Until King Edward came to the throne the Sovereign regarded Courts-then called Drawing Rooms-as so absolutely apart from any question of host and guest that no hospitality in the form of food whatever was offered to those attending.
A Feast of Colour
Since the evening Courts were instituted there have always been refreshments after the presentations have been made, and those who have partaken of the Royal hospitality speak in highly appreciative terms of the delicious food, the splendid fruit, and the famous hock-cup, the recipe for which is a secret very jealously guarded by the individual to whom it has been entrusted.
The Lord Chamberlain sends out the invitations to a State Concert, and it is understood that in all such cases an invitation is regarded as a command to be obeyed, except in such circumstances as bereavement, ill-health, or the dangerous illness of a near relation. Answers are sent without unnecessary delay and are couched in similar terms to those of the invitation.
Full dress and jewels are worn by women, and, with the exception of one man, either uniform or levee dress is worn by men. The exception is the American Minister, who wears ordinary evening dress. Men wear their orders and ribbons. The Diplomatic Body make a glittering group in the seats set apart for them, their wives and daughters. Their uniforms outshine the feminine millinery in splendour of colour and the splendour of gold and silver embroidery, to say nothing of the glittering stars and other orders. The Turkish Ambassador is a figure out of the Arabian Nights in the golden sheen of his coat and the masses of jewelled embroidery lavished on it.
When Indian rajahs attend the Concert they form a gorgeous note of colour with turbans in bright yellow, vivid green, metallic blue, orange or pure white, and afire with gems. Over their richly embroidered coats they wear wonderful jewels and sometimes necklaces of splendid pearls.
The seats in the ballroom are arranged to face the Royal dai's, and a wide space is left down the centre for the procession of the Royal Family. Everyone is seated and ready some ten minutes or so before the hour mentioned on the invitation card-and here it may be mentioned that it is very necessary to take that card to the Palace-and punctually to the moment the strains of "God Save the King" are heard, and the dazzling procession enters, preceded by the great officers of State and of the household, walking backwards. The Royalties walk in couples. Should there be a relative or guest of Royal or Imperial rank in the party, he would walk first with our Queen. If the wife of this guest were present she would walk first with our King.
The procession passed, all eyes would now be turned to the orchestra, where the "children" of the Chapel Royal St. James's catch the eye in their coats of scarlet laced with gold. The programmes are printed on large sheets of lace-edged paper, and the items are headed by the Royal Arms in their heraldic colours.
At the conclusion of the programme the Royal party rises, leaves the dais, and, forming in procession as before, passes down the room, everyone standing the while and bowing as the procession passes. This is a very pretty moment, for though the English, neither men nor women, know how to bow, yet the gradual bending of necks down the room has the effect of a breath of wind swaying the stems of wheat or barley in a field, the poppies and cornflowers, with their foliage, representing rubies, emeralds and sapphires, the dew-drops, diamonds.
Not until the last figure in the stately procession has disappeared, does anyone move. But immediately after, the whole assembly makes its way to the supper-room.
Their Majesties sup in a private room, and generally invite a few of their friends to accompany them. The corridors are filled with guests bent on food, for as midnight approaches most people grow hungry.
The Royal servants are so well trained, as may be imagined, that no one is neglected. At other balls a woman without a male escort has occasionally some difficulty in getting what she wishes; but in the Palace of the King and Queen of England no one need fear this; whether sitting at one of the tables or standing at the buffet, each individual is waited on as though none other were present.
Usually there are two State Balls and two State Concerts in every season. Hitherto anyone receiving an invitation for the first Court Ball might count on being invited to the second State Concert, or vice versa. Whether this will hold good in the present reign remains to be seen.