It was June 24, 1953. Queen Elizabeth II was traveling to Scotland for the first time as Queen. In her coronation at Westminster Abbey 22 days earlier, Elizabeth had worshiped as an Anglican in the Church of England in her coronation robes. As Queen she was now the head of two churches, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland, which was Presbyterian. Having already been crowned in England, she now traveled to St. Giles Cathedral, the Mother Church of Presbyterianism, in Edinburgh, Scotland, to receive the ancient crown of Scotland.
When she arrived at the cathedral, the Queen was surrounded by the Scottish peerage in their velvet coats and coronets. Her husband, Prince Philip, was respendently dressed in a gold-braided uniform topped off by a plumed helmet. But when the crowd gathered at the ceremony got a look at Elizabeth, their new queen, they were shocked at how ordinary she looked. They had expected her to appear in her coronation robes. Instead she wore a simple gray blue coat, black leather shoes, and a gray blue felt hat. She looked just like a commoner! The most jarring part of her outfit was the big black purse she carried in the crook of her arm.
At the altar she stepped forward while the Duke of Hamilton and Brandon knelt before her in his coronation robes to proffer the crown of Scotland on a velvet cushion with gold tassels. As she (the Queen) reached toward him, her leather handbag, which was as large as a breadbox, almost hit him in the face. He quickly moved his head to avoid getting smacked by the royal purse. (1)
Since then, the Queen is rarely photographed without her purse tucked in the crook of her arm. She carries it with her throughout the day as she moves from room to room in Buckingham Palace. All tables and her desk at the palace are equipped with special hooks on which the Queen may hang her purse so that it may never be set on the floor. She never uses a clutch or a shoulderbag. Those bags would make it awkward in official duties of shaking hands and accepting flowers.
Enquiring minds want to know: just what does Queen Elizabeth carry in that purse? As it turns out, there is more to the royal purse than its meager contents. It doubles as a signal device. When the Queen is carrying out her royal duties at some function, she uses her purse to communicate with her servants. When she shifts the bag from one arm to another, for instance, it means she’s ready to leave. When at a banquet, if the Queen sets her purse on the floor, it’s another bad sign. She finds the conversation boring and wants to escape. However, if the royal bag dangles happily from the crook of her left arm, she is happy and relaxed. (2)
One thing that can always be found inside the Queen’s purse is an S-shaped metal meat hook that she can place on the edge of a piece of furniture and hang her purse on it. She always carries a metal make-up case given to her by Prince Philip as a wedding gift. She carries a collection of good luck charms, most of them gifts from her children, including dogs, horses, saddles, and horsewhips, reports the Daily Express, and photos of her children. She is never without her mints, chocolate drops for her corgi dogs, and a crossword or two snipped from the papers by her attendants.
Majesty magazine reports that the Queen carries a comb, a handkerchief, a small gold compact and a tube of lipstick in her handbag. On Sundays, she carries paper money to place in the collection plate at church.
(1) Kelley, Kitty. The Royals. (New York: Warner Books, 1997)
(2) Dampier, Phil and Walton, Ashley. What’s In The Queen’s Handbag: And Other Royal Secrets. (Brighton, England: Book Guild, 2007)
For more on Queen Elizabeth, look in the left column under “Categories-People-Queen Elizabeth II.” I’ve written many posts on the Queen; I hope you enjoy them!