A landau is a coachbuilding term for a type of four-wheeled, convertible carriage. It was a city carriage of luxury type. The low shell of the landau made for maximum visibility of the occupants and their clothing, a feature that makes a landau still a popular choice for the Lords Mayors of certain cities in the United Kingdom on ceremonial occasions.
History of landau carriages
A landau is lightweight and suspended on elliptical springs. It was invented in the 18th century; landau in this sense is first noted in English in 1743. It was named after the German city of Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate where they were first produced. Lord, Hopkinson, coachmakers of Holborn, London, produced the first English landaus in the 1830s.
Description and development
A landau, drawn by a pair or four-in-hand, is one of several kinds of vis-à-vis, a social carriage with facing seats over a dropped footwell (illustration), which was perfected by the mid-19th century in the form of a swept base that flowed in a single curve. The soft folding top is divided into two sections, front and rear, latched at the center. These usually lie perfectly flat, but the back section can be let down or thrown back while the front section can be removed or left stationary. When fully opened, the top can completely cover the passengers, with some loss of the graceful line.
The landau's center section might contain a fixed full-height glazed door, or more usually a low half-door. There would usually be a separate raised open coachman's upholstered bench-seat, but a landau could be postilion-driven, and there was usually a separate groom's seat, sprung above and behind the rear axle, saving the groom from having to stand on a running board.
A five-glass landau was fitted with a front glass windscreen and two windows on each side (including retractable windows on the doors).
The landau reached its full development by the mid-19th century. It was purely a city carriage of luxury type. The low shell of the landau made for maximum visibility of the occupants and their clothing, a feature that makes a landau still a popular choice for Lords Mayor on ceremonial occasions.
Royal use in Britain
The Royal Mews contains several different types of landau: seven State Landaus are in regular use (dating from between 1838 & 1872), plus five Semi-state Landaus. As well as being slightly plainer in ornamentation, the Semi-state Landaus are distinguished from the State Landaus in that they are postilion-driven, rather than driven from the box.
The 1902 State Landau was built for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902. Unlike the earlier State Landaus, it is postilion-driven. So too are the five Ascot Landaus, smaller and lighter carriages with basket-work sides, which are used each year (as their name suggests) at Royal Ascot. The Royal Mews also retains a miniature landau made for the children of George V and designed to be pulled by ponies.
Landaus make for a striking display as long as the weather is fine, and they are used on occasions ranging from State Visits and the Opening of Parliament, to Royal Weddings, Jubilees and other celebrations. They also play a regular part in the welcoming of new ambassadors to the Court of St James's: soon after arriving in London, foreign ambassadors have an audience with the Queen in which they present their Letters of Credence or Letters of High Commission to Her Majesty. The ambassadors are collected from the embassy or residence by a State landau from the Royal Mews for this purpose, and escorted by the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps, who is based at St. James's Palace. The ambassador's suite follows in another State landau.
The monarch of Canada has a state landau at his or her disposal in Ottawa for ceremonial processions from Rideau Hall to Parliament Hill. The State Landau was given to Canada in 1911 and was formerly used by the Governor General of Australia.
A number of horse-drawn carriages, known in Japan as zagyoshiki, are maintained by the Imperial household and regularly used when new ambassadors present their credentials to the emperor as well as for royal weddings and coronations.
- The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories, Merriam-Webster, Inc 1991 Google preview
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- George A. Hooper design of a landau, 1856
- Merriam-Webster 1991, p. 358.
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