Before there was a Buckingham Palace, there was a Buckingham House, built by the Duke of Buckingham in the early 18th century. George III bought it in 1761 as a residence for his wife, Queen Charlotte, and it became known as the Queen’s House. The royal family spent considerable and increasing time there, and it came to be known as the family’s London residence. The Green Drawing Room, known by that name today (or simply the “Green Room”), was originally the Duchess of Buckingham’s saloon, and was the largest room on the first floor (what Americans call the second floor) of the house.
Over the centuries, the room has been remade a number of times. For Queen Charlotte, large wall drawings were brought from Hampton Court Palace and the ceiling was painted. Later, the drawings were replaced, and the ceiling plastered. Doorways have been added and chimney mantles replaced. In the 1830s, green silk was used to decorate the walls.
When he was completely redesigning Buckingham House to turn it into the royal palace, John Nash kept the house structure and then added two wings. Eventually, a fourth wing was added, making the familiar “square around the central courtyard” design that’s known today.
The last time the Green Drawing was redecorated was 1949. It is one of the official state rooms that’s included on the public tour of the palace. Its walls are decorated with green and gold silk wallpaper (replaced every 30 years) and highlighted by white and gold plasterwork. The doorway at one end leads directly to the Throne Room; the Green Drawing Room, in fact, serves as an anteroom for the Throne Room.
In Dancing King, Michael Kent-Hughes agrees to meet with protestors, and the place selected for the meeting is the Green Drawing Room. To reach the room, the four representing the protestors would enter the building on the lower level, walk up the palace stairs, and then arrive at the Green Room. A table and chairs have been placed in the room for the meeting. Michael is waiting and introduces himself as he shakes their hands.
Once all are seated, what the protestors would have seen would be Michael with the doors open to the Throne Room behind him – a reminder of his position. He meets them as petitioners, and he firmly rejects their demands. One demand he finds particularly problematic and objectionable – and that is that he change the coronation oath to style himself “defender of the faiths.”
I had an original source for that demand – Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne. Almost 20 years ago, Charles made a public comment about seeing himself as a “defender of the faiths,” to acknowledge all of the religions in Britain. The comment caused something of an uproar, and we can only imagine what the Queen herself, a devout Christian, thought (and said, privately). He’s tempered that sentiment somewhat in the intervening years, and now leans toward “defender of faith” or the traditional “defender of the faith.”
Michael explains to the protestors what acceding to this demand would mean – that they would be acknowledging him as the head of all religions in Britain, including Islam, and their clergy would serve at his pleasure. They’re horrified – that isn’t what they thought their demand was about.
This scene, like the one that immediately follows outside the palace, begins a theme that actually surprised me when I realized what was happening. Both scenes were written toward the end of the manuscript process and were not part of the older manuscripts written more than a decade ago.
The theme is the limits of constitutional and representative government, and what happens when that kind of government begins to falter. That theme was never part of the “original intent” of these stories, but the seeds of it can be found in A Light Shining and the sprouts in Dancing King.
Top photograph: Looking through the Green Drawing Room to the Throne Room.