coats. Then, if he does not keep his own coach he must hire one looking like a private vehicle, for it is doubtful whether, since creation commenced, any one ever walked to a Royal dinner, and the idea of going thither in a cab would probably have a moral effect on the enormous porter, in scarlet and gold toggery, who receives your card of invitation when he admits you.
Nor, supposing all the preliminary trouble ended — supposing that you have found your way to the drawing-room, and bowed to the Queen, and stealthily looked round at the pictures, and counted over (all the time in solemn silence) the spots of flowers on the carpet, for the tenth time, and marched in file into the salle a manger — supposing all this, do not imagine that you are going to enjoy yourself. No, indeed. None but Mark Tapley could be “jolly” at such a feast. Royalty has already dined, about 3 o'clock, probably off the hereditary leg of mutton and turnips, and has added the usual quantum of rice pudding, and the bit of old Cheshire, or rich Stilton, or double Glouster cheese, and imbibed the accustomed mug or two of Guinness or Meux. This repast, called lunch, is really a good, homely filling of dinner, and at the solemn repast, five hours later, people are expected to merely tip and taste through several courses, so that one is reminded of the famous feast of the Barmecide.
The viands are of the best, the cuisine perfect, the vintages superb — but one can merely taste. Royalty’s appetite was blunted on the leg of mutton and pudding, the cheese and the bottled porter, and the guests should have taken the edge off theirs by a similar process. At these sadly solemn reunions dull silence grimly reigns. There is not even a whisper to your neighbor — if you know him. The etiquette is, do not open your month unless Royalty condescends to speak to you. Do not expect such a compliment. That is reserved for a few favored guests in the immediate vicinity of the regal hostess. The dinner occupies from sixty to ninety minutes, and, when ended, the Queen rises, all other ladies rising and retiring with her. The male guests remain some ten minutes longer, silently sipping their wine, or whispering in small knots with bated breath.
At last the senior officer of the household present, rises on his hind legs and majestically gives “the Queen” as a toast, which every one drinks. It any male member of the Royal family be present, he bows an acknowledgment. Coffee follows, and then the guests depart— a few to the drawing room where the Maids of Honor are yawning, the rest going home, where it is supposed each man gets out of his livery, at once, and gets rid of his gnawing hunger by means of oysters and stout. Such, I am informed by one who experienced it, is the routine of a royal dinner. He was an East Indian, and suffered much . – Daly Alta California, 1862
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia