"The fortunate recipients of invitations to a State Ball have an opportunity of witnessing one of the most brilliant sights in the world.
The exterior of Buckingham Palace may not be ideal, but it contains some very fine apartments, and none more so than the beautiful ball-room so splendidly decorated during the first year of the late King Edward's reign.
It is correct to arrive at least a full quarter of an hour before the time indicated on the invitation card. The guests of Royalty assemble before the hosts appear, this being a reversal of ordinary etiquette. No tremor need be felt by even the least experienced, for, from the moment of arrival at the Palace until entering the ball-room, officials in brilliant uniforms, and in what seems, endless succession, marshal the guests each step of the way.
The Yeomen of the Guard, in their picturesque uniforms, line the entrance to the great marble hall, where stands an imposing array of Royal servants in blue coats laced with gold, white silk waistcoats, knee breeches and white silk stockings. More magnificent still are the Gentlemen-at-arms in full dress, their coats almost covered with handsome gold embroidery.
The ball-room was once the music-room of the Palace, and has an organ and a musicians' gallery at one end, that opposite to the Royal dais; the floor is parquet. On either side are tiers of seats for chaperons and non-dancers-the latter are numerous.
The great idea of all attending the ball is to secure a seat from which to view the Royal Family passing up the room to the dais. This is the spectacular moment of the evening. There are three others; the second when the Royal party leaves the room for supper, the third when they return, some three-quarters of an hour after, and the fourth when finally they retire. But the first appearance of the Royal host and hostess is always looked forward to with keenest interest.
On the first notes of the National Anthem the guests all stand, and then appear the Lord Chamberlain and other great officers of State, all walking backwards, and wearing magnificent uniforms. Then come the King and Queen, his Majesty in either naval or military uniform, her Majesty exquisitely gowned and wearing splendid jewels.
The benches set aside for duchesses and marchionesses are a blaze of jewels; but the most brilliant corner of the great room is that to the. left of the Royal dais, where seats are reserved for ambassadors and other members of the Diplomatic Body, their wives and daughters.
The resplendent uniforms and orders worn by the men make a blaze of colour, to which the light gowns and magnificent jewels of the ladies add even greater lustre.
Immediately on the arrival of the Royal party dancing begins. The first quadrille is always danced by Royal persons, and partners are arranged for according to precedence. After this things are less formal. Male members of the Royal party ask anyone they like to dance with them-having first been introduced or the lady presented-and etiquette forbids the lady chosen to refuse. The invitation is regarded as a command.
The programme consists chiefly of waltzes, and it is during the round dances that the scene is in its brightest effulgence. The gorgeous diplomatic uniforms, the military uniforms worn by many of the guests, mingling with the usually white or pale-tinted gowns of the women, are relieved by the quiet distinction of the levee dress which is de rigueur when uniform is not worn.
The men who are summoned by desire of the Royal ladies to dance with them feel highly honoured. They must sacrifice any previous arrangement with another partner, and there is no discourtesy in this, for, of course, it is generally known that the etiquette is such.
Their Majesties send equerries to invite to the dais any friend with whom they may wish to speak. The summons must be immediately obeyed.
The Royal party sups in a private room with any friends they may have invited to accompany them. The general company sit at round tables in the State dining-room or other rooms arranged as supplementary, or they stand at buffets. The walls of the great dining-room are in marble of different colours, as are the imposing pillars. The back of the buffet is hung with crimson cloth on which is displayed the magnificent gold plate sent up from Windsor Castle for these occasions. A marble side-table let into the wall at the other end of the room is used as a stand for a gold and silver scent fountain designed by the late Prince Consort. Flowers are everywhere, and the beautiful fruit, from the Royal gardens at Windsor and Frogmore, is the subject of much admiration.
It is contrary to etiquette for anyone to leave the palace until the Royal party has retired after supper.