Buckingham Palace's hidden treasures, from Samurai armour to the post office

Rarely seen pieces from the priceless Royal Collection could be shown in more permanent exhibitions when Prince Charles becomes king

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With a decades-long passion for sustainability and the environment, Prince Charles is said to have been looking for ways to make Buckingham Palace work more efficiently when he takes up residence there.

Although plans to turn more areas of the building into a museum have been steadily gaining traction, it is a proposal that is said to have faced opposition from Queen Elizabeth II.

“She’s not very keen on that particular idea and believes, of course, that it should remain a family home of sorts,” a source recently told the Daily Mirror.

The wrought iron gates were thrown open in 1993, when Buckingham Palace was opened to the public for the first time and has since proved a popular destination for visitors.

Often selling out tickets months in advance, the palace helped contribute towards the £49.9 million ($65.8m) the Royal Estates generated in ticket sales between 2019-2020, according to statistics website statista.com.

The queen makes permanent move to Windsor Castle

Following the 1936 abdication by her uncle Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II's father, King George VI, became the king, while she became the heir presumptive, the family moved into Buckingham Palace, which would become her main residence for the next nine decades.

Moving to Windsor Castle in March 2020 during the height of the pandemic, the queen has since made the Berkshire castle her permanent base and will not be returning to take up full-time residence at the palace.

With Windsor Castle, along with Balmoral in Scotland, her favourite second residences, it is where her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, died in April 2021, aged 99.

“Windsor is the place she loves,” royal author Hugo Vickers told The Sunday Times. “She has her memories with Prince Philip there, she has her ponies there and family nearby. It makes sense.”

The future of Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth II has made a permanent move to Windsor Castle, while Charles, who was previously said to want to rule from Clarence House, is now making plans to call Buckingham Palace home. Photo: Joe Giddens, Stuart C. Wilson

While plans concerning succession have been in the making for a long time, the question of Buckingham Palace has often been a thorny one.

According to royal sources, Prince Charles, who would be expected to move into the palace when he becomes king, has in the past expressed disdain for “the big house”, telling courtiers he would prefer to rule from his formal London residence, Clarence House.

“I know he is no fan of ‘the big house’, as he calls the palace," a source told the Sunday Times. “He doesn’t see it as a viable future home or a house that’s fit for purpose in the modern world. He feels its upkeep, both from a cost and environmental perspective, is not sustainable.”

That said, sources recently told the Daily Mail Charles has come around to the idea that he would rule from the palace, reporting he is “firmly of the view that it’s the visible symbol of the monarchy in the nation’s capital and therefore must be his home”.

More of the Royal Collection to be made public?

A shake-up of Buckingham Palace and the 26 royal residences in the UK looks likely when Charles becomes king. Among those, perhaps plans to open up more of the palace and show more of the Royal Collection.

The collection, which features pieces owned by The Crown and also by the queen as a private individual, is made up of more than one million objects, including tapestries, furniture, ceramics, carriages, armour, jewellery, musical instruments, manuscripts, books and sculptures. That’s before the 7,000 paintings, including many Old Masters, 30,000 watercolours and drawings, about 450,000 photographs and a stamp collection valued at over £100 million.

“The Royal Collection has been formed from the private collections of monarchs over 500 years,” a Royal Collection spokeswoman told The Guardian. “It is held in trust by the Queen as sovereign, however, not as a private individual.”

While some of the Collection is on display to the public in the Picture Gallery and Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, including works by Canaletto, Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer, drawings and sketches by Leonardo da Vinci, as well as countless pieces by Faberge, the majority is not.

Displays are changed and themed over the years, but the discovery of a lost Caravaggio in a store room at Hampton Court in 2006 proves that when it comes to public access to the Royal Collection, the surface has barely been scratched.

Here are 5 items and rooms visitors might see more of if larger parts of Buckingham Palace are turned into a museum…

1. 17th-century Japanese Samurai armour

Samurai armour dating from the 1600s is among one of the most impressive collections of Japanese artefacts and art in the West. Photo: Royal Collections Trust

The Japanese collection includes armour, weaponry, porcelain and fans, and is thought to be the most comprehensive in the Western world.

One of the oldest items in the collection is the samurai armour which was sent to King James I by Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military leader who governed Japan on behalf of the imperial family.

The armour was given to the royals soon after the first contact between England and Japan had been made.

2. Twopenny Blue Mauritian stamp

The Twopenny Mauritian Blue stamp makes up part of the royal stamp collection overseen by five monarchs. Getty Images

The queen is the fifth monarch to inherit the Royal Philatelic Collection, the centrepiece of which is an extremely rare Twopenny Blue Mauritian stamp from 1847.

Valued at £2 million in a collection worth more than £100m, it was the first stamp to be issued by a colonial post office and was bought at auction by the future King George V in 1904.

3. Faberge Mosaic Egg

The Mosaic Egg by Faberge features the cameo images of the doomed Romanov children. Photo: Royal Collections Trust

The egg was made by the Russian jeweller for Tsar Nicholas II to give to his wife Tsarina Alexandra in 1914.

Made of platinum and gold, and decorated with emeralds, rubies and diamonds, it holds a cameo of the couple's five children inside. Four years later, the family would be killed by the Bolsheviks.

4. The Court Post Office

The Telegraph Room of Buckingham Palace Post Office. Shutterstock

Not all of Buckingham Palace’s rare treasures are items — some are rooms.

As well as an unseen swimming pool, cinema room, NHS doctor’s surgery and an ATM machine in the basement, Buckingham Palace also has its own post office.

The room hasn’t been seen publicly since 1948, when it was instrumental in dealing with post-wartime communications.

5. Eardley Norton astronomical clock

The Eardley Norton astronomical clock used state-of-the-art technology from the 1700s. Photo: Royal Collections Trust

Bought by George III for his dressing room at Buckingham Palace, the 1765 Eardley Norton clock was cutting-edge technology for its era.

It shows the time at 30 locations across the globe relative to Greenwich Mean Time, an orrery of the solar system, ages and phases of the moon, a year calendar, and high and low water at 32 sea ports.

Scroll through the gallery below to see Queen Elizabeth II's colour-blocking style:

Updated: March 08, 2022, 10:41 AM