Way back in 1839 (on 26 March, to be exact) one Captain Edmund Gardiner stood up at a public meeting in Henley town hall and suggested they host a regatta that year, as boat racing had become rather popular in the area. The suggestion was accepted, and later that year the first of what would become the annual Henley Royal Regatta was run. As Gardiner predicted, it was a hit—so much so, that the following year it was expanded to two days, stretching out to five by 1986.
From the outset, the Regatta was exclusively for amateurs—wealthy ones. The race institutionalised snobbery in its own rules, forbidding anyone ‘engaged in any meaningful activity’ from competing. Thanks to this rule, self-made millionaire and future Olympian John B Kelly, Sr (father of Grace Kelly) was forbidden from participating because he’d once served an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. His son, born with the requisite silver spoon in his mouth, was permitted to compete in 1947, and he won the Diamond Challenge Sculls event. Henley finally removed its amateurism rules in December 1998.
Henley received the royal seal of approval in 1851, when Prince Albert agreed to become the patron. Every reigning monarch since his death has taken up the patronage.