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Exhibition

Queen and Commonwealth: The Royal Tour

The Queen in Montserrat, West Indies

Buckingham Palace

  • Daily (Saturday, 25 Jul 2009 - Wednesday, 30 Sep 2009)

Queen & Commonwealth: The Royal Tour brought together twenty-seven dresses worn by Her Majesty on Commonwealth tours over the past six decades, including evening gowns and daywear by the royal couturiers Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies and Ian Thomas. The exhibition included over 100 gifts presented to The Queen by the people of the Commonwealth, to mark the important principle of friendship that underlies Her Majesty’s visits.  These were set against a backdrop of archive material, photographs and film footage.

In 1952 The Queen assumed the role of Head of a Commonwealth from her late father King George VI, the first monarch to hold the title. The Commonwealth was then an association of just eight members. Today there are 53. Her Majesty has always attached considerable importance to this role and at the time of her accession said: ‘The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past.  It is an entirely new conception built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty, and the desire for freedom and peace. To that new conception of an equal partnership of nations and races I shall give myself heart and soul every day of my life.’

The Queen’s reign commenced with her longest ever Commonwealth tour.  This lasted from November 1953 to May 1954, encompassed the West Indies, Australasia, Asia and Africa, and covered 44,000 miles.  To mark her Silver Jubilee in 1977, The Queen visited 14 Commonwealth countries and travelled over 56,000 miles, and for the Golden Jubilee in 2002 Her Majesty visited Jamaica, Australia,
New Zealand and Canada.

For a Commonwealth tour, Her Majesty’s wardrobe is meticulously planned by The Queen’s Dresser and designers. The climate must be considered, and the colours of the fabrics should allow The Queen to be clearly visible among large crowds and, for evening wear, complement the country’s insignia.  For the 1970 tour of Australia, Norman Hartnell created a day dress and jacket of mimosa-yellow fine wool crêpe. The outfit was accompanied by a striking straw hat, designed by Simone Mirman, who had been head milliner to Schiaparelli.  Hartnell and Mirman collaborated again on an ensemble for the 1972 tour of Singapore and Malaysia.  A bright-green lightweight silk-crêpe day dress by Hartnell was worn by The Queen with a beautiful cloche hat, covered with fabric flowers.

As a compliment to the host nation, The Queen’s dresses often incorporate national colours or emblems.  At a State Dinner in Lahore during the 1961 tour of India and Pakistan, Her Majesty wore a magnificent duchesse-satin gown in ivory and emerald green, the national colours of the country.  For the 1974 tour of Australia, the designer Ian Thomas created a dress and cape of bright yellow silk-chiffon, embroidered with sprays of wattle, the national flower of Australia. On a visit  to  Canada  on  the  occasion  of  the  1976  Montreal  Olympics,  one  of  The Queen’s dresses was embroidered with stylised Olympic rings. 

Gifts to The Queen have taken many forms, from scholarships and bursaries for local people, to plants, food and animals. They are often examples of local craftsmanship and are presented in the traditional ceremonies of the indigenous peoples. The exhibition included an Aboriginal carving of a dugong by Stephen Karwulkku, totem poles from British Colombia, a whale’s tooth from Fiji, a carved wooden throne from the King of the Ashanti and a silk scarf given to The Queen by President Mandela in 1995. On the 1953 tour to New Zealand The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were presented with traditional Maori feather cloaks (Kahu Kiwi), a symbol of chieftainship. Her Majesty and His Royal Highness have worn their feather cloaks on subsequent visits to the country, notably for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990.

Occasionally, gifts are dazzling items of jewellery.  On Christmas Day 1953, the ‘Women of Auckland’ presented The Queen with a diamond and platinum brooch in the form of a leaf of the silver fern, an important national emblem in New Zealand.  In 1954 The Queen received a diamond wattle brooch from the Government and People of Australia on her first Commonwealth tour and visit to Australia. The Queen has worn the brooches on many subsequent visits to the countries.

Exhibition highlights

Sir Norman Hartnell (1901-79)

Evening gown

Sir Norman Hartnell (1901-79)

Evening gown

Map & directions

Buckingham Palace, Buckingham Gate, London, SW1A 1AA
By train

London Victoria or London Charing Cross.  Visit National Rail Enquiries for times and fares.

By underground

Victoria, Green Park, St. James's Park and Hyde Park Corner.  For further information visit the Transport for London website.

By coach / bus

Bus numbers 11, 211, C1 and C10 stop on Buckingham Palace Road.  Victoria Coach Station is a 10-minute walk from the Palace.