Today we live in an age that to be invited to something will involve a text message or email, which of course is lovely to receive but what I want to know is what has happened to the old-fashioned invitations? The only invitations I see in modern times are of course wedding invitations and this new fashion of ‘save the date’. I have been lucky enough that, during my time in Royal service, I was invited to many events at Buckingham Palace and on occasions, Windsor Castle.
I will never forget receiving the command from the Lord Chamberlain inviting me to Windsor Castle for the wedding of their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.
As with all of my blogs, let's have a bit of history to this wonderful tradition. Invitations have of course been a way of inviting others into your home. This tradition has of been carried out for many centuries and would have been in the form of a letter delivered by a messenger. Wedding invitations were issued by the town crier who is a man that would walk through the streets announcing in a loud voice the news of the day and anyone within earshot became part of the celebration. Private events were delivered by the method mentioned above.
The aristocracy was known to send invitations to invite others to their social gatherings and was used in England and France in the 18th century, but this tradition would have gone back possibly another few hundred years.
Royals, Lords and Ladies, Dukes and Duchesses and similar invited other’s to their social gatherings by issuing a handwritten announcement of the event. These would be written by the lady of the house or the Secretary or possibly by the butler as it was seen as a mark of education. After the printing press was invented, the aristocracy would still hand write invitations because mass production of invitations by the printing press would be considered to be in bad taste. There would be an inner envelope which would include the invitee's names which would be sealed with a wax seal on the back containing the crest of the family who sent the invitation. The 'outer' envelope was for the protection of the invitation/letter and would have directions on it for the messenger. Once delivered the sender would wait for the response.
The printing of social invitations did not really begin until the start of the 20th century when the printing press had been accepted by the elite of society. Some people used mass production for invitations as a way to show their wealth and status. The wording they used is very similar to the wording we use today, the only difference was that they would have included the name of the guest as part of the wording.
Today, we have two kinds of invitations for formal functions which should be prepared on cards engraved in a script from a copperplate. These are formal occasions, such as a luncheon and dinner party or “at Home” invitations for all other parties such as receptions, garden parties, luncheons, dinners and suppers. Please note that on the invitation the ‘a’ for ‘at’ is lower case and the ‘H’ for ‘home’ is upper case. When you received a formal invitation, the wording should be in the third person and be along the lines of Mr and Mrs Smith request the pleasure of your company to celebrate Mr William Smith’s 21st Birthday on Saturday 13th July at the Officers Mess Wellington Barrack, Birdcage Walks SW1.
On the bottom left would be the RSVP Répondez s'il vous plaît meaning "Please respond”, with their address underneath. On the right-hand side can be further details, for example, Drinks, Canapés & a Buffet supper and under this would be the time the event starts in pm format (7.30pm) and underneath that should be the dress code, Dress: Black tie. If the invitation is sent from the Queen, as I mentioned it is a command to which you must respond and attend unless you have a suitable reason not to attend.
For invitations to events, I always advise that one should send out 6 weeks in advance to the date of the event. A recipient must respond within one week. The response can be along the lines of Dear Mr and Mrs Smith, Thank you for your kind invitation to the 21st Birthday Party of Mr William Smith on Saturday 13th July. I would be delighted to attend and look forward to the date. Yours Sincerely Clare and Charles Landsdown.