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Tabasco proudly advertises its royal patronage (Photograph courtesy McIlhenny Company)

All Good Things: The Dish on Royal Warrants

Since returning from England, I’ve been looking at Tabasco sauce in a whole new way. While attending the Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, I discovered the legendary condiment from Louisiana has earned the stamp of approval from Her Majesty in the form of a Royal Warrant of Appointment. (That’s right, the Queen likes a little spice.)

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The Coronation Festival was held at Buckingham Palace from July 11-14 this summer. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

While the Queen of England has used Tabasco for decades, the sauce received its Royal Warrant quite recently (in 2009).

To be eligible for the distinction, a company or individual must have supplied goods or services to the royal households for a minimum of five years. If the application is accepted, a five-year warrant is issued.

Elizabeth II isn’t the only royal who can grant this kind of recognition. The Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales can also bestow the honor to a company or craftsman. A company can hold warrants from one, two, or all three royals — as is the case with Jaguar Land Rover. (This family does love motoring around their country estates.)

Royal warrants may sound formal or old fashioned, but in reality they provide a telling snapshot of trade and industry in the U.K., where most of the warrant holders are based.

Warrants can also exert a profound influence on these sectors insofar as goods and services recognized reflect the values of the royal who grants them. For example, Prince Charles’s passion for sustainable agriculture and protecting the environment has brought pointed attention to these causes and companies that espouse them.

Being granted a royal warrant is serious business. Companies work hard to earn — and keep — their warrants, as the honor is taken to demonstrate excellence, lending prestige to the brands that hold them. This has long been the case.

“The first interaction between monarchy and industry was in 1155 when King Henry II granted a royal charter to a weaver’s company,” said Richard Peck, secretary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association, which acts as the official interface between royal grantors and the companies and craftsmen they patronize.

The modern association was formed in 1840 under Queen Victoria. By the time she died, more than 2,000 companies held warrants.

With more than 800 warrant holders today, what else does the Royal Family love? Samsung “television and audio visual products,” for one. (I can’t help imagining Queenie curled up with her Corgis and Dorgis watching the latest episode of Downton Abbey on her cutting-edge flat screen.) Baxters of Morecambe holds a warrant as “purveyor of potted shrimps,” while Swarovski gets a nod for its binoculars. Nine champagne companies hold warrants, along with companies that supply helicopter engines, carriage wheels, pest control, and fuel to the royal households.

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Fortnum & Mason, just one warrant-holding company to host a tent at the festival. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

But, with many warrant-holding companies (like Xerox, for instance) little indication is given regarding specific products or services the granting royal might actually use.

In fact, when I stopped by Penhaligon’s, a London fragrance shop that holds a warrant for being “Manufacturers of Toilet Requisites,” my inquiries were met with looks of horror. (“We could lose our warrant for that!,” one employee gasped.) And at Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly, I was told the company has “served every monarch since 1707,” but nothing more.

Still, the list of warrant holders proffers some level of insight into the personal taste and preferences of a family that remains, largely, a mystery to the general public.

Mid-July’s Coronation Festival was hosted by the Royal Warrant Holders Association to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne. The feted event, the first of its kind, happened to coincide with a heat wave. I watched with amusement as Brits, wearing their garden-party best, fanned themselves and scrambled to find shade on the palace grounds.

The Queen had invited many of her favorite purveyors into her own backyard for the occasion. More than 200 warrant holders hosted marquees at the celebration to highlight six decades of innovation and tradition and give festival-goers a chance to sample royal wares.

After perusing the exhibitors, I found a spot of shade where I could enjoy a Pimm’s (a warrant holder, naturally!) cocktail, gape at Buckingham Palace, and let my mind wander (What would I have worn to the royal wedding reception?). And while this grand celebration of all things fit for a queen let Elizabeth II’s subjects in on some of her family’s secrets, the royal mystery remained fabulously intact.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her on Twitter @anniefitz.