Norfolk royal gifts from Russia with love

A new book and an exhibition for the summer opening of Buckingham Palace revives the astonishing story of how Sandringham's animals were modelled into majestic baubles. Ian Collins reports

Sandringham was a key centre of Edwardian England and so of Europe and the wider world. At the zenith of the British Empire the Norfolk estate hosted a procession of royalty, nobility and politicians – as well as an astonishing exercise in artistry at its most imperial.

Sandringham House had been bought for the then Prince of Wales in 1863, and he brought his Danish bride, Alexandra, here after their honeymoon. The first royal train arrived at Wolferton station that spring; and in the dying days of 1925 the body of the late queen dowager left the same rural halt for burial at Windsor.

Alexandra had been 15 years a widow, but was notoriously neglected by her philandering husband for decades before that. She came to love Sandringham more and more, where she was surrounded by her family and a huge array of faithful animals.

Alexandra remained close to her sister Dagmar – consort of Alexander III of Russia and mother of the ill-fated Nicholas II who, with his wife (another Alexandra), daughters and ailing son were very welcome guests at Sandringham.

Dagmar gave small but precious gifts to her beloved sister, and exquisite little objects from the court goldsmith and jeweller in St Petersburg made for perfect presents. Soon the recipient was an ardent collector.

But after that same canny craftsman opened an outpost in Bond Street in 1903, one queen wrote to another from Russia: 'Now that silly Faberg� has his shop in London, you have everything, and I can't send anything new, so I'm furious.'

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Now there are more than 500 pieces of Faberg� in the Royal Collection. And then there are Alexandra's particular favourites – more than 200 miniature carved animals of amazing diversity.

Many of these pieces can now be seen as part of this year's summer opening of Buckingham Palace. And a new book – Faberg�'s Animals: A Royal Farm in Miniature, by Royal Collection curator Caroline de Guitaut – reckons that more than 80 of these little gems are portraits of real-life models from Sandringham.

To read the full fascinating story see the EDP Sunday supplement in this Saturday's EDP.

Faberg�'s Animals: A Royal Farm in Miniature, by Caroline de Guitaut, can be bought from Royal Collection shops and the website at for �12.95.

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