In just a few days, Sandringham will be over run with the Queen’s family for the annual Christmas visit, so we thought it’d be fun to run down what it is that the Royals get up to every year there.
Traditionally, the group included the Queen and Philip, their children and spouses, their grandchildren and now three great-grandchildren. The Queen also includes the families of Princess Margaret’s two children, Lady Sarah Chatto and Viscount Linley.
Even though Sandringham looks spacious, that’s a whole lot of bedroom to sort out. Back in 2011, the Daily Mail conjectured that some junior members of the family would be housed in staff quarters.
So let’s count ‘em down:
- The Queen
- Prince Philip
- Prince Charles
- Camilla Duchess of Cornwall
- Prince William
- Prince George
- Prince Harry
- Prince Andrew
- Princess Beatrice
- Princess Eugenie
- Prince Edward
- Sophie, Countess of Wessex
- Lady Louise
- James, Viscount Severn
- Princess Anne
- Tim Laurence
- Peter Philips
- Autumn Philips
- Savanna Philips
- Isla Philips (their daughter)
- Zara Philips (their daughter)
- Mike Tindal
- Viscount Linley
- Viscountess Linley
- Charles Armstrong Jones (their son)
- Margarita Armtrong-Jones (their daughter)
- Lady Sarah Chatto
- Daniel Chatto
- Samuel Chatto (their son)
- Arthur Chatto (their son)
Note that Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are not included in the invitation, though they were invited in the past.
The Kents are planning on spending the holiday at their home in Kensington Palace along with their new granddaughter Maude, which Princess Michael has been chatting to The Telegraph about. She’s such a piece of work it’s mesmerizing to read about her outlook on the world.
Anyway, now that the family is so large the Queen hosts an annual Christmas lunch for the extended family at Buckingham Palace as a way to get everyone together. I suspect it’s also a way to be diplomatic about the more pared down guest list.
Here’s Sophie arriving at the Christmas lunch in 2012.
The 2013 Buckingham Palace party included Prince George, who arrived in the back of the car with Kate and William along with his nannie Jessie Webb.
There’s been some speculation that Kate’s family has been invited for Christmas Day this year. I find that very hard to believe – the house is obviuously stuffed to the gills and Camilla’s family isn’t invited for Christmas Day and she’s higher up the pecking order. Once William and Kate take up residence at Amner Hall I’m guessing that the Middletons will start to spend Christmas there.
Amner Hall is only two miles away from the main house, so it would be a perfect solution, right? That way, William and Kate can easily make the trek to the great house for meals and tea time and what not which would free up a bedroom, and they’d still have time with the Middletons back at Amner.
December 23 & 24: Arrivals
The festivities traditionally begin on December 23rd, though many guests do not arrive until the 24th.You may recall that Kate, William, and Harry arrived on the 24th back in 2011, after William played in a football match.
Each of the royals are instructed to arrive at a specific time – with senior royal arriving last – to avoid any chaos. The Queen arrives via train from King’s Cross station no later than the 23rd, and usually arrives a few days earlier than that.
In 2012, she arrived on December 20th.
And she and Philip arrived on the in 2013.
At 4:00 pm on Christmas Eve it’s tea time! Everyone gathers together and finishing touches are made to the Christmas tree. I can just see Lady Louise and Viscount Severn being all over that.
In an article for The Independent back in 1999, then editor of Majesty magian Nigel Evans said,
“At Sandringham,” says Evans, “the men all have breakfast together and the women are expected to lie in bed. Then the men go off shooting all day until 4pm and the women can either follow them or do their own thing. But they nearly always spend all of their free time outside.”
The family exchanges joke gifts on Christmas Eve. The gifts are all laid out tables and are reportedly opened before dinner. One year, the Queen apparently received this awesome Billy Bass.
We have one, too and it’s awesome because it suddenly perks up and starts to sing. In 2011, it was reported that Kate gifted everyone with homemade jam and today Prince Harry was spotted buying “African curios” in South Africa so I think we know what his contribution will be.
Time to Change Clothes Again!
When Kate was on a walk about in 2011, she revealed that she had to change outfits 5 times a day at Sandringham. On a typical day that likely includes:
- A morning outfit
- A Hunting outfit
- A day dress for a post-shoot tea and the Christmas church visit.
- A cocktail dress for pre-dinner drinks
- A gown for the black tie dinner
So Much Bloody Curtseying: Keeping Track of the Order of Precedence
Then there’s the whole matter of the Order of Precedence. This is a list laid out by the Queen to essentially explain who must bow to whom when the Royal Family is together.
It so very ridiculous and silly it’s unbelievable.The royal family’s official website describes the Order of Precedence very tactfully:
“Unlike succession to the throne, which is regulated not only through descent, but also by Parliamentary statute, precedence of the Royal Family at Court is determined by both law, as well as traditions and customs. Precedence of members of the Royal Family at private events is a matter for The Queen’s discretion.
The Queen decides which members of her family are accorded the status of members of the Royal Family and also, from time to time, approves their precedence.
The Queen determines both separate precedence (for ladies and gentlemen) and also joint precedence.
Generally speaking, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a Sovereign, as well as their spouses, are members of the Royal Family. First cousins of the monarch may also be included. Children are included on coming of age or after they have completed their education.
Precedence of the Royal Family at Court does not follow the line of succession. Thus, The Duke of Edinburgh takes precedence immediately after The Queen.”
The website does not go on to list the actual Order of Precedence, but it was widely reported after Kate and William’s wedding to take the new Duchess of Cambridge into account and it’s generally not too tough to figure out. This excerpt comes from The Telegraph and does a good job explaining what’s what.
“The new rules of Court make it clear that the former Kate Middleton, when she is not accompanied by Prince William, must curtsy to the “blood princesses”, the Princess Royal, Princess Alexandra, and the daughters of the Duke of York, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
When William is with her, Kate does not need to bend the knee to either of them, but she must curtsy to the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
Despite being married to the Queen’s son, the Countess of Wessex will, however, have to curtsy to Kate, even when William is not present.
“Updating the Order of Precedence has been a simple matter of following the precedent set when the Prince of Wales married Camilla Parker Bowles,” a courtier tells me.
A document is said to have been circulated privately in the Royal Household, clarifying Kate’s status. When the Order was last updated, after Prince Charles’s second marriage, in 2005, the Countess of Wessex was reported to be upset that she now had to curtsy to Camilla. “She didn’t like it one bit,” a senior courtier was quoted as saying. The Earl of Wessex’s wife had previously been the second-highest ranking woman in the Royal family because neither of the Queen’s other sons, Charles and Prince Andrew, were married.”
Yep, things changed a lot for Sophie since she married Edward in 1999. And Princess Anne was obviously not about to curtsey to Camilla. Fascinating, no?
This video shows Kate giving Prince Philip a quick curtsey during the 2012 Trooping the Colour balcony appearance, so she clearly hadn’t seen Prince Philip prior to that. The curtsey happens at 0:11.
The day starts out with a hearty English breakfast followed by an early private service. Then they all return to the castle to change for church visit #2.
The fact that there’s an early morning church service was news to me. Kate, Beatrice and Eugenie and the rest of the family were spotted walking there on Christmas Day 2011, The ladies were in different outfits than the ones they were spotted in at the later service (also – no hats!).
As we’ve recounted in numerous posts in the past, the family walks together to St. Mary Magdalen Church for the 11 o’clock service. In recent years, the Queen has been driven to church accompanied by Sophie. This year I’m guessing that Zara will get to do the honours since she’s expecting a baby in the New Year.
Here’s a look at the lady’s fashion choices over the years if you’re in the mood:
- Sophie’s Christmas day style evolution can be found here and here
- Zara’s is a doozy and can be found here and here
- And we can’t forget the York girls! They can be found here and here
The Rest of Christmas Day
After Church, the family troops back for lunch complete with Christmas crackers and watches the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, though the Queen prefers to watch it separately. Here’s her broadcast from 1957:
Then there’s some free time before a formal dinner is served at 8:15.
The Boxing Day Shoot
Early on the 26th, the guns set off for hunting and it’s possible that the Middletons may be included.
There’s also been chatter that Cressida is invited this year.
After the Boxing Day shoot, the family begins to scatter again, but the Queen and Philip stay on at Sandringham until February.
Christmas at Sandringham for the Rest of Us
If you’re looking for a holiday rental home, why not rent one on the Sandringham Estate? This is the charming Garden House. It’s booked this year, but is available next year as of this writing.
If that’s a bit much for your taste, Christmas trees are also available for purchase at Sandringham. Check it out here.
It will be interesting to see how the traditions change and evolve when Charles becomes King. Will he want to continue the Sandringham tradition or pare things down with a smaller gathering? What do you think?
If you haven’t gotten enough yet, here are some more posts we’ve written on Christmas at Sandringham
- Diana’s First Royal Christmas at Sandringham, though she spent Christmases on the grounds as a child since she grew up in Park House which is on the estate
- A recap of the 2011 Christmas Day walk to church, when Kate stole the show