Discrete signals and Clarins lipstick: the secrets of The Queen's handbag revealed

The Queen is rarely seen in public without her handbag by her side. Indeed, along with her favourite Anello and Davide block heels, it is her steadfast sartorial signature. From Sunday church visits to official engagements, private audiences and official portraits, it is rare that Her Majesty is not accompanied by her patent top handle bag. 

But despite the ubiquity of the Queen's handbag, we know very little about what she carries around with her- and the meaning behind it. Here, we take a look at what we do know...

Her Majesty’s personal bag is used as much to send secret signals to staff as it is to carry personal items. If the Queen places her handbag on the table at dinner, it signals that she wants the event to end in the next five minutes. If she puts her bag on the floor, it shows she’s not enjoying the conversation and wants to be rescued by her lady-in-waiting.

The Queen is said to own more than 200 Launer handbags. Her preferred styles are the Royale and the black patent Traviata (23cm x 20cm x 10cm). The bag has a longer handle to ease the process of handshaking. But what's does she carry round with her?

Surely the usual clutter of coins, keys and ticket stubs would be unnecessary for Her Majesty—after all, she doesn’t own a passport, has no use for bus tickets and keys aren’t particularly handy when you have a doorman at hand.

But perhaps the Queen does succumb to human needs on occasion - surely even Her Majesty can rummage around for a stray mint.

In 2012, a royal biographer disclosed that buried alongside everyday items such as a mirror and lipstick is always a crisply folded £5 note to donate to the church collection on Sundays.

The monarch’s church donation sometimes increases to £10 but apparently that is as generous a donation as she chooses to make.

Sally Bedell Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Woman Behind The Throne, claims that among the bag’s other secrets are a portable hook, which is used to hang it discreetly under tables.

Bedell Smith suggests that there is “no more familiar symbol” of the Queen than the classic Launer handbag that dangles from her left arm on public occasions from informal walkabouts to state dinners.

Her inside knowledge has been pieced together from anecdotes of those who claim to have snuck a peek inside the royal bag and ladies in waiting.

Bedell Smith, writing in The Lady magazine, disclosed that the handbag usually contains reading glasses, mint lozenges and a fountain pen, although rarely cash, except for the “precisely folded” £5 or £10 note on Sundays.

A dinner guest at the Berkshire home of Jean Wills, the Queen’s cousin, is said to have been surprised to see the Queen spitting into a plastic suction cup before attaching the hook under the table.

“I watched the Queen open her handbag and remove a white suction cup and discreetly spit into it,” the guest is quoted as saying.

“The Queen then attached the cup to the underside of the table. The cup had a hook on it, and she attached her handbag to it.”

Video: Eight things you didn't know about the Queen

Bedell Smith alleges that the most important items in the Queen's bag are a small mirror and lipstick which she has been known to apply whilst still sitting at the table.

“At the end of a luncheon or a dinner, even a banquet set with silver gilt and antique porcelain, she has the somewhat outré habit of opening her bag, pulling out a compact and reapplying her lipstick,” she writes.

“When First Lady Laura Bush made a similar cosmetic fix during a Washington ladies’ luncheon, she cheerily commented, ‘The Queen told me it was all right to do it.’”

In 2000, the Queen was spotted reapplying her lipstick at the Royal Cornwall Show and in 2014, she did the same at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The lipstick looked like Clarins, which is known as one of the Queen’s favourite brands—the make up company wouldn’t comment on her choice of lipstick, but revealed the Queen is a fan of the brand’s Hand and Nail Treatment Cream.

Bedell Smith claims that ladies-in-waiting are responsible for carrying necessities such as extra pairs of gloves, needles, thread and safety pins for emergency repairs.

However, one long-serving member of staff described the Queen as “a very practical, down-to-earth lady”.

“She needs a comb or lipstick or Kleenex, and if she hasn’t got it, what does she do?” she said.

The Queen’s handbag has often been described as her “comfort blanket”. She has been said to use it to indicate to subtlety communicate with her staff.

Does she have a mobile phone? The idea of those white-gloved hands swiping an iPhone screen sounds ridiculous, but royal biographer Penny Junor insists that she might well carry a mobile. “She does have a mobile and she speaks to her grandchildren on it,” says Junor. “I don’t know whether it’s a smartphone though.”

Another royal handbag investigator, Phil Dampier, claims that the Queen’s bag is filled with more personal items.

A collection of good luck charms given to her by her children, including miniature dogs, horses and saddles, clutter up the bag, Dampier wrote in What's In The Queen's Handbag: And Other Royal Secrets. Family photos are also tucked inside, including one of Prince Andrew on his safe return from the Falklands in 1982.

The bulk of the Queen’s clutter is carried by her ladies-in-waiting, who travel with spare tights and gloves, as well as a moist, lavender-scented cloth in case of heat.

And so the Queen’s compact leather handbag paints a fitting portrait of our monarch. Practical, discreet, and with strong family bonds—we should have known all along.

Queen Elizabeth style