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The Queen’s Maritime Palace: the Monarchy and Naval Diplomacy at Osborne, c. 1845-1890


5 Nov laughtonmain Part of King's Maritime History Seminars, 2020 - 21

Speaker: Dr Lee Butcher, English Heritage & King’s College London

Chair: Dr Alan James, War Studies Department

This paper explores the ways in which the Victorian monarchy used the royal residence of Osborne House as a means to enact and represent the institution’s role in international diplomacy.

Osborne was unique among modern royal residences for its explicitly maritime character; it was an integral part of a seascape that was central to British national, international and imperial maritime life. The residence is visible from ships passing through the Solent and commands impressive views not only of that vital waterway, but also of the Royal Navy’s headquarters at Portsmouth. Though historians have highlighted the prominence of this seascape in the emergence of naval diplomacy and culture in the final decades of the nineteenth century, the role of Osborne has been curiously neglected.

This paper will argue that Osborne not only predated the emergence of these movements, it had an important role in shaping them. The development of royal naval ceremony, of naval visits to the residence, and the unavoidable presence of the monarch in this seascape, played a pivotal role in forging a distinctly naval tone to diplomatic activity from the 1840s. The monarch, from her maritime palace, set the stage and tone for what was to follow into the next century. This paper will explore the spatiality of Osborne, its place within the wider seascape, the key representational elements (art, architecture and objects), and the everyday diplomatic and maritime practices that combined to shape royal navalism during the reign of Queen Victoria.


Dr Lee Butcher recently completed an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award PhD with English Heritage and King’s College London. In it, he examined what a spatial analysis of the royal residence of Osborne House tells us about the monarchy’s roles in the national, international, and imperial public life of Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria.


This seminar is part of the long-running ‘King’s Maritime History Seminars’ hosted by the Laughton Naval History Unit (on behalf of the British Commission for Maritime History and the Society for Nautical Research)

This event will be held on Zoom, once registered access information will be emailed to you prior to the event.

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