Throughout 2012, the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth are celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. We are celebrating, as well, by following Her Majesty through the rhythms of the Royal Year.
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Taking the Show On the Road
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
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THE EVENTS OF THE GREAT Diamond Jubilee weekend have come and gone, but the Queen still has many summer engagements to fulfill. In a typical year, Her Majesty’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace would come after Ascot Week and the Trooping of the Colour. This year, however, they were held in May in advance of the Jubilee weekend. Generally, there are three of these coveted afternoons in the Palace backyard. Some 8,000 guests consume gargantuan quantities of tea, sandwiches and cake. The Queen and sundry members of the Royal family go walk-about among the crowds, speaking to as many guests as possible—selected to represent a cross-section of British society.
Then, the court packs up and heads north. As June rolls into July, the Queen repairs to Edinburgh and sets up housekeeping at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a royal residence since 1128 and still the monarch’s official residence in the Scottish capital. It is Holyrood Week. Her arrival is greeted by the Ceremony of the Keys, when Edinburgh’s Lord Provost greets Her Majesty and hands over the keys to the city.
The week’s busy diary of engagements, at which Her Majesty presides, explicitly celebrates Scottish history and culture. There is always at least one gala dinner hosted by the Queen at the Palace. For that event, palace staff polish up a 3,000-piece silver banqueting service engraved with Scotland’s Royal Coat of Arms. Her Majesty also hosts another garden party on the Palace grounds in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat—and the Scottish parliament buildings just across the grounds.
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A highlight of the week is the Thistle service held at historic St. Giles Cathedral—not really a cathedral, but the High Kirk of Edinburgh—just up the street from the Palace on the Royal Mile. Founded in 1687, the Order of the Thistle is Scotland’s highest order of chivalry. Like the Garter, membership lies solely in the gift of the Queen. It recognizes those who have made significant contributions to Scotland’s national life. The appointments of new knights are announced on St. Andrew’s Day (November 30) and they are installed with due pomp and circumstance in the service at the order’s chapel at St. Giles. Prince William is among this year’s inductees. Like his grandmother, the prince will wear the dark green velvet cloak, silver chain of thistles and badge depicting St. Andrew holding his cross.
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Following Holyrood Week, the Queen returns to London for a fortnight. There are always details to wrap up, audiences and investitures to be held, and usually another garden party to host. The Queen’s heart is already in the Highlands, though, and at the end of July she returns to Scotland for a two-month summer break at Balmoral, her private residence in the mountains of Aberdeenshire—and a favorite royal retreat since Queen Victoria’s day. After the busy and undoubtedly grueling pace of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year, the Queen may be looking forward to Balmoral with even more relish than usual.