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HomeArchitectureThe Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite Palace

The Royal Yacht Britannia: A History of Queen Elizabeth II’s Favorite Palace


The christening of The Royal Yacht Britannia serves as a cheeky season opener to The Crown. Black-and-white Pathé News–style footage shows a soon-to-be-crowned Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) cheered on by shipbuilders as she launches her new 412-foot yacht. “I hope that this brand-new vessel, like your brand-new queen, will prove to be dependable and constant. Capable of weathering any storm,” she says about the royal replacement for the Victoria and Albert III. By the series’ season finale, set 44 years later, both the sovereign and the floating palace she christened Britannia will have hit rough seas—the cost of repairing the creaky old vessel and the modern role of the monarchy both in question. Ultimately, the yacht that undertook 968 official voyages all over the world, hosting dignitaries—including 13 US presidents—at receptions and banquets, was dry-docked near Edinburgh, Scotland, where it continues to be a popular tourist attraction. Here are some of the most buoyant facts about the palace the Queen famously said was “the one place where I can truly relax.”

A less-is-more aesthetic

The sun room on the Royal Yacht Britannia as photographed in 1981. 

Photo: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a nod to the country’s post-war austerity, Elizabeth scaled back the design of the ship that her father, King George VI, had commissioned just two days before he died. Rather than following the opulent plan laid out by the Scottish firm McInnes Gardner & Partners, she opted for the understated elegance envisioned by architect Sir Hugh Casson, who described “running a lawn mower over the Louis XVIl adornments” in favor of simple white walls, lilac-gray carpeting, and “a bit of gilding in grand places.” Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Phillip, were said to have personally chosen the furniture—much of it, including linens, recycled from the Victoria and Albert—fabrics (florals, chintz, toile), and paintings. 

Some things borrowed, something blue

Prince Charles and Princess Diana on board the Royal Yacht Britannia as they prepare to depart on their honeymoon cruise in 1981.

Photo: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

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