10 Amazing Facts About Buckingham Palace

For more than a century, the reigning monarchs of Great Britain have used Buckingham Palace as their administrative headquarters. The fascinating building has survived everything from World War II bomb strikes to a crafty undergarment thief. If you ever decide to visit it in person, here are 10 things you should know about one of Europe’s most iconic and lavish homes.

1. The original Buckingham Palace was built for a duke—not a king or queen.

In 1703, John Sheffield, the first Duke of Buckingham, tore down an existing house in Westminster and built himself a new one on the site. This Buckingham House would be purchased in 1761 by King George III, who wanted to give his wife and children a private home that wasn’t too far away from St. James’s Palace, then the royal family’s official London residence. When Queen Victoria assumed the throne in 1837, she made Buckingham House her official residence. By then, the original building had undergone several renovations and become a palace in its own right.

2. Fossils are entombed in Buckingham Palace's walls.

Oolitic limestone is a sedimentary rock made up of tiny spherical clumps. It was used in the construction of Buckingham Palace and many other landmarks, including the Empire State Building and the Pentagon. In a 2017 paper published by the journal Scientific Reports, researchers found that this kind of rock forms around the mineralized corpses of microscopic organisms rather than around grains of grit or sand, as previously thought. That means Buckingham Palace's walls are loaded with tiny fossils that may be up to 200 million years old.

3. A teenager once broke in to Buckingham Palace and stole Queen Victoria’s underwear.

Edward Jones, also known as “Edward Cotton” or “Boy Jones,” was seemingly obsessed with young Queen Victoria during his teenage years. Nobody knows why. In 1838, Jones was apprehended after he’d snuck into Buckingham Palace and stolen many of Queen Victoria’s belongings, including a few pairs of her underwear. “He gained access to the palace through unlocked doors or unshuttered windows on the ground floors—there was no royal security in those days,” biographer Jan Bondeson told BBC News. Jones was caught entering Buckingham Palace on three separate occasions and admitted to having been inside the palace many more times. Jones was eventually sent overseas, though he temporarily returned to the United Kingdom as an adult.

4. Buckingham Palace hosted a Girl Guide company.

Before becoming queen, Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister Princess Margaret were Girl Guides (the UK equivalent of Girl Scouts) and their troop was organized at their royal home. Active between 1937 and 1939, the 1st Buckingham Palace Girl Guide Company held its meetings at a summerhouse on the palace grounds. Along with the two princesses, its members included more than 30 other girls whose parents were either royals or palace employees. In 1959, the troop was resurrected for Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne, and folded when Anne started boarding school in 1963.

5. Woodrow Wilson was the first sitting U.S. president to visit Buckingham Palace.

En route to a conference in Paris, President Woodrow Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson visited the UK in December 1918. At Buckingham Palace, King George V threw a banquet in their honor, beginning a long tradition of U.S. heads of state visiting the royal residence. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter infamously broke protocol by giving Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother an unexpected kiss on the lips.

6. Buckingham Palace was bombed during World War II.

Although the British government advised them to get out of London during the second World War, King George VI and his family chose to remain in Buckingham Palace. As his wife Queen Elizabeth put it, “The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever.” She honed her pistol-firing skills by shooting at local rats. Before the Axis Powers surrendered, German bombers scored nine direct hits on Buckingham Palace.

7. There’s an ATM inside Buckingham Palace.

Coutts & Co., the royal family’s bank of choice, has installed an automatic teller machine down in Buckingham Palace's basement. Other amenities include a post office, movie theater, a cafeteria, and 78 bathrooms. John Lennon once claimed that the Beatles smoked some pot in a Buckingham Palace men’s room when they dropped by for a visit in 1964, but two of his bandmates denied the story.

8. In 2017, a female officer led Buckingham Palace's changing of the guard.

The British North America Act's passage on July 1, 1867 made Canada a self-governing dominion of the United Kingdom. In recognition of that event’s 150th anniversary, Canadian Armed Forces infantry officer Megan Couto became the first woman to lead the changing of the guard when the unit she commanded was invited to defend Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.

9. If the Union Jack is flying, it means the queen is away.

When Britain’s sitting monarch is physically present inside one of her royal residences like Buckingham Palace, the building raises the Royal Standard. But when she’s not around, the standard is swapped out for the UK's national flag.

10. Buckingham Palace guests eat a lot of sandwiches.

Queen Elizabeth II hosts at least three garden parties every summer in Buckingham Palace’s 39-acre private garden, where guests consume about 20,000 sandwiches per party. “Guests, of which there are around 30,000 each year in total, are treated with Buckingham Palace-blend tea, cakes, and a chance to talk to members of the royal family informally,” says the British Monarchist Foundation.

This Smart Accessory Converts Your Instant Pot Into an Air Fryer

Amazon
Amazon

If you can make a recipe in a slow cooker, Dutch oven, or rice cooker, you can likely adapt it for an Instant Pot. Now, this all-in-one cooker can be converted into an air fryer with one handy accessory.

This Instant Pot air fryer lid—currently available on Amazon for $80—adds six new cooking functions to your 6-quart Instant Pot. You can select the air fry setting to get food hot and crispy fast, using as little as 2 tablespoons of oil. Other options include roast, bake, broil, dehydrate, and reheat.

Many dishes you would prepare in the oven or on the stovetop can be made in your Instant Pot when you switch out the lids. Chicken wings, French fries, and onion rings are just a few of the possibilities mentioned in the product description. And if you're used to frying being a hot, arduous process, this lid works without consuming a ton of energy or heating up your kitchen.

The lid comes with a multi-level air fry basket, a broiling and dehydrating tray, and a protective pad and storage cover. Check it out on Amazon.

For more clever ways to use your Instant Pot, take a look at these recipes.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

13 Memorable Facts About D-Day

American troops landing on Omaha beach at Normandy on D-Day.
American troops landing on Omaha beach at Normandy on D-Day.
Keystone/Getty Images

The Normandy landings—an event better known as “D-Day”—became a pivotal moment in the Second World War. Heavy losses were inflicted on both sides, but with planning, deception, and semiaquatic tanks, the Allied forces pulled off what is considered the biggest amphibious invasion in history. Here are a few things you should know about the historic crusade to liberate France from Nazi Germany.

1. D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944.

The D-Day invasion was several years in the making. In December 1941, the United States formally entered World War II. Shortly thereafter, British and American strategists began entertaining the possibility of a huge offensive across the English Channel and into Nazi-occupied France. But first, the Allies swept through northern Africa and southern Italy, weakening the Axis hold on the Mediterranean Sea. Their strategy resulted in Italy’s unconditional surrender in September 1943 (though that wasn’t the end of the war in Italy). Earlier that year, the Western allies started making preparations for a campaign that would finally open up a new front in northwestern France. It was going to be an amphibious assault, with tens of thousands of men leaving England and then landing on France’s Atlantic coastline.

2. Normandy was chosen as the D-Day landing site because the Allies were hoping to surprise German forces.

Since the Germans would presumably expect an attack on the Pas de Calais—the closest point to the UK—the Allies decided to hit the beaches of Normandy instead. Normandy was also within flying distance of war planes stationed in England, and it had a conveniently located port.

3. D-Day action centered around five beaches that were code-named "Utah," "Omaha," "Gold," "Juno," and "Sword."

American assault troops and equipment landing on Omaha beach on the Northern coast of France.
Fox Photos/Getty Images

Altogether, the D-Day landing beaches encompassed 50 miles of coastline real estate [PDF]. The Canadian 3rd Division landed on Juno; British forces touched down on Gold and Sword; and the Americans were sent to Utah and Omaha. Of the five beaches, Omaha had the most bloodshed: Roughly 2400 American casualties—plus 1200 German casualties—occurred there. How the beaches got their code-names is a mystery, although it’s been claimed that American general Omar Bradley named “Omaha” and “Utah” after two of his staff carpenters. (One of the men came from Omaha, Nebraska, while the other called Provo, Utah, home.)

4. Pulling off the D-Day landings involved some elaborate trickery to fool the Nazis.

If the Allies landed in France, Hitler was confident that his men could repel them. “They will get the thrashing of their lives,” the Führer boasted. But in order to do that, the German military would need to know exactly where the Allied troops planned to begin their invasion. So in 1943, the Allies kicked off an ingenious misinformation campaign. Using everything from phony radio transmissions to inflatable tanks, they successfully convinced the Germans that the British and American forces planned to make landfall at the Pas de Calais. Duped by the charade, the Germans kept a large percentage of their troops stationed there (and in Norway, which was the rumored target of another bogus attack). That left Normandy relatively under-defended when D-Day came along.

5. D-Day was planned with the help of meteorologists.

The landings at Normandy and subsequent invasion of France were code-named “Operation Overlord,” and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (the future U.S. president) led the operation. To choose the right date for his invasion, Eisenhower consulted with three different teams of meteorologists, who predicted that in early June, the weather would be best on June 5, 6, or 7; if not then, they'd have to wait for late June.

Originally, Eisenhower wanted to start the operation on June 5. But the weather didn’t cooperate. To quote geophysicist Walter Munk, “On [that date], there were very high winds, and Eisenhower made the decision to wait 24 hours. However, 24 hours later, the Americans predicted there would be a break in the storm and that conditions would be difficult, but not impossible.” Ultimately, Ike began the attack on June 6, even though the weather was less than ideal. It’s worth noting that if he’d waited for a clearer day, the Germans might have been better prepared for his advance. (As for the dates they'd suggested for late June? There was a massive storm.)

6. "D-Day" was a common military term, according to Eisenhower's personal aide.

A few years after Eisenhower retired from public life, he was asked if the “D” in “D-day” stood for anything. In response to this inquiry, his aide Robert Schultz (a brigadier general) said that “any amphibious operation has a ‘departed date’; therefore the shortened term ‘D-Day’ is used” [PDF].

7. D-Day was among the largest amphibious assaults in military history.

U.S. troops in landing craft, during the D-Day landings.
Keystone/Getty Images

On D-Day, approximately 156,115 Allied troops—representing the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland—landed on the beaches of Normandy. They were accompanied by almost 7000 nautical vessels. In terms of aerial support, the Allies showed up with more than 10,000 individual aircrafts, which outnumbered the German planes 30 to one.

8. On D-Day, floating tanks were deployed by the Allies.

The brainchild of British engineers, the Sherman Duplex Drive Tanks (a.k.a. “Donald Duck” tanks) came with foldable canvas screens that could be unfurled at will, turning the vehicle into a crude boat. Once afloat, the tanks were driven forward with a set of propellers. They had a top nautical speed of just under 5 mph. The Duplex Drives that were sent to Juno, Sword, and Gold fared a lot better than those assigned to Omaha or Utah. The one at Omaha mostly sank because they had to travel across larger stretches of water—and they encountered choppier waves.

9. When the D-Day attack started, Adolf Hitler was asleep.

On the eve of D-Day, Hitler was entertaining Joseph Goebbels and some other guests at his home in the Alps. The dictator didn’t go to bed until 3 a.m. Just three and a half hours later, at 6:30 a.m., the opening land invasions at Normandy began. (And by that point, Allied gliders and paratroopers had been touching down nearby since 12:16 in the morning.) Hitler was finally roused at noon, when his arms minister informed him about the massive assault underway in Normandy. Hitler didn’t take it seriously and was slow to authorize a top general’s request for reinforcements. That mistake proved critical.

10. DWIGHT Eisenhower was fully prepared to accept blame if things went badly on D-Day.

General Dwight D Eisenhower watches the Allied landing operations from the deck of a warship in the English Channel on D-Day.
Keystone/Getty Images

While Hitler was partying in the Alps, Eisenhower was drafting a bleak message. The success of Operation Overlord was by no means guaranteed, and if something went horribly awry, Ike might have had no choice but to order a full retreat. So he preemptively wrote a brief statement that he intended to release if the invasion fell apart. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” it said. “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

11. Knocking out German communications was one of the keys to victory on D-Day.

Hitler may not have had all of his troops in the right spot, but the Germans who’d been stationed at Normandy did enjoy some crucial advantages. At many localities—Omaha Beach included—the Nazi forces had high-powered machine guns and fortified positions. That combination enabled them to mow down huge numbers of Allied troops. But before the dawn broke on June 6, British and American paratroopers had landed behind enemy lines and taken out vital lines of communication while capturing some important bridges. Ultimately, that helped turn the tide against Germany.

12. Theodore Roosevelt's son earned a medal of honor for fighting on D-Day.

It was the 56-year-old brigadier general Theodore Roosevelt Jr. who led the first wave of troops on Utah Beach. The men, who had been pushed off-course by the turbulent waters, missed their original destination by over 2000 yards. Undaunted, Roosevelt announced, “We’re going to start the war from right here.” Though he was arthritic and walked with a cane, Roosevelt insisted on putting himself right in the heart of the action. Under his leadership, the beach was taken in short order. Roosevelt, who died of natural causes one month later, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

13. D-Day was the opening chapter in a long campaign.

The Normandy invasion was not a one-day affair; it raged on until Allied forces crossed the River Seine in August [PDF]. Altogether, the Allies took about 200,000 casualties over the course of the campaign—including 4413 deaths on D-Day alone. According to the D-Day Center, “No reliable figures exist for the German losses, but it is estimated that around 200,000 were killed or wounded with approximately 200,000 more taken prisoner.” On May 7, 1945—less than a year after D-Day—Germany surrendered, ending the war in its European Theater.