Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Dinner With The Queen


Sara Caskey was married to my wife Ellen's second cousin, Louis Orville Breithaupt (Louis and Sara are pictured left on their wedding day) who was among other things was the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, Canada, the Queen's representative in the province. As a result, Sara and Louis were invited to Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1953. The day after the coronation, Sara and Louis were invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace for an intimate dinner with the new Queen - and about 300 other invited guests. Here's how Sara described the event in her 1977 reminiscences:

"As we drove through the huge iron gates and saw all the Beefeaters swarming around, I wondered if I were in a dream. The Beefeaters in their crimson and gold outfits and large black hats are the special guards of the Queen and they were everywhere.

After removing our wraps and rejoining our husbands, we ascended a large wide stairway and found ourselves in an enormous beautifully paneled Reception Room.

A number of Aides-de-camp were trying to make us feel at home.We were fortunate as two of the Aides had been Lord Alexander's while he was Governor General in Canada and we knew them.

The Queen, Prince Philip and the Queen Mother received us. Then we went directly to the dining room and I have never seen such beauty. All the rooms were gorgeous with the carved paneling and huge oil paintings but the dining room took one's breath.

The small round tables each set for ten were all around the room. The Head Table set for thirty was in the center.

There were six large gold bowls of flowers down the length of it interspersed with gold candelabra.

The room was enormous and banked here and there along the four walls from the floor eight feet high at least were bouquets of pale pink hydrangeas at the bottom. Then dozens of pale pink peonies and white stock."

"The Queen finally came in and because my table companions could not talk [Sara explained that the men to either side of her did not speak English], I could gaze at the Head Table to my heart's content as it was very close. All the Crowned Heads of Europe were seated at it.

All the cutlery, salts and peppers and all the serving dishes were of solid gold. The plates for each course were gold until we came to the dessert served on delicate china.

The Sultan to my right had difficulty serving himself and when the asparagus vinaigrette came, he just took one piece. The steward came to me next and whispered: - "Take all you want - we've got lots." It was so unexpected, I almost drop the serving utensils.

We adjourned finally to the huge Reception Rooms for coffee and visiting. I had just joined Dad [Louis Breithaupt] when the Lord Chamberlain came up and said the Queen Mother wished to speak to us. He took us over and presented us. She chatted away so naturally.

The Royal Family withdrew at 11:30. Then we were allowed to leave, not before of course. We arrived at our hotel after midnight - tired, but happy."

On a lighter note, Sara couldn't resist also recounting an encounter at the coronation dinner with a fellow invitee: "One of the other guests at the Coronation was the Queen of Tonga, a small island in the South Pacific.

The queen was at least six feet two or three inches tall, quite stout and very black. She carried herself beautifully, very erect, and every inch a queen.

I had a minute or two with her, she spoke perfect English. Someone else came up and I moved away.

The other woman asked if it were her first visit to England. The queen said it was and she liked it, and added: "Of course, I have English blood in my veins, you see my grandfather ate an English missionary."

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