Discover more about the Royal Family and their historic connections to yachting and the sea
Perhaps it’s because Britain once ruled the waves, perhaps it’s something to do with being at the head of an island nation, or perhaps it’s simply because they enjoy it – whatever the reason, the British Royal Family has for many generations expressed a close and personal interest in the seafaring life.
Although Princes William and Harry have chosen to join the RAF and the Army respectively, the Royal Navy nonetheless tends to be the go-to service of choice for Royals, and their interest in boating stretches far beyond the confines of their careers.
Yachting is in the royal blood. Indeed, it was the English Royal Family who arguably popularised the sport and made it what it is today. More or less every English monarch from Henry VIII onwards has taken great pride in commissioning and using royal boats – either for war or for peace.
Although royal maritime ventures have not always ended well, Henry I’s son and heir to the throne died in a shipwreck in 1120, the connection between British royals and the sea has always remained strong.
The first official royal yachts were commissioned by Charles II, known for his keen enjoyment of the finer things in life, and the tradition has gone from strength to strength since his day. The renowned yacht club at Cowes on the Isle of Wight was patronized by the Prince Regent, rendering it the Royal Yacht Club when he became King in 1820.
The son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert was also a big fan of yachting, and brought yacht racing to public prominence when he engaged in several high-profile races with other members of the yachting fraternity. His parents were more sedate, but not immune to the charms of the sea.
Royal yacht Britannia was preceded by the Victoria and Albert III, which was itself the last in a succession of yachts built to give Queen Victoria and Albert the opportunity to cruise around their burgeoning empire.
The Queen’s best known maritime ventures have involved the Royal Yacht Britannia, which carried Her Majesty more than a million miles all told before being decommissioned in 1997. The yacht is now one of Edinburgh’s major tourist attractions, often used for prestigious state events and soirees.
Her Majesty’s evident love for her yacht can be easily seen in the care she insisted be taken of Britannia on her journeys, in the dedication and attention to detail apparent within her fixtures and fittings, and the Queen’s concern that the yacht be found a suitable resting place.
However, the Queen’s interest in boats does not merely extend to her own crafts. She is ‘godmother’ to several prominent cruise ships, including one named after herself, and a second Britannia.
The Royal Navy
The Royal Family also seems to have an inordinately close relationship with the Royal Navy. Although they ostensibly head up every section of the UK’s armed forces, it is the Royal Navy to whom they tend to devote their personal services.
The Navy has, of course, historically been very important culturally to Britain – but whether this cultural importance caused the royal interest in the service or vice versa is something of a moot point.
Whatever the reason, it is certain that many members of the Royal Family have served in the Navy, and taken from their time in the force a love of ships and the sea.
George V was a naval officer – a career which he only abandoned reluctantly when he was unexpectedly called to the throne. His son, George VI, served aboard HMS Collingwood. The Duke of Edinburgh was a dedicated naval man, serving during WW2 and sticking with the Navy for several years into peacetime. He still proudly wears his naval regalia for public events, with his sons, the current Prince Of Wales and Duke of York both following their father to sea.
Article by Gemma Bayley