Who doesn’t know about Buckingham Palace, the centuries-old home of the British royal family? But a landmark this old is bound to have a lot of stories and secrets that aren’t common knowledge at all. Let’s grab a cup of tea and discover some splendidly fascinating facts about the Royal family’s not-so-humble abode.
1. It Rose From Unlikely Beginnings
Would you have believed that Buckingham Palace arose from a swamp? In the Middle Ages, the palace site was just marshy ground, with a small village close by. The present-day palace grounds housed part of Eia, the Manor of Ebury. Someone built a house on-site in 1624, but it burnt down, and it was empty space for the longest time…until someone saw something special in it.
2. It Was Built On A Mulberry Garden
One royal had a vision for land and claimed it when it was nothing. That would be King James I, who was the first to actually use it. He planted a mulberry garden and had the ingenious idea to keep silkworms. Sadly, he ordered the wrong type of mulberry bush: Feeding on it, the worms only produced coarse thread.
So the silk manufacturing plan was a flop, but it was on to bigger and better things anyway.
3. It Wasn’t Always Meant To Be A Palace
We’ve all heard about commoners who suddenly become royalty, but did you know that Buckingham Palace went through the same transformation? Believe it or not, it was originally just a townhouse; a luxurious one to be sure, but still. An earl built it in 1703 and named it Buckingham House when he became Duke of Buckingham.
Over 50 years later, another king would see potential in the estate.
4. It Caught A King’s Eye
George III was looking for a home in London for his wife, Queen Charlotte. He decided Buckingham House would do well for her—all because of a scandalous opportunity. The late Duke of Buckingham’s illegitimate son had taken it over after his father’s death. So, George bought it for £21,000 from the man. It became known as The Queen’s House because she loved it and spent most of her time there.
No wonder she loved it—the king and queen ended up having 14 kids there. But their story had a dark twist (more on that later).
5. Its Renovation Went Over Budget
After King George III and Queen Charlotte’s passing, the palace passed down to his son, George IV—coincidentally, their only child not born in the palace. Old Georgie thought it was time to give the palace a facelift, and he hired architect John Nash to do the honors. Nash’s plans were so extravagant that the renovation went way over budget.
They fired him, but it’s his vision that resulted in the palace that we know today. It wasn’t an easy road to get there, though.
6. It Wasn’t An Ideal Place To Live In For A While
George IV’s successor William IV had no desire to move there—and his reasons were pretty valid. The fireplaces smoked so much they were unusable, and so the palace was super cold in winter. Although his predecessor had installed gas lamps, they were a fire hazard, as they could fill the rooms with gas, which could result in an explosion!
As if those weren’t big enough problems, William found the staff was also terribly trained. He was so disgusted by the place that he tried to hand it off by offering the palace as a replacement when the Houses of Parliament burnt down in a fire. It was time for the palace to make a turnaround—and boy did it ever.
7. It Officially Became A Royal Residence
Queen Victoria was the first reigning monarch to officially declare the palace as her “official” residence in 1837. She moved in after William IV passed, without having lived in the palace at all. She was pretty disgusted by the state she found it in, and realized it needed some major changes to make it fit for a queen. There was only one person fit for the job…
8. The Queen Had It Fixed
Well, to be honest, the queen didn’t do much by way of fixing. In true boss lady style, she delegated the work…to none other than her husband. It worked out well, because Prince Albert soon had the place put to rights. From correcting design flaws to making the staff toe the line, he handled it all. And he put it to good use…
9. It Got Some Iconic Add-Ons
A couple of years after Prince Albert had put the palace to rights, he and the Queen realized it was getting a tad too cozy for them and their growing family. Enter the builders again, this time to build what is now the “public face” of the castle and the iconic balcony from which the royals acknowledge the crowds. He didn’t stop there, either.
10. It Was The Site Of Some Serious Entertainment
Royals like Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria’s successor, Edward VII, took entertaining very seriously. The former invited the best musicians to play at the palace frequently, and also held some huge costume balls. Edward VII also threw lavish parties, inviting the most fashionable and famous people of the time. But it wasn’t all glitz & glam…
11. It Housed A Temporary OT
While the palace rooms have seen their share of action, one of them has a gruesome history. It had the distinction of serving as a temporary Operation Theater for Edward VII. The monarch got peritonitis, which is a type of stomach infection. The staff converted one of the rooms so he could have his surgery there. The surgery was a success, and that wasn’t his only medical intervention there.
Edward VII is the only monarch who was both born and died at Buckingham Palace. Surprising!
12. It Survived A Major Event
Buckingham Palace did not suffer any wounds at the hands of WWI, which lasted from 1914-1918. The royal family remained in residence and only moved certain important and expensive articles to Windsor Castle for safekeeping. Did they want to remain to show solidarity with the people, or because they were certain they’d stay safe?
Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, the peril wasn’t over.
13. It Wasn’t So Lucky The Second Time
It does seem likely that the royal family stayed in the palace to show solidarity with their people, because they didn’t move when war broke out for the second time either. This time, however, they weren’t as lucky. During WWII, the Axis forces bombed the palace nine times, with the most significant being the one they dropped on the palace chapel in 1940.
It resulted in the Chapel’s destruction, but the Queen Mother’s response to the tragedy was erm…unusual. She famously declared she was glad it had happened, because now she could say she’d shared a hardship with her subjects with a clear conscience. Well, there was more to come…
14. It Could Have Gone Through Much Worse
That wasn’t the only time Buckingham Palace was under threat during WWII. At one point, a German plane was planning to fire at the main palace when a British pilot realized his intentions and rammed his own plane into it, forcing it to crash in London Victoria Station’s court instead. The pilot became a King’s Messenger afterward, and a construction company restored the palace to its original condition.
So all’s well that ends well, in this case at least. But forget war—the palace has definitely been the site of some other battles…that is, if you can manage to find anyone in there.
15. You Could Get Lost In It
The building is a staggering 830,000 square feet, with 775 rooms, and 78 bathrooms. Yikes. As if it wasn’t already going to be a challenge navigating through this space, there are 52 royal and guest bedrooms and 188 staff bedrooms. Imagine if a guest had to find their room on their own…they’d spend the whole day searching! Luckily, most of them end up in one place…
16. It Has A Magnificent Ballroom
The Royal Ballroom is the biggest room in the palace, being 36.6m long and 18m wide. It was the first room to get electricity, back in 1883. From wedding receptions to state banquets, the Grand Ballroom at Buckingham Palace sees many very important events. And remember, the monarch has the power to knight anyone she/he pleases?
Well, those ceremonies take place in the same ballroom with the Queen awarding honors, and the recipients’ families in attendance. And as we’ll see, hosting all those people is a lot of work.
17. The Event Preps Are Grand
Naturally, a dinner at Buckingham Palace means a ton of people doing a ton of work. Kitchen staff may need to prepare food for up to 3,000 people a day if a diplomatic reception is taking place. And as for table settings, well the big dinners are held in the ballroom where there is a special horseshoe seating arrangement for the guests. The lengths they go to for guests are mind-blowing.
Every guest has six drinking glasses (!) and staff puts out up to 2,000 pieces of cutlery for 170 guests. A small booklet on top of the chinaware lists the menu, seating plan, guest names, and the music that the band is to play at the event. The staff wraps the booklet in a ribbon in the visiting nation’s colors. They aren’t the only ones working hard, though…
18. It’s Garden Is A Thing Of Beauty
Covering over 39 acres of land, the gardens at Buckingham Palace are the largest private gardens in the kingdom. They feature a tennis court, lake, and even a landing strip for helicopters. The most interesting part is a large rose garden, with over 25 types of roses. And guess what—one rose was specially created for Prince William.
Its very original name? The Royal William.
19. Its Walls Contain Prehistoric Elements
Believe it or not, the palace walls contain fossils that may be up to 200 million years old. But how did they get there? Well, one of the main materials used for its construction was oolitic limestone, a type of sedimentary rock that forms around the “mineralized corpses of microscopic organisms.” If those walls could talk—or at least, communicate the way the flag does…
20. It Can Tell You When The Queen’s Away
It’s easy to know when the queen isn’t in the palace by one simple observation. If the Union Jack (England’s flag) is flying, it means she’s in one of her other residences. The public can see her own standard flying when she is in the palace itself. It seems a little sketchy, security-wise, that people always know where she is. Luckily, she’s heavily guarded.
21. Its Guards Have A Distinctive Uniform
The guards of Buckingham Palace are recognizable because of their red uniform and furry, black hats. There’s a specific reason why they wear red, and it has nothing to do with red being a sign of danger. King Charles II realized that red dye was the cheapest, so he saved himself a pretty penny by choosing to give his guards red uniforms.
It was an added advantage later when they realized that the red made the guards’ number harder to distinguish, which helped fool their enemies. The hats are also a longstanding tradition. They date back to a time when the Guard defeated Napoleon’s forces and took their hats as a trophy. And not just anyone can join their ranks…
22. It’s Picky About Hiring Guards
Henry VII was the first monarch to decide a palace needed full-time guards. Since then, the palace gates have always been in safe hands. However, not all officers can become guards. There’s actually a long process of vetting out the majority and choosing only those who’ve fought gallantly for their country.
Those on the job have to deal with brutal conditions. The guards have to remain standing for most part of the day, with only short walks to their sentry box and back every ten minutes. They do their best, but human error is a very real danger…
23. Someone Broke Into It
Despite the guards’ presence, someone managed to break into the castle during Queen Victoria’s time. Edward Jones, or “Boy Jones,” as he was popularly known, was obsessed with Queen V. He apparently got in through some unlocked doors several times, pilfered the Queen’s underwear, and even nicked some food for good measure.
They eventually shipped him off to Brazil. He wasn’t the last one to make his way in, either, but more on that later.
24. The Queen Might Change Her Residence
After Prince Philip’s recent passing, rumors have flown about the Queen and the palace. There’s a suggestion that the Queen may move out of Buckingham Palace and choose to live in one of her other residences. While the palace has made no announcements as yet, it could be likely that this is true, especially since she has spent the past year at Windsor anyway.
25. It Has Many Exits
You’ll have no trouble finding a way out of the palace unless the guards don’t want you to leave. If they don’t care, however, you’ll surely find a door to exit from, as the palace has a grand total of 1,514 doors. And if you’re the agile type, and would rather climb out a window, well, there are 760 of those to choose from too.
I’m thinking that just one window-cleaner can’t possibly keep those clean. Speaking of a clean-up crew…
26. The Suffragette Movement Used It Symbolically
In 1914, when the Suffragette Campaign was at its peak, a group of women went to extreme lengths for their cause. They tried to storm the palace gates to petition for “Votes for Women.” Two of them even chained themselves to the palace railings. Unfortunately, this act didn’t win them the vote that year, but it certainly showed people they weren’t messing around. So, we’ve heard about the uninvited guests—what about those who are invited?
27. It Sees A Lot Of Guests
Around 50,000 guests visit Buckingham Palace every year on various occasions, including banquets, receptions, and garden parties. It has naturally had its fair share of famous visitors too. From a young Mozart to Mahatma Gandhi, from Nelson Mandela to Neil Armstrong, many celebrated names have walked through its hallways—but many regular people have as well.
28. It Hosts Many Garden Parties
The Queen holds at least three garden parties in the palace lawns every year. She invites people from different backgrounds who’ve impacted their communities in a positive way. Those 8,000-10,000 people have the opportunity to chat informally with members of the Royal Family. Personally, I’d just want to go there for the food—we’ve got one craving in common.
29. Its Residents Love Sandwiches
The royals are huge fans of one shockingly humble food item. You’re sure to find it at the annual garden parties. They are such big fans of sandwiches that an average of 20,000 of them are served (and hopefully all consumed) per party. They also serve tea and cakes, in case you’re wondering. A great sandwich is a work of art—but so is what they’ve got going on behind closed doors.
30. It Has An Amazing Art Gallery
The royal art collection is one of the world’s biggest private art collections. It consists of roughly 7,000 paintings and 500,000 art pieces, valued at £10 billion at least. The paintings are by masters like Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer to name a few. One of the most famous pieces is a painting of Queen Victoria’s coronation. I wonder whose room it goes in…
31. She’s Got Roommates
Some of us grow out of having roommates in our 20s and 30s. Well, not the Queen. Apart from the Queen and her family, there are 800 staff members who live on the premises of Buckingham Palace. The more, the merrier! So, can it keep up with all these full-time residents?
32. It Has Modern Amenities
The palace is like a little town in itself. While there are plenty of rooms and bathrooms the residents can choose to use, it also has every sort of facility they may need for everyday living. These include a post office, a cinema, a police station, a health clinic, a pool, and even an ATM downstairs in the basement! That’s not all that’s down there, either.
33. It May Have Secret Tunnels
It isn’t certain, but many believe that the palace has a series of secret underground passages and tunnels. One rumor is that some of these connect it to the Houses of the Parliament. Legend has it that George VI and the Queen Mother were exploring one of the tunnels and ran across a man from Newcastle who had been living in one of them. As long as there are no camera crews…
34. It Doesn’t Figure On TV Shows
One of the most famous shows about the Royal Family these days is The Crown on Netflix. Although the show is about the life of Elizabeth II and her reign, it has never been filmed at the actual location itself. I have a feeling the Royals wouldn’t be too happy if the cast and crew suddenly decided to show up there either. However, there are some exceptions when it comes to welcoming outside organizations.
35. It Was A Girl Guide Company Headquarters
Buckingham Palace has even been a Girl Guides Headquarters once. Before she became queen, Elizabeth II and her younger sister Princess Margaret were Girl Guides, and their company would meet at the palace. There were 30 other girls, mostly daughters of other royals or palace staff. The company ended when she became queen, but she revived it for Princess Anne.
However, it folded again once Princess Anne went to boarding school. Well, Girl Guides might have been better guests than the next bunch.
36. It Has Hosted Many US Presidents
President Woodrow Wilson was the first American president to visit Buckingham Palace. After that, it became common for every new president to make a visit to the palace. But not all of the visits have gone as planned. President Jimmy Carter was the first to break royal protocol by giving the Queen Mother a kiss on the lips.
He wasn’t the last one to do that though, most recently, President Trump and his wife broke royal protocol by shaking hands with the Queen instead of bowing/curtseying to her. Yikes.
37. It Isn’t The Queen’s
The palace doesn’t technically belong to the Queen—it is a trust and is owned by the Crown Estates. Well, as a renter, I guess I’m in good company!
38. It Has A Designated Clockmaker
The Palace’s clockmaker has an important job. He makes sure all 350 clocks and watches in the palace are running smoothly. And he isn’t alone in this job, two horological conservators also visit the palace every week to wind up the clocks. Wow, who would’ve thought that was a viable career option?
39. It Has Seen Some Scandals
From loveless marriages to divorce, extramarital affairs to inappropriate costumes, Buckingham Palace has seen its share of royal scandals and then some. The latest in these, of course, is the departure of Prince Harry and his family from the royal fold. One thing is certain, there never seems to be a dull moment in the Royal Family.
40. Its Vaults Are Old
Art isn’t the only treasure they keep. Back when the palace was still Buckingham House, the Duke had vaults built underground for the safekeeping of his spirits and drinks. Supposedly those cellars now house thousands of bottles, worth around £2 million. The most prized item: A 1660 bottle of sherry, discovered when London Bridge was being built.
I imagine the Queen wouldn’t be pleased if someone dropped it!
41. Debutantes Came “Out” Here
From the time of Edward VII, young ladies made their first entry into society by “coming out” in a ball held especially for them at the palace. The ceremony included wearing full court dress, walking backward, and curtseying. Talk about putting yourself on display for a man! While less formal afternoon receptions replaced these later, the Queen ended them completely in 1958.
42. It Houses A Huge Coin Collection
A long-standing royal tradition is to give the first newly-minted coin or note to the ruling sovereign of the time. In her long time on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has received the first note/coin of British and Commonwealth currency every time it has changed. A significant part of this collection is at the palace itself.
Sounds like a coin collector’s paradise!
43. A Lot Of Mail Arrives
The Queen gets hundreds of letters each day. While it is impossible for her to go through all of them, some special ones do make their way to her and she replies to some herself as well. In a recent heartwarming instance she replied to a four-year-old child who had written to ask her over for tea.
44. The Palace Prefers To Share Information Traditionally
In other words, the Royals do not like social media and don’t use it to make any announcements. On the contrary, they prefer issuing notices or putting up posters outside to share any internal news they might want to make public.
45. If Those Walls Could Talk…
There have been five rulers (six if you count the brief rule of Edward VIII) who made Buckingham Palace their primary residence. Unsurprisingly, each has seen their fair share of scandal, tragedy, and controversy—and some of their best stories take place at the palace. Let’s dive into a few…
46. She Stormed The Gates
Edward VII’s wife endured his tragic death with dignity and grace. The same can’t be said for his much younger mistress. When Alice Keppel heard that Edward was ill, Keppel rushed to the gate of Buckingham Palace, waving a letter from Edward to gain entrance. The guards finally relented—though I’m sure when they heard what she did inside, they regretted that decision.
47. They Booted Her
Edward VII’s wife handled her husband’s end as gracefully as she could. Keppel? Not so much. Completely unable to control herself, Keppel made such a scene that even the infinitely patient Queen had had enough. The Queen muttered, “Get that woman away,” and had her guards escort Keppel out of Buckingham Palace. Hey, what can we say, Edward had a certain effect on the ladies!
48. She Kept Waiting
Imagine life in Buckingham Palace during the time of Queen Victoria. It was a golden age for the decorative arts, and the interiors were stunning—but they also housed a bizarre memento. See, Queen Victoria deeply loved her husband Prince Albert, but when he was just 42 years old, he tragically died, leaving her heartbroken. For years afterward, Victoria had a morbid way of keeping his memory alive.
She insisted that staff keep his personal rooms in Buckingham Palace prepared for him in case he somehow returned. A bowl of hot water for shaving purposes was always placed in the room, and a new change of clothes was always laid out on the bed.
49. It Went From Fairy Tale To Nightmare
Remember George III, the king who first saw potential in the Buckingham grounds and purchased them for his wife? Well, that happy moment was contrasted by an utterly dark end. Charlotte and George were living a fairy tale existence until the King slowly began to go mad. Then, her children turned against her in a vicious battle for the throne. Not exactly the most auspicious beginning to the place—here’s hoping history never repeats itself.
50. She Had No Protection
On July 9, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II woke early in the morning—and was greeted by a truly horrifying sight. Despite all the palace security, an intruder had made his way to her bedroom. She fled the room immediately, and called the palace switchboard twice for aid…but no one came. It was a terrifying incident, and it exposed major flaws in Buckingham Palace’s security system and staff.