12/18/2012

Queen marks historic day with politics, placemats ... and penguins

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Queen Elizabeth listens to Prime Minister David Cameron speak during a cabinet meeting in the at 10 Downing Street in London on Tuesday. The Queen attended cabinet on Tuesday to mark her Diamond Jubilee. (Reuters)

It was quite a day for Queen Elizabeth, filled with history on a couple of fronts.

First, the Queen was welcomed to 10 Downing Street to attend a Cabinet meeting. That by itself was history-making, since monarchs are not usually invited to discussions among elected officials.

"We think the last time a monarch came to Cabinet was in 1781 (George III), during the American War of Independence," Prime Minister David Cameron told the assembled ministers as he welcomed Her Majesty. "But I'm happy to report that relations have improved slightly since then."

(There is some dispute about the last monarch ... some claimed it was Queen Victoria, while others note that George VI attended a War Cabinet meeting.)

After a group photo, the Queen sat in the PM's usual seat at the Cabinet table and listened in for about a half hour with her "observer" status. The gesture was meant as a simple thank-you for her Diamond Jubilee, but it was not without controversy. Constitutionally, the separation of the royals from the running of the country is not to be tampered with, but the republican hardliners were kept at bay for the most part.

Placemats"I've always viewed the Queen as kind-of the ultimate public servant," former Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell told the BBC. "You think what she's done during her Jubilee period and they just want to say thank you."

More than that, the politicians even presented the Queen with a set of Palace-inspired placemats (right), 60 in all, to mark her years on the throne. The Cabinet members also put their own money into a pot for a donation to her Jubilee charity.

Then it was off to the Foreign Office with Foreign Secretary William Hague. Their arrival coincided with the announcement that a piece -- 437,000 square kilometres actually -- of the British Antarctic Territory had been named Queen Elizabeth Land.

The previously unnamed land covers only about a third of Britain's holdings in the frozen southern hemisphere but is still twice the size of the United Kingdom. It is home to a few British Antarctic Survey research stations as well as various species of seals and penguins. It's no place for a castle, though, even in summer. The average temperature is minus-34 Celisus.

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Queen Elizabeth takes a seat at the table for the Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. (AFP/Getty Images)

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Queen Elizabeth sits in the prime minister's usual chair at the table between PM David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague during the Cabinet meeting inside 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. (AFP/Getty Images)

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The Queen listens to British Foreign Secretary William Hague announce that a 169,000-sq. mile (437,000-sq. km) section of the British Antarctic Territory has been renamed Queen Elizabeth  Land to mark the monarch's 60 years on the throne. The land is in the southern portion of the British-controlled territory. (Getty Images)

OFFICE PARTY FOR WILL AND KATE

Prince William and Kate weren't going to let a rocky start to pregnancy spoil Christmas.

DuchessThe pair were spotted at the Christmas party for their Household staff on Tuesday, with both looking fit and in good humour as they joined in a seasonal feast with about two dozen members of the staff that looks after their affairs.

Turkey and Christmas pudding were on the lunch menu, according to the Daily Mail, as the group dined in the Queen's Room at the Bumpkin in Notting Hill restaurant, a medium-priced dining experience specializing in English fare.

Kate, it should be noted, kept her liquid consumption to soft drinks.

The duchess has been resting at home since being hospitalized for acute morning sickness. She made her first public appearance in several weeks at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards on Sunday (right).

Where the Duke and Duchess will be spending Christmas has been an open question, with some suggesting they may forego the Queen's annual gathering at Sandringham in favour of being with Kate's parents in Bucklebury.


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