Royal Carriages—What They Represent: From Gold State Coach to Jubilee Gift

There are many traditions that the British royals keep up which may seem incongruous with modern times. Perhaps one of the most visible of these is the practice of riding around in horse-drawn carriages despite there being a fleet of state Bentleys and Rolls Royces in the garages of Buckingham Palace.

For the British royals, although carriages are no longer needed from getting to point A to B, they still possess a strong element of visual power, pomp and pageantry which is relied upon as part of their modern-day function.

Each year there are at least two official carriage processions. The primary procession traditionally takes place in early June for the Trooping of the Colour parade where the queen and members of the royal family process along The Mall in London before making an appearance on Buckingham Palace's balcony.

A second procession takes place at Royal Ascot shortly after the Trooping of the Colour. Both events are in the British summertime and the carriages used are open-air with the royals inside visible to the crowds that come to see them.

Traditionally, the queen always traveled to the state opening of parliament in a state coach with another used by Prince Charles. Since the pandemic and Charles being deputized for the queen at the 2022 opening of Parliament in May, it is unknown whether the carriage procession will return.

Royal Carriages Gold State Coach Queen
The royal mews has within its care a collection of the British monarchy's most famous carriages dating from the 1700s to 2010s including the coronation coach. The Gold State Coach photographed, 1977. And (inset) Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day, June 2, 1953. Serge Lemoine/Getty Images/Monty Fresco/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The primary collection of royal carriages is kept in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace which is open throughout the year to members of the public.

Alongside the carriages are kept a number of horses to pull them. The horses are rotated between London and the queen's other estates, where they can be properly exercised. When in London, the horses are taken on small carriage runs through St. James's Park and around the palace grounds.

One tradition that has been kept up which now keeps the horses fit and occupied, is the postal run between Buckingham Palace and St. James's Palace. This has taken place every day since 1843 and sees a horse-drawn messenger brougham carriage ferry paperwork between the residences.

The carriages are also used on average 50 times a year to transport newly appointed high commissioners (diplomats) from their London residences to Buckingham Palace where they formally present themselves to the queen.

Here, Newsweek takes a look at five of the British monarchy's most famous royal carriages:

Gold State Coach

The Gold State Coach is the oldest and most important ceremonial carriage in the royal collection. It was commissioned by King George III in 1760 and has been used at every coronation since.

The coach is ornately carved and gilded with painted panels by Giovanni Battista Cipriani. Three carved cherubs on the roof represent England, Ireland and Scotland and four tritons stand at each corner.

The coach is so heavy that it must be pulled by eight horses and, owing to its age, is a notoriously uncomfortable ride. Queen Victoria is reported to have avoided using it wherever possible, complaining of its "distressing oscillations."

Gold State Coach Buingham Palace
The Gold State Coach commissioned in 1760 for King George III has been used during the coronation of every successive monarch including Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Photographed at Buckingham Palace, May 6, 2022. Dominic Lipinski/Pool/Getty Images

Speaking in a 2018 BBC documentary titled The Coronation, Queen Elizabeth II called the coach "horrible."

"It's not meant for traveling in at all," she said. "I mean, its just not—it's only sprung on leather...not very comfortable."

The queen's father approved some modernizations for the coach in the 1940s but this did little to make it more comfortable.

Since her 1953 coronation, the queen has used the Gold State Coach on two further occasions; for her Silver Jubilee in 1977 and Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Coronation Coach George VI Elizabeth II
King George VI (L) used the Gold State Coach or his coronation, May 12, 1937. And Queen Elizabeth II used the coach at her coronation, June 2, 1953. Print Collector/Getty Images/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Glass Coach

The Glass Coach, which was built in 1881 and purchased for King George V's coronation in 1911, is one of the principal carriages in the queen's collection and has become known as a bridal coach for its use at royal weddings.

The coach was used by the queen's mother, the queen herself, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Princess Diana on their wedding days.

The glass coach has large windows which make it possible for people outside to get a good glimpse of those within.

Princess Diana Glass Coach Buckingham Palace Jubilee
The Glass Coach has been used by generations of royal brides, including Princess Diana who also used it to travel to the state opening of Parliament. Coach photographed, June 4, 1981. And Diana (inset) photographed November, 1981. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/Anwar Hussein/WireImage

Ascot Landau

The queen has five Ascot Landau carriages in her collection. These were purchased by Queen Victoria and are convertible from closed-topped to open which makes them convenient for royal events with large crowds.

The Ascot Landaus are usually kept at Windsor Castle and have, in the past, been used for the annual carriage procession at the Royal Ascot horse racing festival.

In 2018 Prince Harry and Meghan Markle used one of the Ascot Landaus after their marriage ceremony at St. George's Chapel. The couple processed through the town of Windsor and along the Long Walk leading up to the castle which allowed the gathered crowds to see the bride and groom.

Harry Meghan Ascot Landau Carriage Jubilee
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle traveled in an Ascot Landau that was originally purchased by Queen Victoria on their wedding day (inset), May 19, 2018. Carriage photographed at Buckingham Palace, May 1, 2018. Aaron Chown/WPA Pool/Getty Images/VICTORIA JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Scottish State Coach

The Scottish State Coach was originally built in 1830 for Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Cambridge. After passing through several generations of the Cambridge family, the coach was given as a gift to the queen's grandmother, Queen Mary in the 1920s.

In the 1960s, the coach underwent a complete refurbishment with large glass panels being added to the roof and new ornaments all relating to Scotland. The queen expressed a wish to have a specific state coach dedicated to Scotland and so the crown of Scotland was added to the roof and emblems of the Order of the Thistle to the doors.

The monarch first used the coach in Scotland in 1969 when she attended the opening of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Scottish State Coach Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee
The Scottish State Coach was originally made in 1830 for Queen Victoria's uncle and in the 1960s was redesigned for Queen Elizabeth II as a special carriage representing Scotland. Photographed at Buckingham Palace, May 1, 2018. And (inset) the queen riding in the carriage at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, April 29, 2011. Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty Images/Tom Stoddart/Getty Images

Diamond Jubilee State Coach

The Diamond Jubilee State Coach is the newest state coach to be built and added to the royal fleet in over 100 years.

The six-horse-drawn carriage was made by Australian craftsman Jim Frecklington and was intended to be called Britannia and given to the queen as an 80th birthday present. The project took many more years than first intended and faced some logistical roadblocks, so it was presented as a Diamond Jubilee gift in 2012 instead.

The coach is a time capsule with over 100 individual fragments of British historical interest inlaid within the design from timber originally part of Nelson's warship Victory, to a piece of a World War II Lancaster bomber.

The coach reportedly has electric windows, a heating system and hydraulic stabilizers to make the ride as smooth as possible. The coach was fist used by the queen for the state opening of parliament in 2014.

Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee State Coach
The queen was presented with a new state coach in honor of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and it has been used regularly since. Photographed, June 4, 2014. And the queen (inset) photographed in the coach, May 27, 2015. Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek's The Royal Report podcast: