In pretty much every picture she takes, Queen Elizabeth II is holding a handbag.
What’s in that bag, exactly? What’s so important that the Queen of England has to carry it with her at all times?
Well, it’s not so much what’s in the bag as what the bag represents. According to Hugo Vickers, a royal historian, Queen Elizabeth II uses her handbag to send messages to her staff. It’s actually a pretty brilliant way to get signals across, especially when the Queen’s attempting to navigate delicate public situations.
Here’s how it works: Normally, the Queen keeps the handbag tucked under her left arm. However, when she’s ready to move on from a conversation, she’ll move the bag to her right side. That tells her staff to swoop in and give her an excuse to move on.
Granted, the staff stays polite.
“It would be done very nicely. Someone would come along and say, ‘Sir, the Archbishop of Canterbury would very much like to meet you,'” Vickers told the Daily Mail. The Queen will then excuse herself.
If the person doesn’t get the hint, however, the Queen has a few other signals to employ. She might put her bag on the ground, or she may spin her ring around her finger; in either case, it’s a strong signal that she’s ready to leave the situation immediately.
At the end of an event, the Queen will sometimes place her bag on a table. This indicates that she’ll be ready to leave in about five minutes, giving her staff the time they need to make the necessary preparations.
If you’re thinking of adopting a similar system of secret signals, you won’t be able to find the bag that Queen Elizabeth II uses.
That’s because she has a custom-made Launer handbag with an extra-long handle. This prevents the handbag from getting in her way when she needs to shake someone’s hand (a constant occurrence for royalty).
The Queen has preferred Launer bags for decades; in 1968, Sam Launer himself gave Queen Elizabeth II her first Launer handbag, and she’s used them ever since. She awarded the company the Royal Warrant, which is a mark of recognition in the United Kingdom for companies and tradespeople who supply goods or services to the royal court.
Naturally, the Queen insists on a few special appointments. Her custom handbags don’t have zippers since she prefers quick access to her things. There’s also a built-in hook that allows the Queen to hang her bags beneath tables. She typically chooses black bags, but she’s been known to pick bright colors on occasion.
Of course, you can get a handbag similar to the Queen’s, provided you’ve got a few thousand dollars to spare.
That’s pricey, even for royalty—Queen Elizabeth II reportedly keeps her bags for years, preferring to repair them rather than replace them.
So, that leaves one question: What’s actually in the bag?
Unfortunately, we might disappoint you here, as the answer is pretty typical. She carries a handkerchief, mints, a mirror, and a fountain pen. The Queen prefers to keep things simple, it seems.