First: the landau. I remembered, of course, the obnoxious Mrs Elton, in Jane Austen’s Emma, boasting about her sister’s barouche-landau - which she takes every opportunity to mention (presumably because Emma doesn’t have one at Hartfield). And, at the end of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth buys Anne ‘a very pretty landaulette but I wasn’t very clear as to what a landau actually was, and how it differed from other coaches.
A Semi-State Landau
According to the O.E.D., the word dates from 1743 and comes from Landau in Germany where this four-wheeled carriage was first made. Its top is in two parts so that it can be either half or fully opened. It looks a bit like an old-fashioned perambulator. I’d always pronounced ‘landau’ as if it were German (which it was, originally) with the ‘au’ bit rhyming with ‘Frau.’ I was wrong. It’s correct pronunciation is ‘landor’.
A State Landau looks much the same as the semi-state but is more decorated. The 1902 State Landau which carried the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace after their wedding, is upholstered in crimson satin and richly ornamented in gold leaf; it has four candle-lit lanterns and is drawn by four Windsor Grey postillion horses, that is, it’s driven by postillion riders.
A postillion’s Ascot livery. Notice the riding boots.
The postillion’s state livery comprises a scarlet and gold jacket and a wig and cap. The jackets may change - they also have semi-state livery, Ascot livery and everyday dress - but they always wear white breeches and top boots.
The State Landau can hold up to four people and it’s perfect for those occasions where the occupants need to be clearly seen from three sides: two footmen, looking magnificent in their red and gold coats, sit behind the occupants.
Here I am, in a Semi-State Landau, waving
And, if you want to sit in one yourself, there is a replica Semi-State Landau in the Stable Block where you can do just that. It’s certainly comfortable to sit in but it’s probably not so much fun when moving as the floor of the landau moves both up and down and from side to side.
The second thing I learnt was the difference between a coach being ‘postillion driven’ and ‘coachman driven’.
The Glass Coach
This coach dates from 1881 and it was bought for King George V’s coronation in 1911. It is a particularly comfortable coach with excellent suspension, which must be a relief - not all of the royal coaches are so comfortable. Traditionally, it is the coach royal brides travel in to their weddings, including Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923; Princess Elizabeth in 1947; Princess Anne in 1973; and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. At least they didn’t arrive at the church door feeling sick.
You can see that there is a box richly draped with a ‘hammer cloth’ at the front for the coachman to drive the horses. His state livery is the gold and scarlet frockcoat shown above. He also wears scarlet plush knee breeches, pink silk stockings, and gold-buckled shoes, not to mention a wig and a wonderful tricorne hat with ostrich feathers. There is no seat behind for the footmen; they have to stand – though they do get to wear rather amazing hats which makes them look as if they’ve just returned from the Marlborough wars. Their job is to open the door and let down the steps for the occupants.
The Gold Coach used at the Coronation
Here the Gold Coach, the one used in the coronation; this is postillion driven. The postilion rides the leading nearside horse of a team or pair and it is he who drives the carriage. The Gold Coach actually needs eight horses to pull it, so each pair has a postillion on the nearside horse. The nearside is the pavement side so, in effect, postilion–driven coaches have a right-hand drive.
Most of the royal coaches can be either postillion-driven, or coachman-driven as the coachman’s box is removable. If there is a royal event where it’s important that the occupants are seen, then the coach’s box will be removed and the coach will be postillion-driven.
We were very lucky to have an excellent guide, Charlotte Regen, who is currently writing a book about the Royal Mews. She not only gave us the information in a lively and interesting way, she also told us the stories behind the coaches.