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The Court Circular: The Official British Royal Diary Since 1803

Old royal traditions are fascinating which is why I write about them.

Elizabeth II carrying out a royal engagement at Windsor.

Elizabeth II carrying out a royal engagement at Windsor.

George III Appoints a Court Newsman

George III established the document that became known as the Court Circular in 1803 to stop the repeated offence of misreporting by the press of his and other members of the royal family's whereabouts.

George created the role of Court Newsman and this man was charged with telling the gentlemen of the press about the royal diary and why an engagement was being carried out. The king authorised the information before it passed to the media, as he envisaged that with the facts at hand, less fictitious reports might appear in print.

Initially, this practical solution was infrequently adopted because the king's attention was elsewhere so the Court Newsman must have spent long days doing little.

The Court Circular

When the document was produced it was circulated among the journalists hence the name of Court Circular. It carried in its tone the reverence due to monarchy according to George III's definition. There was a time lapse between the engagement date and the report being made to the press. Very often events were grouped together. This was not an accidental practice; it was imperative to ensure safety and by holding back the information until after the event or events the king reduced the risk of assassination attempts.

The Times Newspaper used the information from the Court Circular to publish reports in 1819, 1821 and 1823 but the exact date that the Court Circular became an official document with a first issue remains a mystery. From 1827 the Court Circular's details appeared daily and until the 1960's only The Times Newspaper was permitted to print its contents. In 1901 when Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria as ruler he had a coat or arms created for The Time's version of the Court Circular to add prestige.

Princess Anne, year after year she's the hardest working royal.

Princess Anne, year after year she's the hardest working royal.

Today's Court Circular

Today, the Court Circular still runs one day behind in its digital version (available since 1997) and print copy, despite the avalanche of instant social media updates and TV and radio rolling news reports.

George III's Court Newsman has been replaced by an Information Officer who works out of Buckingham Palace. The Scotsman, The Daily Telegraph and The Times newspapers receive the officer's updates. The details in the Court Circular, which is approved by Elizabeth II prior to release, are presented in a formal but user-friendly way these days and information appears in the royal order of precedence and noting the royal residence.

The Times copy is held in a volume at Buckingham Palace and this is eventually archived in the Round Tower at Windsor Castle with other historic documents. The online version of the Court Circular is available to search here:

Charles, Prince of Wales in Washington D.C. carrying out official duties.

Charles, Prince of Wales in Washington D.C. carrying out official duties.

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The Queen's engagements in the U.K. and overseas are always documented first and from each of her U.K. residences in this order: Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Sandringham, Balmoral and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Her government houses are listed next and when the queen is staying at a government house within the Commonwealth she will have this as her primary residence.

Even when they are overseas the other working royals are written about as if they are in their U.K. base. Prince Charles and Camilla's movements are issued from Clarence House, the Cambridge's events are from Kensington Palace, so too are the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester's. Details for Princess Anne, Edward and Sophie, the Earl and Countess of Wessex are released from Buckingham Palace. Although these royals have country homes, Gatcombe and Bagshot Park, their workload originates in the London royal H.Q.

Princess Alexandra and her brother Edward, the Duke of Kent's visits and patronages are listed from St. James Palace.

Buckingham Palace-Royal HQ.

Buckingham Palace-Royal HQ.

Other Important Information in the C.C.

The Court Circular notes the queen's privy council meetings, her audiences with the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, First Minister of Scotland and the Lord President of the Council.

Alongside these are royal staff appointments, the activities of the queen's Chief of the Diplomatic Core, her Lord Lieutenants and their deputies and details of royal investitures, often carried out by Prince Charles, Princess Anne or William, Duke of Cambridge on behalf of Elizabeth II. Royal departures from the U.K. to state visits are also shown.

Her Majesty, the Duke of Lancaster

When the queen travels to Lancaster, because she is the Duke of Lancaster she is listed in the Court Circular as Her Majesty, the Duke of Lancaster. She's a duke, not a duchess, thanks to Queen Victoria's stipulation that women should never hold dukedoms (it was unseemly) so presumably, the queen pretends that she is male so that she can be a duke. That's tradition for you! The Lancastrians have their own version of the national anthem.

In the Court Circular Charles and Camilla can add Duke and Duchess of Cornwall when they're in the county and in Scotland they can be listed as the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay as well as the Wales title for Charles. Wales is his highest ranking role and appears first. Camilla is never publicly called the Princess of Wales out of respect for Princess Diana (1961-1997.)

For obvious reasons, Prince Andrew is no longer a working royal and his daughters', Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, have not taken on official roles representing granny, the queen, so their activities do not normally appear in the Court Circular unless they appear at a royal event like a royal wedding or jubilee.

Although Prince and Princess Michael of Kent carry out engagements these are not often official or on behalf of the queen, unlike Alexandra and Edward's, so their actions are not routinely recorded in the Court Circular.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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