A History of Royal Christmases

Scroll down to find out more about how The Royal Family have celebrated Christmas over the last 1000 years.


William the Conqueror is crowned King

On Christmas Day in 1066, after defeating King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings, William I 'The Conqueror' was crowned King at Westminster Abbey.


King Stephen is born

Born Stephen of Blois in c.1095, the future King Stephen was named after St. Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity. St Stephen's day is celebrated on 26 December, known as 'Boxing Day' in the United Kingdom.

St Stephen is also mentioned in the English Christmas Carol 'Good King Wenceslas.'


Henry II builds a Winter Palace

King Henry II travelled to Ireland to spend Christmas in Dublin, where a special palace was built for the occasion.

At the huge Christmas feast, Crane's flesh was eaten in Ireland for the first time. Other delicacies included herons, peacocks, swans, and wild geese.


King John's Christmas - a poem by AA Milne

Crowned in 1199, King John's reign is infamous; heavy taxation, disputes with the Church (John was excommunicated by the Pope in 1209) and unsuccessful attempts to recover his French possessions made him unpopular. Many of his barons rebelled, and in June 1215 they forced King John to sign a peace treaty accepting their reforms.

This treaty, later known as Magna Carta, limited royal powers, defined feudal obligations between the King and the barons, and guaranteed a number of rights.


Henry III has a huge Christmas Feast

Christmas in the Middle Ages was one of the greatest feasts of the year. It was expensive to feed livestock during the winter so most were killed to be eaten.

When Henry III celebrated Christmas at Woodstock Palace, The Sheriff of Oxford supplied 30 oxen, 100 sheep, five boars, nine dozen fowl, salted venison from Wiltshire, salmon and lamprey from Gloucester, six tuns (or large wine casks) of new wine from Bristol and 13 from Northampton.


Christmas gifts in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, Christmas gifts were usually exchanged at New Year or on Twelfth Night. In 1392 the citizens of the City of London gave Richard II a one-humped camel and a pelican.


Henry IV spends Christmas at Eltham Palace

King Henry IV enjoyed spending Christmas at Eltham Palace - 10 of his 14 Christmases as King were spent at the Palace in South East London. In 1400 he welcomed the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, for a Christmas tournament at the Palace.


Richard III has a big Christmas party!

In 1484 the Medieval writer, the 'Croyland Chronicler' wrote, 'During this feast of the Nativity, far too much attention was given to dancing and gaiety' after Richard III's Christmas celebrations.


Henry VIII bans 'Boy Bishops'

Another English Christmas Tradition was to elect a 'Boy Bishop' on 6 December (the Feast of Saint Nicholas) whose authority as a Bishop would last until Holy Innocents Day (28 December). The elected boy would dress in full Bishop's regalia and perform Church services. In 1542 King Henry VIII outlawed the practice.


Elizabeth I and the Lord of Misrule

The Elizabethan tradition of the Misrule was a period of 'anarchy' where traditional rules didn't apply; men dressed as women, jesters became Kings, and servants became masters. Misrule happened during festivals such as Easter, Mayday, Whitsunday and Midsummer's Eve, but the most extravagant was after Christmas on Twelfth Night.

Someone would be elected to be the 'Lord of Misrule' to manage the festivities. In 1561 Lord Robert Dudley, a favourite of Elizabeth I, was elected as the Lord of Misrule at Inner Temple. Elizabeth I discouraged Misrule because of her disliking of the public disorder that it caused.


Christmas is cancelled

Civil war in England broke out between Charles I (Royalists) and Parliamentarians in 1642. Charles and his wife, Henrietta Maria, were deeply unpopular for a number of reasons including religion; Henrietta was a Catholic and Charles favoured High Anglican worship. Many of England's Puritans were Parliamentarians had suffered persecution. When Charles and the Royalists were defeated in 1646 the Long Parliament (which had been sitting since 1640) passed an Ordinance that abolished the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, known as the Christian festival of Pentecost. Charles was later executed in 1649 and England became a Republic.


Christmas is reinstated!

After living in exile for nine years, Charles II (eldest surviving son of executed Charles I) returned to London in 1660 and was restored to the throne. Charles II set about restoring The Monarchy and created a new set of Crown Jewels. He also reversed the legislation that prohibited religious festivals.


King George I has his first Christmas Pudding

King George I was the son of a German Duke who became King of England in 1714, when Queen Anne died without an heir. He spoke little English and did not know much about his new country. A popular, but unproven story, is that during his first Christmas in England he sampled his first traditional Christmas Plum Pudding. So strong is this myth that George gained the nickname the 'Pudding King.'


The first Christmas Tree!

Queen Charlotte, consort of King George III, is credited for introducing the Christmas tree to Britain. Christmas trees were originally a German custom and Charlotte was from the German Duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. However, these eighteenth century trees used branches of yew tree rather than the traditional fir trees that are popular today.


Princess Victoria enjoys Christmas at Kensington Palace

Princess Victoria, who would become Queen Victoria, grew up at Kensington Palace. The Princess enjoyed many Christmases at the Palace and on Christmas Eve 1832, she wrote in her journal about how the Dining Room was prepared for Christmas Day:
''There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed around the tree.'


A Christmas theft

In 1296, King Edward I deposed the Scottish King John Balliol and removed the 'Stone of Scone' from Scotland. It was taken to Westminster Abbey where it was placed below the Coronation Chair where it remained until Christmas Day in 1950, when it mysteriously vanished. In 1951 the Stone appeared at the high altar of Arbroath Abbey in Scotland and on St Andrew's Day in 1996, it was placed at Edinburgh Castle where it remains to this day.


The Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle

While Queen Charlotte first introduced the Christmas Tree to Britain in the eighteenth century, the fir-tree that we know today can be traced back to Prince Albert in the 1840s. Several images of Queen Victoria and her family gathered around the Christmas tree became popular with the public and trees soon decorated homes around the country. This photograph was taken at Windsor Castle in 1857.


Princess Alexandra receives a Christmas fan

Queen Victoria gave this fan, decorated with festive holly berries and leaves, to her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, Princess of Wales (later Queen Alexandra). The recipient’s name ‘Alix’ can be seen in the centre with a golden crown above.


Queen Mary's Dolls House gets a Christmas addition

Queen Mary's dolls house was designed and built between 1921 and 1924. As gift from the nation to Queen Mary, the doll house is now on display at Windsor Castle. Built on a scale of 1 inch to 1 foot, everything in the house works (even the plumbing) and items were made by the leading companies of the day. The library is no exception, filled with tiny books written by 170 eminent authors including, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1924 a 5cm high edition of Charles Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' was given to the library.


A Royal Christmas Card

The first Christmas cards were sent in 1923 after the introduction of the penny post. This card dates from 1929 and shows The Duke and Duchess of York (the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother) and their three-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth of York (now The Queen).


George V delivers the first Christmas broadcast

The Christmas message was started by The Queen's grandfather, King George V. King George had reigned since 1910, but it was not until 1932 that he delivered his first Christmas message. Since then, the Christmas message has evolved into an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many in Britain and around the world.


Princess Alexandra is born

Princess Alexandra, The Queen's cousin, was born on Christmas Day in 1936. She is the daughter of the late Duke and Duchess of Kent.


Pantomime's at Windsor Castle

During World War II, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, while living at The Royal Lodge, hosted pantomimes at Windsor Castle. The traditional festive performances included local children, evacuees, friends and service personnel based in the Windsor area and raised money for the Wool Fund, which which bought wool to be made into military clothing. This costume was worn by Princess Elizabeth in the 1943 performance of 'Aladdin' which was staged in the Waterloo Chamber of Windsor Castle.


The Queen's Christmas Broadcast is televised for the first time

After the death of George VI in February 1952, The Queen broadcast her first Christmas message. She spoke of carrying on the tradition passed on to her by her father and even addressed the nation at the same desk and chair used by her father and his father before him.
But five years later, the first televised message was broadcast live.


The Queen's Speech 2015

The advent of television during The Queen's reign has given an added dimension to her broadcasts, allowing viewers to see The Queen in her own residences, decorated for Christmas like many homes across the world. The location is usually Buckingham Palace, but recordings have also been made at Windsor and Sandringham. In 2003 the message was filmed at Combermere Barracks in Windsor - the first time the address had been shot entirely on location. Footage from the year's Royal events is often shown, enabling the public to see the highlights of the Royal year. In 2015, Her Majesty reflects on the year’s events, and encourages us to be grateful ‘for all that brings light to our lives.'


The Not Forgotten Christmas Party

The Princess Royal attended the annual Not Forgotten Christmas Party at St James's Palace. The tradition dates back to 1921. The Not Forgotten Association is a tri-service charity that provides entertainment, leisure and recreation for the serving wounded, injured or sick and ex-service men and women with disabilities.


Christmas Day for The Royal Family

The Queen and other Members of The Royal Family attend the morning service on Christmas Day at St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, a country church visited by The Queen's Great-Great Grandmother Queen Victoria, which dates back to the 16th century.

Related content

A speech by The Duke of Cambridge on Social Media and Cyberbullying, BBC Broadcasting House, London

You are creating a practical, powerful tool to help children use their smartphones and social media with confidence and with safety. I am so proud that this has sprung out of...

15 November 2018

A speech by The Duke of Cambridge at the 2018 Tusk Conservation Awards, London

Thank you Kate. Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Catherine and I are delighted to be here again at the Tusk Conservation Awards. It is always a pleasure to help celebrate...

08 November 2018

Remarks by The Prince of Wales at the British High Commissioner's Residence, Lagos, Nigeria

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Una people. Na fine Lagos people. I hail you! (Wonderful people of Lagos) How you dey? (How are you?) I am so...

07 November 2018

Commemorating the First World War

Find out more about how The Royal Family have commemorated the First World War

A speech by The Prince of Wales at the Accra International Convention Centre, Accra, Ghana

It is clear to me that the Commonwealth remains as vital today, as it has ever been. It brings us together, building bridges between our governments and our people

05 November 2018

Remembrance 2018

Find out more about how The Royal Family are marking Remembrance 2018

The Prince of Wales and The Duchess Cornwall tour of Ghana

Find out more about The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall's tour of West Africa

A speech by The Prince of Wales at the State Dinner in The Gambia

Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen As-salaam Alaykum Thank you, Mr. President, for those incredibly kind words and for gathering us all here for...

01 November 2018

A speech by The Prince of Wales at the State Welcome Ceremony in The Gambia

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen As-salaam Alaykum (Peace be upon you) Na-ngen-deff (How are you?) Al-beh-Njaadi (How are you?) Ta-na-la (How are you?)...

01 November 2018

The First World War in the Royal Archives

See items from the Royal Archives that document the Royal Family in the First World War

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a visit to Te Papaiouru Marae

E nga mana E nga reo Tena koutou katoa He mihi ki a koutou O ngati whakaue I powhiritia mai tenei ra Ka nui te aroha maua Ko taku whaiaipo No reira Tena koutou Tena koutou...

31 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a reception for young people at Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland

It’s wonderful to be at an event celebrating diversity in one of the world’s most diverse cities.

30 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a visit to Pillars, Ka Pou Whakahou

We couldn’t be happier to support such fantastic work. Kia kaha.

30 October 2018
Press release 30 October 2018

The Queen has sent a message to The King of Jordan

Read more
Press release 29 October 2018

A statement from The Duke of Cambridge

Read more

A speech ​by The Duchess of Sussex in New Zealand marking the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage

Suffrage is not simply about the right to vote but also about what that represents. The basic and fundamental human right of being able to participate in the choices for your...

28 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Closing Ceremony

And to the competitors goes the biggest thanks of all. You have once again left us humbled and inspired by your example, by your determination, by your service and by your...

27 October 2018

A speech by The Duchess of Sussex at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Closing Ceremony

​I was able to see the unshakable bonds between service men and women on the ground together, but at the same time to feel the palpable longing for family and friends while...

27 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at the Australian Geographic Society Awards

Tonight I have been so inspired by the awardees who are making such a remarkable difference in their communities

26 October 2018

A Speech by The Duke of Sussex at The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Dedication, Tupou College Forestry, Tonga

Tonga is leading by example and understands deeply the impact of environmental changes

26 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a Formal Banquet hosted by His Majesty King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau’u

Coming to Tonga I feel very much as though I am coming to visit an extended family.

25 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at The Queen's Commonwealth Canopy dedication in Fiji

It's incredibly encouraging to see how many countries have now signed up to this initiative, in my grandmother's name, to preserve forests throughout the Commonwealth

24 October 2018

The Queen's speech at The Netherlands State Banquet

Over the many hundreds of years of our shared history, there are few nations who are able to claim a closer bond

23 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a State Dinner hosted by His Excellency The President of Fiji

This visit is particularly nostalgic for us as a young married couple – my grandparents stayed in this very hotel, the Grand Pacific, a number of times over the years.

23 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at The Queen's Commonwealth Canopy Dedication on K’gari (Fraser Island)

It's wonderful to be here today on K’gari – or Fraser Island. I would first like to acknowledge the Butchulla People, the Traditional Owners of this beautiful island who care...

22 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at the Invictus Games Sydney 2018 Opening Ceremony

Hello Sydney. Hello Australia. And hello Invictus. On this day in 1973, my grandmother, The Queen stood in front of this Opera House and declared it open. Forty-five years...

20 October 2018

A speech by The Duke of Sussex at a Picnic in the Park in Dubbo

Thank you to the Mayor of Dubbo Councillor Shields, the Honourable Mr Grant, distinguished guests, and to you all for welcoming me and my wife so warmly today. And thank you...

17 October 2018

A Speech by The Duke Of Sussex at a Welcome Reception hosted by The Governor-General

G’day, Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is great to be back in Australia. And especially even more so this is my wife's first visit here, so I’m very excited to show...

17 October 2018

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex's visit to Australia, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand

Keep updated with the latest news from Their Royal Highnesses' Tour
Press release 15 October 2018

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting a baby

Read more