A Banquet to Remember (Updated)

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Real quick, if you’re looking for a rundown of the entire day, then head over to the last post here.

Otherwise, let’s dive into this evening’s banquet, because it was quite a historic one. Not only does the occasion mark the first Spanish state visit in 30+ years, but it’s also the Duke of Edinburgh’s last banquet before retirement and Prince Harry’s first. The torch is officially being passed to the younger generation as they gear up for a full-time schedule of royal duties this year.

In contrast to King Felipe’s speech before Parliament this afternoon, in which he brought up Spain’s issues with the sovereignty of Gibraltar, tonight was all about soft diplomacy. And while remarks were made, let’s be honest, most people were talking about the tiaras. Before we hone in on the Duchess of Cambridge, let’s first take note of Queen Letizia’s diplomatic skills on this front.

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For all that her bejeweled Felipe Valera gown was red, Spain’s national color, her tiara actually belonged to Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, a British granddaughter of Queen Victoria who married King Alfonso VIII of Spain in 1906, cementing the modern familial link between the two royal houses. It was a thoughtful, subtle gesture, and one that beautifully complemented the fact that earlier today the Queen gifted Felipe with old love letters from Victoria Eugenie to Alfonso.

The Diplomatic Reception at BP is the largest event it hosts each year, including an estimated 1,000 guests, including members of the government and Church, alongside honored heads of state and ambassadors. Needless to say, it’s not only white tie, but one of the few occasions when you see everyone pull out their hardware. Tiaras aside, this is the event for family orders and military honors.

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There was some speculation that Kate might show up this year with the family order, but based on photos that doesn’t appear to be the case. Occasionally her lack of one is used as criticism, driving speculation that the Queen has somehow deemed her unworthy, particularly since the late Princess of Wales was awarded one earlier in her royal career. It’s a safe bet that’s not the reasoning and, instead, we’re likely to see her receive the honor once the Prince of Wales has ascended the throne.

As for the men – well, some men – this is an opportunity to take out the trappings of the Order of the Garter. With perfect timing, Felipe was made a member of it earlier today, thus allowing him to wear the star pin. Philip, Charles and William are already members and wear breeches for the occasion, the insignia pinned just below their left knees.

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As for some atmospheric color, per the Daily Mail:

“Guests at the Spanish state banquet dined on medallion of Scottish beef and truffles in a Madeira sauce as they gathered in the opulently decorated Buckingham Palace ballroom as the Countess of Wessex’s String Orchestra provided the musical entertainment – including curious tunes such as the theme from the Bond film Skyfall and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida.”

I’m having a hard time picturing Coldplay blaring through the Palace, however the Queen cemented her status as a Bond Girl during the 2012 Olympics, so no surprises there.

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Now, Kate: Someone apparently decided to bring their A-game when Letizia was in town. The Duchess showed up to the Palace wearing the Cambridge Lover’s Knot tiara, a known favorite of Diana that always invites comparisons. Notably, particularly for a woman who rarely splashes out on jewelry, she paired it with a diamond and ruby necklace on loan from the Queen.

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But, no, she didn’t stop there, because her gown was a pink, low-cut lace Marchesa gown, quite a statement for our darling K Midz. As you may recall, Kate debuted a Marchesa Notte dress earlier this year at an engagement, her first showing of the label. I noted at the time that while I didn’t love that look, I was generally pleased by a new brand popping up because it usually meant Kate was dipping her toe, if you will, and those labels would start to make it into the rotation. Now, here we are.

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There are actually no “official” photos of Kate tonight in which you can clearly see the dress. There are clear photos of her arriving with William in which you can see the tiara and a few of her blurred figure in the background of photos of the Queen and Letizia, but the rest of the images are unfortunately stills from video of her and the rest of the RF walking into the dining room or asides during the Queen’s remarks.

You can see here and there, however, that the gown featured a plunging neckline and back and three-quarter length bell-esque sleeves. Those features, combined with the full lace skirt, made it not only dramatic, but leant it a slightly almost Georgian feel. Well, not the neckline, granted, but something about the sleeves and the skirt’s volume and structure. It was also the most classically “princess-y” thing I think I can recall seeing Kate wear, bringing to mind playing dress up. It’s what young girls would pick if they were asked to dress a princess, and I mean that completely without criticism.

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It’s hard to give a judgment of the dress without being able to get a good look at it, but I am always for a little adventure from Kate and I love seeing Marchesa thrown into the mix. From what I can see, I think I’m a fan – fingers crossed it gets repeated in the future.

Update: A few more images were released by the Kensington Palace Twitter feed today:

As for Felipe and Letizia, while today strongly featured the Queen, Charles and their respective spouses, tomorrow will see the Duke of York, the Princess Royal and Prince Harry step up to the plate. We’ll capture it all, so do check back here when it’s all over.

Full text of the Queen’s remarks:

Your Majesty,

The Duke of Edinburgh and I are delighted to welcome you and Queen Letizia to Buckingham Palace this evening.

This State Visit is an expression of the deep respect and friendship that describes relations between Spain and the United Kingdom.  Just occasionally, a State Visit can provide an opportunity for great personal happiness also.  So it was, more than a century ago, when your great-grandfather, King Alfonso the Thirteenth, met his future wife, Princess Victoria Eugenie, the grand-daughter of our Queen Victoria, in this very ballroom.

The new Queen of Spain cemented strong ties between us, a link honoured by the service in the Royal Navy of your grandfather, Don Juan, Count of Barcelona.

Prince Philip and I recall with affection the State Visit of 1986 made by your parents, during which King Juan Carlos addressed both Houses of Parliament.  His Majesty was the first foreign monarch ever to do so, which was a tribute to his role in Spain’s transition to democracy and acknowledgment that he was a King for all Spaniards.

Your father spoke proudly about Your Majesty that day.  You had just come of age, swearing loyalty in your Parliament to the Spanish Constitution.  These years later, those duties are now yours, supporting Spain’s thriving democracy.  It is therefore altogether fitting that Your Majesty, too, has addressed our Houses of Parliament today.

The relationship between our two nations is dynamic and modern.  We are NATO allies, striving together to improve security in Europe and across the globe.  Our armed forces are currently working side by side in the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, led last year by Spain and now by the United Kingdom.  We remain deeply committed to the common defence and freedom of our countries.

There are so many facets to our shared experiences and close connections.  Indeed, the lives of our peoples themselves are more intertwined than ever before.  Thousands of Spanish students are studying at British universities, and Spanish scientists are working with British colleagues to tackle disease.  We are also significant investors in each other’s economies, with the United Kingdom being the principal European recipient of Spanish overseas investment.

A relationship like ours, founded on such great strengths and common interests, will ensure that both our nations prosper, now and in the future, whatever challenges arise.  With such a remarkable shared history, it is inevitable that there are matters on which we have not always seen eye to eye.  But the strength of our friendship has bred a resilient spirit of cooperation and goodwill.

Your Majesty, our countries are reliable partners and friends. We deeply appreciate the significant contribution that Spain continues to make to this country and assure you of our enduring friendship in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I invite you all to rise and drink a toast to Their Majesties The King and Queen, and the people of Spain.

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