A Weekend Of Firsts At The British Embassy In Budapest

  • 20 Sep 2012 9:00 AM
A Weekend Of Firsts At The British Embassy In Budapest
Guest blog by Ian Saunders, visiting British diplomat: Last Saturday and Sunday the Embassy participated in the European Heritage Days programme in Hungary for the first time. This cultural initiative allowed the public to see inside the British Embassy and savour its interesting and historical interior. On show were the main entrance, a view of the main staircase, the Old Banking Hall and the vault (now a waiting area).

Each day and at least 45 minutes before the scheduled opening time, a long queue had formed outside the Embassy entrance as the eager and the curious waited to see the interior of the British Embassy. Many commented to me that they had walked past the Embassy, located in a prime site in central Budapest, an infinite number of times and were enthusiastic to take this opportunity to actually be inside the grand and historic building.

I gladly helped my Hungarian colleagues as we welcomed the public and answered questions as best we could. A popular question was about Her Majesty’s Government Coat of Arms. Why is it written in French? What does it signify?
CrestHere are the answers

As to why the mottoes are in French, that goes back to the Middle Ages, when England was ruled by Norman and Plantagenet dynasties whose first language was French. English didn’t come into court or official use until several centuries after 1066. A French motto was chosen rather than English because the French language had been the primary language of the English ruling classes for many centuries started with William the Conqueror of Normandy.
Dieu et mon droit (“God and my right”)

The phrase was allegedly first used as a password or a battle cry by King Richard I in 1198 at the Battle of Gisors, when he defeated the forces of Philip II of France. Its meaning was that Richard owed his royalty to no power other than God and his own heredity, and was therefore subject to no earthly power or other monarch. This can be taken as a direct reference to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings. It is said to have been first adopted as the royal motto of England by King Henry V (1413-1422).

Honi soit qui mal y pense
(“Evil to him who evil thinks” or “Shamed be he who thinks evil of it”)

It is the motto of the English chivalric Order of the Garter. This statement supposedly originated when King Edward III was dancing with his first cousin and daughter-in-law, Joan of Kent. Her garter slipped down to her ankle, causing those around her to snigger at her humiliation. In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg, saying “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, and the phrase later became the motto of the Order.

Visitors also had the chance to be photographed with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (albeit a cardboard figure) and deliver a speech from the Ambassador’s lectern.

Back to the “firsts” for the Embassy and me.

* First time the Embassy has allowed the public en masse to be inside the building.
* First time the free use of cameras has been permitted
* First time that wireless internet has been allowed inside the Embassy – I know because I was commissioned to approach visitors and get “likes” to the UK in Hungary facebook page!
* First time I have met so many architects in my life! – all inquisitive and fascinated by the magnificent interior and structure.

More details on the history of the building can be found on the Embassy website.

And finally…the attendance on Saturday was 1163 persons; the attendance on Sunday was 1163 persons! Strange but true. This has to be a very special and unique first!

Thank you to everyone who attended. If you could not make it and want to know more then you will have to visit next year!

Source: British Embassy Budapest

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