5 royal secrets from a behind-the-scenes tour of Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace typically conjures up thoughts of pure glamour, elegance, and sophistication. And truly, stepping foot inside the palace, which is home to Prince Harry, his future bride Meghan Markle, Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, and more, does make you feel like you’ve walked right into a fairy tale land that requires you to look and act a certain way.
Though along the tour, which is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., you learn a few things about 18th-century royalty that will downright scandalize you.
Women often urinated on the floor at high society events.
In the 18th century, women visiting Kensington Palace would want to put their best foot forward to impress everyone in the room. And that meant donning what is known as a “Robe de Cour.” The “stiff bodied gown or straight bodied gown was the formal court wear across much of Europe, and most particularly in France, throughout the 18th century,” according to The Dreamstress. The design consisted of a boned bodice that laces up the back — though often the women were sewn in —along with a wide skirt, a separate train, and detachable sleeves.
The size of the skirts were so extreme that women would have to walk sideways to enter doorways. But that’s not all. The skirts were so big that women couldn’t use the lavatory. Instead, they were forced to call over a maid, who would crawl under their skirts and hold up a bed pan known as a “bourdaloue” for the women to use to, well, relieve themselves. But, according to our tour guide at Kensington, the maids couldn’t always make it in time, meaning women simply urinated directly on the palace floor. To be fair there isn’t much documentation around this phenomenon, other than our tour guide’s word, but we’d like to believe he was telling the truth that this was totally socially acceptable behavior.
Slathering your face with goose fat was the way to prepare for a fancy event.
Prior to big events, both women and men would slather goose fat all over their faces to, according to our guide, protect their face against the elements. This becomes all the more hilarious when you learn that their next step was to apply lead-based white makeup to look their best. And, because of the lead, many of high society’s men and women lost all their hair, including their eyebrows. So, naturally, they then applied mouse-skin eyebrows. But, because the rooms often became overwhelmingly hot thanks to the roaring fires and hundreds of people packed in, those fake eyebrows would often fall off their faces as the goose fat began to melt. Paired with the pee on the floor it must have been one delightful sight.
Guests were required to faint “properly.”
Because of those rising temperatures, heavy outfits, and goose fat-slathered faces, women would often faint at the events that went well into the night. But, because this was high society they couldn’t just fall onto the floor. Instead, women had to back their way into a corner against a wall and slide down gracefully until they hit the floor. According to our guide, women would then remain on the floor in the seated position until they felt well enough to stand. Truly graceful indeed.
Royal men were all about showing off their calves.
Sure, during the events the women likely had it much, much worse than men, but according to our Kensington guide, men too had to suffer in the name of fashion.
Back then, it was all the rage for men to sport knee-length pants that showed off their calf muscles. This way, people could admire the muscles each man built from riding and hunting all day long. But, if a man’s calves weren’t up to snuff that meant they had to wear a stuffed version. Yes, men in the 18th century would wear stockings stuffed to make their calves look larger.
Furthermore, our guide at the palace pointed out that the formalwear of the day for men came with seams running down the back of the arm, meaning they could never fold or lift their arms. How they took a drink of water, or wine, without spilling remains somewhat of a mystery. But hey, at least they didn’t have to pee themselves at the event.
Entering each room of the palace came with a price.
Like any good club, you had to pay your way into royal events at Kensington. But, according to our tour guide, the entrance fee didn’t always guarantee you an invite.
In fact, women and men would trudge through the park in their finest outfits, enter the palace gates, and wait to see if they’d be allowed in. Then, each and every room of the palace was a different fee. If you made it into the king’s parlor room it meant you were the crème de la crème of society. As previously noted, it also meant you were totally welcome to show off your calves, allow your makeup to melt off and to simply pee on the floor. Ah, to be rich, am I right?
Beyond the absurd, the tour at Kensington has a ton of history to share. Right now the palace is also hosting a special display, “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” which is a stunning look back at the princess’ remarkable life through the lens of her fashion choices. It will take you through her early years as a commoner to her last days as a world-changing public figure. But, while you’ll likely be able to get into Kensington for a tour any day you’d like, if you’re interested in the Diana exhibit make sure to book your tickets early as the display is often sold out.
And here’s a little pro tip: If you happen to be an American Express Platinum card holder you can always contact the local destination experts in the United Kingdom to help you score a ticket or two.