Buckingham Palace The Queen's Palaces


Buckingham Palace

Fiona Bruce visits Buckingham Palace, and reveals how England's most spectacular palace emerged from a swampy backwater in just 300 years.


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In the heart of London sits one of Britain's

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most recognisable buildings.

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Yet its story is one of the least understood.

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Buckingham Palace is a building with a deep hold

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on the public imagination.

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Not only is it the seat of the British monarchy

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and headquarters of royal affairs of state.

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But also, thanks to its famous balcony,

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it's become the national focus for great moments

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of commemoration and celebration.

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But what is now the site of a splendid palace

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was once open countryside.

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Behind the familiar facade lies a building

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with a strange and surprising history.

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Shaped by successive monarchs who all had very different ideas

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of what it should be.

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As royal residences go,

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Buckingham Palace is something of a newcomer.

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The state rooms are less than 200 years old.

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Yet its history is much older and more dramatic than you might think.

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Its rooms are filled with objects that are clues to the character

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of kings and queens past.

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And the art and architecture combine to make a statement

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about Britain's place in the world.

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The Palace as it appears now was designed at a time

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when Britain was the richest, most powerful nation on earth,

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and this was meant to reflect that.

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But for the first monarch who lived on this spot,

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it was little more than a quiet retreat.

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How things have changed.

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Buckingham Palace is the monarch's

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principal state residence.

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And at its heart is a proclamation of royal authority.

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If you had to pick just one room which encapsulates

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what Buckingham Palace represents, it's this one.

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The Throne Room. And you're in no doubt where the seat of power lies.

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The two chairs on a raised dais, one for Queen Elizabeth the Second,

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one for her consort, Prince Philip.

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You might think that the Queen has sat on that seat

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many times during her reign

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and received dozens of heads of state here.

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But you'd be wrong. This room is purely symbolic,

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and she's only sat on that chair the once, at her coronation in 1953.

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In fact, this room is just theatre.

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The canopy has echoes of a medieval lord's Great Hall.

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Dotted around are chairs from previous coronations,

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each one belonging to a different monarch.

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And then framing the whole thing

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is this fabulously ornate arch,

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complete with winged Victories

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holding up swags and medallions.

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It's like something you might find framing a West End stage.

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Today, it's hard to imagine this spot as it was 500 years ago.

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Back then, it was no more than a quiet backwater,

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regularly flooded by a river now long forgotten,

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the Tyburn River.

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Hidden deep beneath the crowded streets, the river still flows.

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This is the River Tyburn.

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It's now channelled through this great Victorian sewer,

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but it still follows its ancient course,

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right beneath Buckingham Palace.

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And it provides a fascinating glimpse into the past,

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because this river made the land above boggy

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and marshy, with pools of smelly, stagnant water.

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Not exactly what you'd call prime royal real estate.

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Until one king decided it might be useful after all.

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Henry VIII, who came to the throne in 1509,

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was a man passionate about the chase - for women and deer.

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For Henry, the swampy land on the banks of the river Tyburn

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was perfect for hunting.

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Henry VIII's love of riding bordered on the obsessional.

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Before he became so grossly fat, he would ride seven days a week,

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wear out eight horses in a day.

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So he decided to turn the land north of Westminster

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into his own private royal hunting ground.

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And what few residents there were, he slung them out,

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and then he built a brick wall to keep them out.

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In 1532, Henry VIII drained the land

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where Buckingham Palace now stands

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and created a well-stocked deer park.

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Henry often rode here, for hunting, courting and conducting business.

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But years later, one king had different ideas for the park.

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James I didn't cut the finest of figures,

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yet he was fond of the finest of clothes, especially the best silk.

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Always short of cash, James realised that silk,

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a great luxury of the day,

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might be an excellent way to make some serious money.

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On the land that is now the gardens of Buckingham Palace,

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James decided to create a homespun English silk industry

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with the help of a particular tree - the mulberry.

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In 1608, James I had dozens of mulberry trees planted here

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and introduced these...

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Silkworms.

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The idea was to harvest the silkworms' thread

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from the cocoon and use it to spin silk.

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Trouble is, he chose the wrong kind of mulberry tree.

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This, the black mulberry.

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The silkworms just weren't interested.

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Much more successful was the menagerie of animals

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James kept here for his entertainment.

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Exotic birds.

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Camels.

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Even an elephant, who was given a daily ration of a gallon of wine.

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It wasn't until a hundred years later, in 1708,

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that a house was built on the exact spot

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where the Palace now stands.

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Today, all that remains of that house is the name of its owner.

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The Duke of Buckingham.

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Soldier, politician,

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intrepid seafarer,

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but also so disliked at court for his arrogance,

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he was nicknamed "Lord Allpride".

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The Duke was blessed with a rich wife.

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So he leased this land from the crown,

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and on it, built a lavish mansion equal to his ambitions.

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Although not a stone of it is visible today.

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The Duke might have known how to make a big impression,

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but he wasn't too good at settling his debts.

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One day, while the house was being built, the architect took them both up on the roof

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and then threatened to throw them both off

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if the Duke didn't pay the wages he owed.

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Needless to say, the Duke paid up.

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By the 1760s, the house was up for sale.

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The young king, George III, snapped it up

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as the perfect wedding present for his new wife,

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Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

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An aristocratic mansion became the home of the British monarchy.

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This is the official coronation portrait of George III,

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painted around the time he moved into Buckingham House.

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And as was the custom,

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he's in full royal regalia.

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Exquisite gold silks and sumptuous ermine robes.

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But look closely at his face. This is a king who also wanted to be seen

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as good-natured and honest and open.

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A very different character from the previous owner,

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the Duke of Buckingham.

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Where he was showy and flamboyant, George III was serious

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and conscientious, even a little bit priggish.

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He presented Buckingham House to Queen Charlotte

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as a quiet family retreat, away from the hurly-burly of court life.

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'George III was a man of very simple pleasures,'

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so he disliked all the very grand ostentation of the court

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and he much preferred a retired life amongst his family.

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And he also favoured clean-living and a healthy lifestyle,

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so he liked very simple foods.

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There was no roast swan on the table at Buckingham House.

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it was simple mutton, clear soup, vegetables, milk, tea

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and very occasionally a glass of cheap claret.

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One 18th century satirist said that a leg of mutton

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and his wife were the chief pleasures of his life.

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Buckingham House was too ornate,

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just too flash for George III's tastes.

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So he decided to remove the elaborate gates,

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the Neptune fountain,

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and even the statues on the roof.

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It ended up more elegant vicarage than royal palace,

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described by one observer as dull, dowdy but decent.

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Yet inside, there was no mistaking the royal presence.

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George III covered the walls with pictures

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from the royal art collection.

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Most impressive was an enormous picture, by Anthony Van Dyck,

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of Charles I.

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A very different sort of king to George.

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When Charles I had it commissioned of himself,

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this was saying, "Here I am, Monarch/God.

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"All powerful."

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In reality, he was small and bandy, wasn't he?

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Yes. Unimpressive, distinctly unimpressive,

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but what you pay an artist for is to make something

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recognisably your image, but a lot better.

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And in this case, the techniques

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are a low viewpoint,

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an action shot, so it looks like as if it's punching a hole in the wall

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and creating this dramatic effect that Charles I,

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looking like an emperor, is thundering into the room

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on a charger.

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Which really, I think, suggests the painting

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more as an act of propaganda drama

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rather than as a nice elegant composition within a frame.

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So if Charles was collecting, in a sense, to self-aggrandise

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and to make a statement about himself, whereas George III

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was collecting because he thought

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that's what a king should do, because he loved art?

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Yes. He would never have commissioned an image of himself

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as flamboyant and theatrical as this.

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I think in selecting this painting to hang at Buckingham House,

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he would have been thinking much more in terms of the reputation

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of Van Dyck as kind of the founding father of English painting

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and as the supreme exponent of elegance.

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George III saw it as part of his royal duty to promote the arts,

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and in 1768 he founded the Royal Academy,

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to encourage the work of British artists.

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He was also fascinated by technology,

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and collected all sorts of scientific instruments.

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This looks like an exquisite miniature Roman temple,

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but it's actually an astronomical clock.

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Made for George III, to be displayed here at Buckingham House.

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George III loved science, and he loved gadgets,

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so this is perfect for him,

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because in its way it's trying to measure

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life, the universe and everything.

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Here, for example, you have got a 24-hour clock,

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and then in the centre, cities around the world,

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so you can see the different times in those cities.

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And then round here, we've got a map of the heavens,

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as seen above London.

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On this side, we've got a tidal dial which shows high and low tides,

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at ports not just around Britain, but around the world.

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And then finally, here we've got the solar system and the planets,

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such as they were known at the time, with the Sun at the centre.

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George was eager to learn about the very latest in science and art

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from all over Europe.

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Yet surprisingly, he hardly travelled at all.

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George III's world was in some ways a very small one.

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He didn't travel very much beyond the courts,

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and so he didn't even leave Britain.

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But he wanted to understand the wider world,

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and that meant collecting information and items from abroad.

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And so he used agents in places like Italy

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to purchase art he could bring back and add to his own collections.

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Not long after he moved in here, the King heard about

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an incomparable hoard of artwork up for sale in Venice.

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After a bit of wheeler-dealing, he paid 20 grand for the lot,

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and had it shipped over to England.

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There were Italian landscapes, domestic scenes,

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but most importantly of all, no less than 50 paintings

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by the celebrated Italian artist Canaletto,

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the biggest collection of his work anywhere in the world.

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This is one of his, a view of the magical city that made him famous.

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In George III's day, this was the place to come

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if you wanted the best of art, and at a good price.

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When George III was still a boy,

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Venice was one of Europe's most romantic destinations,

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home of art and culture.

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It was a key stop on what was known as the Grand Tour,

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when the British aristocracy would travel around the cities of Europe

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to see great architecture and great paintings.

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Though, like some British tourists today,

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they often broadened their horizons in rather less noble ways.

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Venice was renowned for its ladies of easy virtue,

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and many a cultural traveller was distracted by the fleshy delights

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of Venetian parties.

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But by the 1760s, when George III was moving into Buckingham House,

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Venice was in the doldrums.

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Trade and banking were depressed, visitor numbers down.

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The great patrons of Venice were in need of money -

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a perfect time for any British collector

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to pick up some art on the cheap.

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George III's artistic envoys knew where to look.

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The Palazzo Mangilli Valmarana was home

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to the British consul, Joseph Smith.

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He was one of the greatest art collectors,

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the Charles Saatchi of his day.

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When Joseph Smith lived here, these walls were crammed with paintings

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that he'd commissioned from up-and-coming Venetian artists.

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It became the in thing for visiting British aristocrats

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to pull every string and use every family connection

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to try and get an invite here so they could admire the collection

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and then maybe buy a little something to take home.

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But Joseph Smith fell on hard times and needed cash,

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so he sold the lot to George III.

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Along with an impressive hoard of books, antiques and coins were

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paintings by great masters like Vermeer.

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Best of all were the paintings

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by Venice's greatest living artist, Canaletto.

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He captured the magic of the city in brilliant detail.

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All the colourful characters of Venetian life were here.

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More than 50 of Canaletto's paintings would end up

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in the hands of George III,

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still today the largest collection of Canalettos in the world.

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George took his duties as King seriously,

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whether as patron of the arts

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or ensuring a sound education for the royal offspring.

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But his ideas about discipline didn't always go down well

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with his 15 children.

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All of George's children were subject to

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very strict schooling and education.

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The boys were required to study from about seven in the morning

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until eight at night, and without any sort of respite or break, really.

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George instructed the tutors to instil great discipline in them

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and rebuke the first sign of laziness,

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and one of the princesses reported that she'd seen her two brothers

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being held down by their tutors

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so that they could be whipped like a dog.

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But George's attempts to pass on

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his ideas of morality and modest living failed.

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Perhaps it's hardly surprising that the King's eldest son rebelled.

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Whereas George III was frugal to the point of stinginess,

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his son, the future George IV,

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indulged in every excess to exhaustion.

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And as for this portrait, well, it's distinctly flattering,

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because when it was painted, the Prince was actually obese.

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One MP described him as,

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"From head to foot, a flaccidity of muscle and rotundity of outline."

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The Prince of Wales was a man of huge appetites, as is shown by his girth.

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Of course, as George IV tended to do

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in other aspects of life, he overdid it.

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He gave even gluttony a bad name.

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From about the age of 40 onwards, he was beginning to fray at the edges,

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and my God, what edges they were.

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I mean, covering almost everything that he sat upon.

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Once George had escaped the stifling restraints

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of family life in Buckingham House,

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he decided to create a rival palace of pleasure just half a mile away.

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There was nothing anywhere in the country to touch Carlton House

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for luxury and extravagance.

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Many of its most sumptuous furnishings are

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in Buckingham Palace today.

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The name of this street is really all that's left

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of the much-admired Carlton House.

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If it were still here today,

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it would be one of Britain's most exquisite architectural gems.

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We can get a sense of its splendour

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from a set of watercolours painted at the time.

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George never tired of redecorating the interiors

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or buying ever more furniture to fill them.

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His grand receptions and fetes were the talk of London.

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Just to give you an inkling of quite how opulent it was,

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at one supper for 3,000 guests,

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there was a single table the entire length of the building,

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incorporating a stream all the way along it,

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with live goldfish - imagine!

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For years, George had carried out the duties of his ailing father.

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By the time the King died in 1820, George was nearly 60.

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George IV was now the ruler of the rapidly-expanding British Empire,

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and he wanted a palace to reflect that power.

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St James's, he thought, was too dingy.

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Carlton House was clearly much more impressive,

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but it had never been big enough for George.

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And, thanks to his endless alterations,

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it was now structurally unsound.

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So, after all he'd spent on it, with its exquisite interiors,

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he just pulled it down.

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Nearly 30 years of building works were reduced to rubble

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in just a few months -

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an abrupt end to such a celebrated building.

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But George had grander ambitions in mind.

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He would reinvent Buckingham House as a palace that would outshine

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even Carlton House.

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And the man he chose for the job was architect John Nash.

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So began one of the most productive and scandalous building partnerships

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in London's history.

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George IV begged the Government for money

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to reinvent his childhood home.

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He managed to coax ?150,000 out of them

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for what he called repairs and improvements.

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But pretty soon, it was clear that George had no intention

0:27:450:27:48

of sticking to the budget.

0:27:480:27:50

He and his architect John Nash transformed

0:27:500:27:52

what had been a quiet royal retreat into a grand palace.

0:27:520:27:56

Today, that palace is hidden.

0:27:580:28:00

From the front, what you see is a later addition

0:28:000:28:02

in white Portland stone.

0:28:020:28:03

But come behind the facade.

0:28:050:28:07

You'll discover the palace that Nash created,

0:28:130:28:15

in beautiful yellow Bath stone.

0:28:150:28:19

This is the original open front of Nash's palace,

0:28:190:28:23

designed in the classical style with columns and pediments.

0:28:230:28:26

And above it, heroic friezes

0:28:260:28:28

celebrating Britain's victory over Napoleon at land and at sea.

0:28:280:28:33

But perhaps he saved the best for where you'd least expect to find it.

0:28:380:28:42

This is the loveliest view of Buckingham Palace,

0:28:450:28:49

in my humble opinion - from the garden.

0:28:490:28:52

And here you can see Nash's redesigned facade in all its glory.

0:28:520:28:56

The warm yellow stone,

0:28:580:28:59

the perfect regal semicircular bow in the middle,

0:28:590:29:04

and on either side, tasteful classical symmetry.

0:29:040:29:07

Perhaps it's a shame that Nash's best handiwork is

0:29:160:29:18

hidden at the back.

0:29:180:29:21

On the other hand, anyone who wants to see more of Nash's vision

0:29:210:29:24

doesn't have far to look.

0:29:240:29:26

John Nash left his signature all over London.

0:29:320:29:34

From churches

0:29:350:29:37

to theatres

0:29:370:29:40

to sweeping terraces.

0:29:400:29:43

Throughout George IV's reign,

0:29:470:29:49

Nash gradually transformed Buckingham House

0:29:490:29:52

into the now-renamed Buckingham Palace.

0:29:520:29:55

The new State Rooms were designed to receive dignitaries,

0:30:010:30:04

and impress upon them a suitably inspiring image

0:30:040:30:08

of Britain's place in the world.

0:30:080:30:10

In one room after another,

0:30:180:30:20

Nash created a virtuoso display of dazzling interior design.

0:30:200:30:26

Unfortunately for Nash, George IV was a very hands-on client.

0:30:410:30:45

And Nash despaired that, every time they met,

0:30:450:30:48

George insisted on new additions and alterations.

0:30:480:30:52

The vision for the Palace got bigger and bigger,

0:30:520:30:56

and the budget just spiralled out of control.

0:30:560:30:58

The King's constant revisions made Buckingham Palace

0:31:090:31:13

one of the most difficult commissions of Nash's career.

0:31:130:31:16

How did Nash respond to that?

0:31:200:31:22

Did Nash think that George IV was in one sense the client from hell

0:31:220:31:25

because he kept changing all the time, or did Nash just think,

0:31:250:31:29

"Yes, more is better"?

0:31:290:31:31

The sense that one gets, and it is only a sense,

0:31:310:31:34

is that they both were old men,

0:31:340:31:36

they'd not long to live, either of them...

0:31:360:31:39

Nash was 73, wasn't he, at this stage?

0:31:390:31:41

Yes, and the King was in decline,

0:31:410:31:43

and they must have just said,

0:31:430:31:44

"Let's do this, because it's what we want to do."

0:31:440:31:48

And I think Nash thought,

0:31:480:31:50

"Here is the opportunity to create my masterpiece,

0:31:500:31:52

and he didn't really care too much about the small print.

0:31:520:31:56

And it's a fantastically theatrical performance of a room, isn't it?

0:31:560:32:01

It is. He was the great theatre architect.

0:32:010:32:04

How would you describe Nash's style?

0:32:050:32:08

It's a classical style,

0:32:080:32:09

but it doesn't really stick to the rules of classical architecture.

0:32:090:32:13

He was a very eclectic, pick-and-mix sort of classical architect.

0:32:130:32:18

So, the little crowns in this kind of sunburst on the doors,

0:32:180:32:21

does that come from anywhere?

0:32:210:32:23

Well, again, I think it is an invention of Nash,

0:32:230:32:26

and it's a highly suitable sort of festive motif for Buckingham Palace,

0:32:260:32:30

which I don't think occurred anywhere before.

0:32:300:32:32

It's almost like a firework, isn't it,

0:32:320:32:35

with a crown appearing in the sky. Very celebratory.

0:32:350:32:38

One of the most surprising rooms in Buckingham Palace,

0:32:450:32:48

one not open to the public, is known as the Centre Room.

0:32:480:32:53

It's decorated in George's favourite Oriental style.

0:32:530:32:56

Most of the treasures in this room came from the Royal Pavilion in Brighton,

0:33:070:33:12

George's seaside retreat where he entertained his mistresses.

0:33:120:33:18

With the help of his favourite architect John Nash,

0:33:180:33:20

George transformed the Pavilion into an exotic fantasy.

0:33:200:33:24

Britain had never seen anything like it.

0:33:240:33:28

Eventually, the finest of the pieces from Brighton ended up here

0:33:300:33:35

in Buckingham Palace,

0:33:350:33:36

an eccentric reminder of George's lifelong passion.

0:33:360:33:39

George IV's nursery room was decorated with Chinese latticework.

0:33:420:33:46

So it would have been one of the first things he saw

0:33:460:33:49

when he was a baby, and from then on, he was hooked.

0:33:490:33:51

As an adult, he avidly bought up exotic objects from the east

0:33:510:33:56

at a time when no-one else was really interested.

0:33:560:33:58

But people came and saw the King's collection of chinoiserie,

0:33:580:34:01

as it's called, and were suitably impressed and wanted to copy him.

0:34:010:34:05

And so, George singlehandedly sparked

0:34:050:34:07

a new wave of Oriental fashion.

0:34:070:34:10

At that time, the sovereign was

0:34:160:34:20

the apex of the world of fashion and of the aristocracy,

0:34:200:34:23

so that there wasn't this vast difference that you get today

0:34:230:34:27

with the rock stars on the one hand, the influences of Hollywood,

0:34:270:34:31

the highly-commercialised world of clothes fashion, et cetera,

0:34:310:34:35

all of which has sort of broken off

0:34:350:34:37

into different compartments these days.

0:34:370:34:40

But in those days, they were embodied in a single person, George IV,

0:34:400:34:44

and nobody has pulled off that achievement better.

0:34:440:34:47

But for every connoisseur who admired George's taste,

0:34:520:34:55

there were far more people outraged by his extravagance.

0:34:550:35:00

He took no notice, and his spending spree continued unabated.

0:35:000:35:05

Take this cabinet, for example.

0:35:110:35:13

As a statement of wealth,

0:35:130:35:15

it's the 18th-century equivalent of a Ferrari in your drive.

0:35:150:35:19

And these decorations are made from pietra dura.

0:35:190:35:21

In Italian, that means "hard stone". It's one of George's favourites.

0:35:210:35:25

And it's exactly that.

0:35:250:35:27

Brightly-coloured stones carefully crafted into three-dimensional fruit

0:35:270:35:33

so ripe and juicy, you can almost taste them.

0:35:330:35:39

And the story behind it is even more fascinating.

0:35:390:35:42

It once belonged to a famous French opera singer,

0:35:420:35:45

Marie-Josephine Laguerre.

0:35:450:35:47

She must have been a great beauty,

0:35:470:35:49

because she had an unending stream of wealthy lovers,

0:35:490:35:53

and she would ask for, and get, the most fabulous presents.

0:35:530:35:58

She died at the age of 28.

0:35:580:36:00

She had indulged in every excess. She was no doubt exhausted.

0:36:000:36:06

This cabinet is just one of dozens of French pieces

0:36:130:36:15

George IV collected.

0:36:150:36:18

He adored all things French -

0:36:180:36:20

in particular, anything that was made for the court at Versailles.

0:36:200:36:24

This curious-looking vase is one of the rarest and most delicate objects

0:36:370:36:42

George ever collected,

0:36:420:36:43

but it has a very practical purpose,

0:36:430:36:45

to solve a rather indelicate problem.

0:36:450:36:48

It's a potpourri vase,

0:36:490:36:51

in the shape of a boat, with its tall mast

0:36:510:36:55

and fragile rigging here.

0:36:550:36:58

And it was made by the fine French porcelain company Sevres

0:36:580:37:01

in the 1750s, for the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour.

0:37:010:37:05

And she probably kept it in her bedroom in the Palace of Versailles,

0:37:050:37:09

and with good reason.

0:37:090:37:10

Because if you were to step back in time to the rooms in Versailles,

0:37:100:37:14

you'd find that they... Well, they stank.

0:37:140:37:18

Sanitation left a lot to be desired, and everyone would walk around

0:37:190:37:22

with a locket filled with perfume around their necks

0:37:220:37:25

to try and mask the stench.

0:37:250:37:28

And this would be filled with sweet-smelling lavender

0:37:280:37:31

and rose petals, to try and make the palace a bit less rank.

0:37:310:37:36

George IV also commissioned art.

0:37:430:37:45

Antonio Canova was the most prolific and famous sculptor of the day,

0:37:500:37:55

especially good at heroic images of power and passion.

0:37:550:37:59

This imposing statue by Canova is supposed to show George's prowess

0:38:060:38:11

in war and in love.

0:38:110:38:13

And here you have Mars, god of war, being tamed, if you like,

0:38:130:38:19

by Venus, the goddess of love.

0:38:190:38:22

And even though it's hard marble, it looks wonderfully soft and fleshy.

0:38:220:38:28

And then just here is this beautiful tender spot, a tiny erotic space,

0:38:300:38:37

carved out between the two curves, male and female.

0:38:370:38:42

When George commissioned this, it was meant to represent

0:38:460:38:49

the pacifying victory of Britain over the warlike Napoleon.

0:38:490:38:53

But you could also read it in another way.

0:38:530:38:55

Because in Greek legend,

0:38:550:38:56

Mars and Venus had a scandalous adulterous affair,

0:38:560:38:59

and that brings its meaning rather closer to home.

0:38:590:39:03

Because by this time, George had had five mistresses

0:39:030:39:05

and a string of illegitimate children.

0:39:050:39:08

The chandeliers that light Nash's rooms were made for George IV

0:39:160:39:20

by the English glassmakers Parker and Perry.

0:39:200:39:23

They're cut from the finest leaded-glass crystal

0:39:240:39:27

to give the maximum sparkle.

0:39:270:39:29

The thing that strikes me

0:39:310:39:32

as you walk from room to room in Buckingham Palace is

0:39:320:39:35

it's just one fabulous chandelier after another.

0:39:350:39:39

And presumably, anyone coming here could be in no doubt that

0:39:390:39:43

someone who had chandeliers like this was

0:39:430:39:45

not only fabulously wealthy, but obviously very important.

0:39:450:39:48

Yes, I mean they are absolutely a status symbol,

0:39:480:39:51

the sort of peak of opulence, really.

0:39:510:39:53

I know it's a bit prosaic, but when I look at them,

0:39:530:39:56

I can't help thinking, the nightmare of cleaning them!

0:39:560:39:59

Well, it's true. They do have to be dusted,

0:39:590:40:01

so we have this cunning device.

0:40:010:40:03

I wondered if you wanted to have a go at lowering the chandelier.

0:40:030:40:06

It's very high-tech, you just have to press the button.

0:40:060:40:09

This isn't going to be

0:40:090:40:10

one of those Only Fools And Horses moments, is it?

0:40:100:40:13

CHANDELIER SQUEAKS

0:40:130:40:16

And you can see it when it moves like that,

0:40:160:40:18

you can get an idea of the shimmering light

0:40:180:40:21

and how it must have looked with candles burning.

0:40:210:40:24

Fantastic little squeaky noise. Oh, it's just stopped.

0:40:240:40:28

And will it...? Oh, there it is again!

0:40:280:40:30

And will it... It won't just keep going?

0:40:300:40:34

No, it stops just before it gets to the floor, don't worry!

0:40:340:40:36

It's very carefully organised!

0:40:360:40:38

And I presume if you were sitting underneath it as a guest,

0:40:380:40:41

occasionally you would get a little splat of hot wax on your shoulder?

0:40:410:40:45

Well, I suspect you might have done. The idea of the candle branches,

0:40:450:40:50

they have these little drip pans and they were designed to catch

0:40:500:40:53

the hot wax, but nevertheless,

0:40:530:40:55

I suspect that some ladies may have got hot wax on their lovely dresses.

0:40:550:40:58

Gosh, look! Amazing to see it at our level.

0:40:580:41:01

I know, really close up, the detail.

0:41:010:41:04

And it gives you a real idea of the size of it,

0:41:040:41:06

rather than being right up above you.

0:41:060:41:08

And just the engineering that's gone into it.

0:41:080:41:10

So you have got this style here, with the two drops

0:41:100:41:13

and then the longer drop.

0:41:130:41:14

And then you've got this sort of balloon-shaped glass. Yes.

0:41:140:41:17

And these are the bigger droplets?

0:41:170:41:19

Exactly, and then all the little saucers and everything has been cut.

0:41:190:41:22

These are little crowns at the top?

0:41:220:41:24

Yes, and I think that these arms are supposed to represent sceptres,

0:41:240:41:29

so it was obviously very specifically royal.

0:41:290:41:31

They make this amazing tinkle, as well. Yes.

0:41:310:41:35

And what came next? Was it gas?

0:41:350:41:37

A lot of the palace was converted to gas, but in fact the chandeliers, I think,

0:41:370:41:41

went straight from candles to electricity.

0:41:410:41:44

The gas light would have given off a lot of heat.

0:41:440:41:46

The candles did too, actually, and Queen Victoria,

0:41:460:41:49

quite often in her diary, she writes about some party that she has given,

0:41:490:41:52

saying, "It's terribly hot,"

0:41:520:41:54

and that was because of the candles burning.

0:41:540:41:56

The manpower involved in maintaining a chandelier like this was huge,

0:41:560:41:59

and we have descriptions of a party George IV gave,

0:41:590:42:02

describing the number of staff,

0:42:020:42:05

and he had 30 people just to keep the candles lit.

0:42:050:42:08

It's not an understatement, is it, this chandelier?

0:42:080:42:11

It's just excess in every way, but in the most beautiful taste.

0:42:110:42:15

Yes. It's very easy to laugh at George IV for gilding everything,

0:42:150:42:18

but when you see something like this

0:42:180:42:20

and you realise everything would have been flickering

0:42:200:42:23

in this amazing candlelight, it gives you an idea of

0:42:230:42:25

what he was trying to achieve in his interiors.

0:42:250:42:28

It just must have been amazing to see.

0:42:280:42:31

Building works on the palace dragged on

0:42:380:42:41

through the final years of George's reign.

0:42:410:42:43

By the time he died in 1830, costs had more than quadrupled.

0:42:450:42:49

As soon as the King was dead,

0:42:530:42:55

his ever-obedient architect John Nash was hauled before the courts

0:42:550:42:59

to explain the stupendous overspend.

0:42:590:43:02

He was eventually acquitted, but Nash,

0:43:020:43:04

who rather hoped for a knighthood,

0:43:040:43:06

found instead that his career had come to, well, a humiliating end.

0:43:060:43:12

Eventually, a reluctant Parliament paid up,

0:43:180:43:21

and building work on the palace was finished,

0:43:210:43:23

complete with a triumphal arch at the front.

0:43:230:43:26

Yet even when the young Queen Victoria moved in in 1837,

0:43:320:43:37

much of the palace was still unfurnished and uncomfortable.

0:43:370:43:41

Victoria was delighted to move into Buckingham Palace.

0:43:430:43:46

She couldn't move in fast enough.

0:43:460:43:48

In fact, she insisted on moving in before it was really ready,

0:43:480:43:51

and when she got there,

0:43:510:43:52

she found that most of the rooms were uncarpeted,

0:43:520:43:55

there was very little furniture,

0:43:550:43:56

but initially she was absolutely thrilled.

0:43:560:43:59

To her, it represented her queendom,

0:43:590:44:01

it represented authority and independence.

0:44:010:44:04

Two years after moving into the Palace,

0:44:150:44:18

Queen Victoria married her German cousin,

0:44:180:44:21

Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg Gotha.

0:44:210:44:24

And his arrival would profoundly influence the look of the Palace

0:44:240:44:29

and the tastes of the new young Queen.

0:44:290:44:31

In this room,

0:44:330:44:35

a youthful Queen Victoria and Prince Albert face each other,

0:44:350:44:39

a memorial to one of history's great royal love stories.

0:44:390:44:42

And they're both depicted in ancient Greek costume.

0:44:420:44:47

But more importantly, Queen Victoria here is not the weaker sex.

0:44:470:44:51

She's the crowned empress, while Albert is a military general.

0:44:510:44:55

And that's an accurate portrayal of their relationship,

0:44:560:44:59

because when it came to affairs of state, she was the one in charge,

0:44:590:45:02

which left poor old Albert here, certainly in the early years,

0:45:020:45:06

rather bored and frustrated.

0:45:060:45:09

What was needed was something to keep Albert busy,

0:45:110:45:16

and sorting out Buckingham Palace was just the thing.

0:45:160:45:18

Prince Albert quickly realised that

0:45:240:45:26

the Palace was in need of urgent reform.

0:45:260:45:28

Despite the extortionate amounts spent on it,

0:45:280:45:31

there were some shocking design flaws.

0:45:310:45:33

There was poor heating, bad lighting and a desperate lack of hygiene.

0:45:330:45:39

The kitchens in the basement were built without windows.

0:45:390:45:43

And then the sewers underground often flooded into the kitchens.

0:45:430:45:48

And as if that wasn't bad enough,

0:45:480:45:50

then a terrible stench would rise throughout the entire Palace.

0:45:500:45:55

Albert's plan for Buckingham Palace included new lighting,

0:46:020:46:07

new heating and new rooms.

0:46:070:46:10

Most impressive of all was a vast new ballroom.

0:46:120:46:16

Victoria and Albert loved dancing,

0:46:210:46:24

and this room was built to host entertainments on an epic scale.

0:46:240:46:28

It was the biggest room in all of Britain.

0:46:280:46:32

The original decor is now hidden

0:46:320:46:34

behind this tasteful but rather more bland white and gold.

0:46:340:46:38

But in Albert and Victoria's time,

0:46:380:46:41

it was all the colours of the rainbow.

0:46:410:46:43

The walls were lined with crimson silks

0:46:430:46:46

and there were frescoed with dancing figures all around the top.

0:46:460:46:49

You have to imagine it not as it is now, but in glorious Technicolor.

0:46:490:46:54

At the time, Albert's decorative scheme was hailed as a triumph,

0:46:590:47:04

and Buckingham Palace was called the headquarters of taste.

0:47:040:47:08

The royal couple's costume balls were legendary,

0:47:120:47:15

and some of Europe's greatest composers performed here.

0:47:150:47:18

ORGAN PLAYS

0:47:220:47:24

Well, that sounded absolutely magnificent.

0:47:370:47:41

So, that was the national anthem set to 3/4 time,

0:47:410:47:44

to the rhythm of a waltz. How did that come about?

0:47:440:47:47

That's a composition by Johann Strauss the Elder,

0:47:470:47:49

and it's a suite, which he called Homage To Queen Victoria.

0:47:490:47:53

And was she a fan? Did she like it?

0:47:530:47:55

Apparently, she did, according to her diary. She thought it was great, yes.

0:47:550:47:59

Now, the organ is here in the Ballroom,

0:47:590:48:01

but presumably when there were balls, it would be orchestras

0:48:010:48:04

that would play for the waltzes and for the dancing?

0:48:040:48:06

Yes, that's right. Queen Victoria maintained the court orchestra,

0:48:060:48:09

which was maintained to play for state occasions,

0:48:090:48:12

for dinners and banquets, investitures,

0:48:120:48:14

but also for dances, yes.

0:48:140:48:16

And she and Albert were very musical, weren't they,

0:48:160:48:18

even by the standards of the time?

0:48:180:48:20

Yes, they were. Queen Victoria, like all well-educated young ladies,

0:48:200:48:24

would've learnt to sing and play, and apparently she did so beautifully.

0:48:240:48:28

One of Victoria's favourite composers, Felix Mendelssohn,

0:48:310:48:34

would sometimes play his compositions for her

0:48:340:48:37

to sing along to.

0:48:370:48:39

HE PLAYS

0:48:410:48:42

Oh, I've missed my place!

0:48:420:48:44

HE PLAYS AGAIN

0:48:460:48:47

# How lovely are the messengers

0:48:470:48:50

# That preach us the gospel of peace

0:48:500:48:53

# How lovely are the messengers

0:48:530:48:57

# That preach us the gospel of peace

0:48:570:49:02

# The gospel of peace

0:49:020:49:04

# How lovely are the messengers

0:49:040:49:08

# That preach us the gospel of peace

0:49:080:49:11

# How lovely are the messengers

0:49:110:49:15

# That preach us the gospel of peace

0:49:150:49:17

# That preach us the gospel of peace. #

0:49:170:49:23

Perfection!

0:49:260:49:27

I wouldn't go that far!

0:49:270:49:30

This is what Victoria and Albert would do! Yes!

0:49:300:49:32

There is a lovely story about Mendelssohn coming to visit

0:49:320:49:35

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert here at Buckingham Palace,

0:49:350:49:38

and Mendelssohn sits down at the organ in the private apartments

0:49:380:49:42

and starts playing that piece,

0:49:420:49:44

and the Queen walks in in her day dress and starts joining in.

0:49:440:49:47

Mendelssohn is extremely impressed at how the Queen knows this song of his

0:49:470:49:51

and knows all the words.

0:49:510:49:53

And then he wrote home to his mother about it,

0:49:530:49:55

and says how delighted he was that the Queen sang so beautifully,

0:49:550:49:58

and then Albert sat down at the organ and started playing

0:49:580:50:02

one of his compositions, and how impressed he was

0:50:020:50:05

with Albert's ability as an organist.

0:50:050:50:07

By the late 1840s, Victoria and Albert had decided to transform

0:50:130:50:18

the front of Buckingham Palace.

0:50:180:50:20

And to make space, they dismantled the marble triumphal arch

0:50:220:50:26

and relegated it to a distant corner of a Royal Park.

0:50:260:50:30

As the cars and tourists swirl around Marble Arch

0:50:400:50:44

in their thousands, I doubt many of them realise that

0:50:440:50:47

this was once the ceremonial entrance to Buckingham Palace,

0:50:470:50:50

through which Queen Victoria would ride

0:50:500:50:52

in her splendid horse-drawn carriages.

0:50:520:50:55

When it was first moved here,

0:50:550:50:57

it was a suitably regal entrance to Hyde Park.

0:50:570:51:00

But now, surrounded by multi-lane roads,

0:51:000:51:03

it's rather forlornly marooned

0:51:030:51:05

amid the fast-food outlets and the traffic.

0:51:050:51:10

In place of the arch,

0:51:160:51:18

Victoria and Albert commissioned architect Edward Blore

0:51:180:51:21

to build a new wing right across the front of the building.

0:51:210:51:25

And at its centre was an important new feature -

0:51:260:51:30

the now-famous balcony.

0:51:300:51:34

The first royal public appearance on it was in 1853,

0:51:360:51:40

when Queen Victoria reviewed the troops

0:51:400:51:42

leaving for the Crimean War...

0:51:420:51:44

..Prince Albert at her side.

0:51:460:51:48

Just eight years later, Albert was dead.

0:51:540:51:56

Devastated, the Queen withdrew from public life.

0:51:590:52:02

She would avoid London and Buckingham Palace

0:52:030:52:06

for decades to come.

0:52:060:52:08

Buckingham Palace became almost the symbol of her dereliction of duty,

0:52:120:52:17

because, of course, she was the Queen

0:52:170:52:18

and she wasn't behaving like a queen.

0:52:180:52:21

And a notice went up on Buckingham Palace saying,

0:52:210:52:24

"These illustrious premises are for sale or let,

0:52:240:52:27

"previous occupant having retired."

0:52:270:52:29

And that's, I think, how people felt about it.

0:52:290:52:33

By the time Queen Victoria died in 1901,

0:52:410:52:46

it felt like time for a change.

0:52:460:52:49

Her son Edward certainly thought so.

0:52:490:52:51

For 40 years, the Palace had been a virtual mausoleum.

0:53:060:53:11

Edward VII openly described it as the Sepulchre.

0:53:110:53:15

Now he swept in with a force described as,

0:53:150:53:17

"Like a Viennese hussar bursting suddenly into an English vicarage".

0:53:170:53:22

Edward VII was determined to modernise Buckingham Palace.

0:53:260:53:29

I mean, for example, what Queen Victoria had never allowed were loos

0:53:290:53:34

anywhere near the public rooms of Buckingham Palace.

0:53:340:53:37

So if you were invited to a levee or an occasion there,

0:53:370:53:40

best not to have anything to drink for the first 24 hours beforehand.

0:53:400:53:44

Whereas Edward VII was a bit more sympathetic,

0:53:440:53:46

and he built, moved, and built some loos so that

0:53:460:53:49

when people came for things, they could actually use the facilities.

0:53:490:53:53

He decided to freshen things up by remodelling many of the rooms

0:53:580:54:02

in bright white and gold,

0:54:020:54:04

by then a standard colour scheme for royal palaces all over Europe.

0:54:040:54:09

The Victorian age was over.

0:54:090:54:11

But Victoria would be commemorated by an enormous marble statue of her,

0:54:160:54:22

seated in imperial splendour at the front of the Palace.

0:54:220:54:25

When her grandson George V unveiled it in 1911,

0:54:290:54:33

it's said he was so pleased,

0:54:330:54:35

he knighted the sculptor, Thomas Brock, on the spot.

0:54:350:54:38

The Queen Victoria Memorial is a tribute

0:54:430:54:45

to the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

0:54:450:54:49

Victoria herself gazes outwards from the Palace

0:54:490:54:52

she made the symbolic heart of the monarchy.

0:54:520:54:54

On the other three side are Truth, holding a mirror,

0:54:540:54:58

Justice, holding a sword,

0:54:580:55:00

and Motherhood, which looks back towards the Palace,

0:55:000:55:05

where Victoria raised her extended family.

0:55:050:55:08

And flying high above it all is the figure which represented

0:55:080:55:11

the true meaning of the Queen's name - Victory.

0:55:110:55:14

It was a celebration of the Victorian age

0:55:200:55:22

as much as it was of Victoria.

0:55:220:55:25

Of a powerful, industrialised nation,

0:55:250:55:28

and an Empire on which the sun never set.

0:55:280:55:32

The palace too was given a final facelift.

0:55:360:55:39

After decades of Victorian smog had taken their toll,

0:55:410:55:45

the front was redesigned

0:55:450:55:48

and faced in the white Portland stone we recognise today.

0:55:480:55:52

It was a symbol of national confidence,

0:55:550:55:58

and yet within months, the country would be at war.

0:55:580:56:02

World War I saw Britain changed forever,

0:56:040:56:08

but it was World War II that devastated London.

0:56:080:56:12

Buckingham Palace suffered nine direct hits by German bombers.

0:56:200:56:25

'Buckingham Palace is bombed and bombed again.

0:56:250:56:28

'The Nazis hit Their Majesties' private chapel.

0:56:320:56:35

'The King and Queen had worshiped here only a few hours earlier.

0:56:350:56:39

'All civilised people give thanks to that Their Majesties have escaped

0:56:390:56:43

'the Nazis' barbarous attack.'

0:56:430:56:45

On the 8th May, 1945,

0:56:580:57:00

Britain at last celebrated victory over Nazi Germany.

0:57:000:57:04

The focus of that moment was the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

0:57:050:57:10

And in the modern age,

0:57:320:57:33

the balcony continues to draw the eyes of the world.

0:57:330:57:36

There are few living, working palaces left in the world today.

0:57:460:57:51

And you could argue that Buckingham Palace,

0:57:510:57:53

with all its additions and alterations,

0:57:530:57:56

is not the most architecturally coherent of buildings.

0:57:560:58:00

It's a bit of a hotchpotch. But it is one of the most loved.

0:58:000:58:04

And it's the building that visitors most want to see

0:58:040:58:07

when they come to Britain.

0:58:070:58:09

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:150:58:18

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:180:58:21

The Queen has three official residences - the best known, Buckingham Palace; the oldest, Windsor Castle; and the most romantic, Palace of Holyroodhouse. Among the few working royal palaces in the world today, they serve as both family homes and as the setting for the business of Monarchy. Each has its own distinctive story - long histories that reflect good and bad times, triumph and tragedy and, of course, the lives of some of our most memorable kings and queens. But they all share certain features - incredible collections of treasures that reflect both the tastes of their occupants and the artistic development of the nation, and architecture that has evolved across the centuries to meet the needs of different ages, reflecting the story of Britain and its people like no other buildings.

Buckingham Palace may be just about the most famous building in the world, but its story is much less familiar. Fiona Bruce reveals how England's most spectacular palace emerged from a swampy backwater in just 300 years. The journey of discovery takes her from the sewers of London to the magnificent State Rooms, from a home for camels and elephants to the artistic brilliance of 18th-century Venice and from a prince's Chinese fantasy to the secret of how the palace's glittering chandeliers are cleaned today.


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