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10 Facts About Dinner with the Queen

Behind the Scenes at Windsor Castle State Banquet


10 Facts About Dinner with the Queen

Guests arrive for a State banquet at in St. George's Hall, Windsor Castle. The table can be set for 160 guests. Staff use rulers to measure each place setting so that the table will look neat in photographs or from galleries above.

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Twice a year, Queen Elizabeth II hosts a State Banquet in honor of a visiting head of state. In recent years, at least one of the banquets has been at Windsor Castle. Then President, Nicolas Sarkozy was entertained at Windsor Castle. In November 2012, the honor went to the Amir of Kuwait, making an official visit to the UK

Invited guests include politicians, high ranking clergymen, members of the diplomatic corps and others with a specific connection to the honored guest's country. If you manage to get invited, these behind the scenes facts may help you enjoy this rather theatrical occasion:

1. Windsor Castle guests dine at a massive mahogany table

The table, which seats 160 people, was made in 1846 and is composed of 68 leaves. To polish it, men in socks stand on it and push padded implements that look like croquet mallets.

2. It takes two days to lay the table

That includes setting 2,000 pieces of silver gilt cutlery and 960 glasses. With an eye for possible TV coverage from above, the position of everything on the table is measured with a tape measure. Before the meal begins, chairs are place exactly 27 inches from the table. The Queen herself makes a last minute check of the arrangement.

3. Each guest has six glasses

There's a champagne glass for the toast, a red wine and a white wine glass, a water goblet, a champagne glass for dessert and a glass for port after dinner. The glasses are from the Order of the Garter and the Coronation sets of crystal.

4. George IV's Grand Service takes three weeks to clean

The Grand Service consists of silver gilt serving pieces, platters, plates, centerpieces, candelabra and special serving utensils. There are 8,000 pieces and each one must be hand washed, dried and polished. It takes a team of eight to do it.

5. One man folds all the napkins

No big deal you may say but each of the Queen's 170 linen napkins must be folded exactly, in a shape called a Dutch Bonnet, with the Queen's hand embroidered monogram showing in exactly the same place on each one.

6. Windsor has the oldest working kitchen in Britain

No doubt the appliances, utensils and so forth are a bit more up to date than that. And nobody at Windsor Castle - staff or Royals - realised that meals were being prepared in Medieval kitchens, dating from the reign of Edward III. But when fire struck Windsor Castle in 1992, the kitchen ceilings collapsed, revealing the original, 14th century timbered ceiling.

7. There's more that's modern in St. George's Hall than you might expect

The deeply pitched, hammerbeam ceiling, for example, was designed after fire destroyed the hall. It may look Medieval but the ceiling it replaced was virtually flat. It's a completely new design made of English green oak.

8. Can you count the disgraced knights?

The walls and ceilings of St. George's Hall are covered with colorful, heraldic crests. These are the crests of each member of the Order of the Garter. Here and there you may see a blank one. Those represent members who have disgraced themselves and the order by serious crime or treason - like plotting against the monarch. There are only a few of those.

9. Even the Queen likes to show off her dishes

The first course and the meat course are served on silver gilt plates. Pudding is served on one of the Queen's many porcelain services and the fruit course is served on another porcelain service, accompanied by the port.

10. Eat up please, no time to waste

Nobody starts their meal until the hosts - the Queen and then Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh - start to eat. As soon as they are finished, and apparently neither of them mess about, their plates are cleared...and so are the guests' plates. In her book, "Barbara Bush: A Memoir" (Compare Prices), the former First Lady described sitting next to former Prime Minister Callaghan at a state banquet. As soon as the Prince was served, he began eating and then his plate was instantly whisked away. Callaghan was last to be served and Mrs. Bush said to him, "Don't put your fork down or your plate will be taken." Callaghan laughed and put his fork down and his plate was whisked away with hardly a bite touched.

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