The Queen’s Secret Code

Think about this for a moment: when was the last time you saw a president, a prime minister, or another chief executive of a nation wearing a backpack or carrying a purse? It’s pretty rare. That makes sense; if you’re the leader of a nation, there isn’t a lot of reason for you to be carrying around a bag. There are people who do that for you.

And yet, Queen Elizabeth II is typically seen carrying one, as seen above. It’s not something she needs to do in order to fulfill her duties as monarch — certainly, there’s an aide at the ready to provide the Queen with whatever she needs. So, why does the queen carry a handbag?

Because she likes it.

That’s the main reason why. But it’s not the full story.

The Queen has been using a nearly identical bag for more than sixty years. In the 1950s, the Queen’s mother bought two handbags made by British designer Launer, keeping one for herself and giving the other pocketbook to her daughter. Per Asian News International, then-Princess Elizabeth ”found them to be the perfect size to loop over her arm during walkabouts” and has stayed true to the accoutrement ever since. The bags, which cost about $2,300, don’t last forever, of course, but Launer accommodates her Highness with new bags as needed — she has about 200 now. (It’s good to be the Queen.) And she carries it everywhere.

So that’s why she has the bag: simply put, she likes it and it is now part of her look. But beyond that, over time, it has become a part of her Majesty’s lines of defense: it’s the focal point for her secret code.

Yes, the Queen has a secret code.

One of the downsides to being the Queen is that people tend to talk your ear off. Not only is it rare to have the opportunity to speak with a royal, but grace and politeness dictate that she not really cut you off as you wax poetic about whatever is on your mind. So she has someone else do it for her. Using her Launer handbag, the Queen is able to silently tell her entourage that it’s time for a conversation to end. For example, as People magazine reported (citing royal historian Hugo Vickers), “when Her Majesty is ready to wrap up a conversation or social event, she switches her handbag from one arm to another, signaling her handlers to move in and usher her away.”

And that’s only one of the many signals. The Telegraph explores a few others:

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.

For her Royal Highness, the trademark handbag is a nice way to tell someone to bug off. For everyone else? Some advice: if you happen to obtain an audience with the Queen, keep it brief — and keep an eye on her handbag.

Bonus fact: While the Queen uses her purse to disappear, she chooses the rest of her attire for the opposite effect. Notice how the Queen’s outfits, above, are all brightly colored? That’s not an accident — and it’s not just because she likes bright colors. “According to her daughter-in-law Sophie, Countess of Wessex,” reports Reader’s Digest, “the Queen wants to make sure members of the public can catch sight of her through the crowds.”

From the Archives: Wine and Cheese with the Queen: The Queen’s guest, of sorts.