When “Britannia” Ruled the Waves


A short bus ride from central Edinburgh, the royal yacht “Britannia” is permanently moored and efficiently packaged as a prime tourist site. It’s one of the best ways for a mere commoner to ponder British royalty, past and present.


The ship was in active use between 1954 and 1997, when the expense of maintaining it was deemed too high and the Queen had to find other ways of sailing.  In its heyday, the ship served as a floating official residence where the queen entertained heads of state. She could anchor her yacht anywhere on the globe and summon leaders to come to her.  Hardly anyone turned down the invitation. The salon above was furnished in the height of stodgy royal elegance for its time. (In their inner sanctums, do royal Brits now go in for sleek HGTV-inspired square lines and neutral colors?  I’ll have to wait for my invitation to a cozy afternoon tea with the Duchess of Cambridge to  find out).


The Queen had her own stateroom, of course, with a handy bedside desk. Visitors can peer at her twin-size bed through a window, but nobody gets to bounce on Her Majesty’s bed.


Prince Philip’s adjoining stateroom is more masculine, but less businesslike.  I’ve read that when staying at various palaces, the Prince always demanded that the personal bathroom he was to use be freshly painted a particular shade of pink, even if it was usually painted blue. (Can’t remember the source).  Onboard the “Britannia,” I think he had the exclusive use of a bathroom that no one else used, so there was never a need to pitch a fit about the color of the walls.


For onshore jaunts, a Rolls Royce was always at the ready. Who’s going to drive?  Not the Queen. A crew of 21 officers and 250 yachtsman stood ready to serve the royal family’s every whim.

There’s a lot to ponder on the Queen’s yacht.  As an American, I always wonder how Brits put up with the lavish lifestyles of royalty. But then, how do we put up with the huge income disparities that seem to get wider every day in our own country? I’m sure that in the world of yachts, the Queen’s “Britannia” does not stack up as impressive, especially nowadays.  But a visit gives a rare glimpse into royal life.  Whenever they had the chance, the royals used set off on their boat and lived life on a smaller scale than they were used to in palaces.  Clearly they enjoyed the close quarters and the more modest digs.  Clambering around the boat as a tourist somehow makes the royals seem more like ordinary mortals.  Maybe on the boat they enjoyed pretending they were more or less like the rest of us.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!



6 thoughts on “When “Britannia” Ruled the Waves

  1. Susan Abernethy

    I had dinner on the yacht in October. It was really fun seeing the bedrooms and the rather simple decor of the ship.


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