A Queen Without Equal.

Here in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom (and beyond), we mourn the death of our late Queen at her highland estate on Royal Deeside. In these parts, she was invariably referred to as the Queen of Scots, for the title of Elizabeth II did not sit well with many in Scotland, as-unlike in England (prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603)-Scotland has never had a Queen Elizabeth I. This is why in Scotland the distinctive red post (pillar) boxes do not bear the EIIR insignia that is a common sight over the border in England, but instead carry an image of the Crown of Scotland in relief.

Scotland too had a different sort of relationship with the Queen to that of England. There was a little less overt deference; less curtseying and bowing perhaps. Nonetheless, this should not be confused with a lack of respect, for the Queen was highly regarded by Scots, who loved her work ethic and sense of duty. They also appreciated her deep love of Scotland and its people. Holyrood Week was a regular fixture in her diary, in early July, when the Queen and the Court went into residence at the Sovereign’s Official Residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in order to allow Her Majesty to undertake a busy schedule of engagements, not just in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, but throughout her northern realm. On occasion, Her Majesty worshipped on a Sunday at the Canongate Kirk (church) just a few hundred yards up the Royal Mile (a mile-long street stretching down through the Old Town from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace). A highlight of the week was the annual royal garden party on the lawns of the Palace; while on alternate years there was a service in the Thistle Chapel of St Giles Cathedral for the Order of the Thistle, the great order of chivalry in Scotland, at which Her Majesty presided as Sovereign of the Order. This was usually followed by a lunch for the Knights and Ladies of the Thistle at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

However, the late Queen is probably more identified with Balmoral Castle than Holyroodhouse. This is unsurprising as she spent far more time there (usually from late July until early October). In past years, she was sometimes seen walking on her estate or in the nearby village of Ballater, invariably wearing a headscarf. In the days when she sailed into Aberdeen Harbour aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia (which was decommissioned in 1997), at the end of her traditional cruise up the west coast of Scotland, small clusters of local residents would line the fifty-mile route to Balmoral in order to wave to the Queen, as she passed by in her Rolls Royce car.

Each week when in residence (pre-pandemic), Her Majesty travelled across the little bridge over the River Dee from the Castle (hence the name Royal Deeside) to attend the Sunday morning service at Crathie Church. Interestingly, on the last weekend of her long life, although she was no longer able to attend the service in person, the Queen entertained the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, The Right Rev Dr Iain Greenshields, who was preaching at Crathie, to dine at Balmoral on the Saturday evening and, after an overnight stay, to partake of Sunday lunch at the Castle the following day. Dr Greenshields remembers that ‘It was a fantastic visit. Her memory was absolutely amazing and she was really full of fun’.

Another ‘hardy annual’ in the calendar at Balmoral was the Queen’s attendance (as Patron) at the nearby Braemar Gathering. Although the royal party (which included the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles) usually remained for only an hour, their attendance at these highland games (with a busy mix of a tug o’ war, highland dancing, hill race and caber [log] tossing) helped to attract a turnout of tourists from around the world. The Queen loved the sound of the bagpipes (according to one of her personal Royal Pipers she had a finely tuned ear) as the pipers marched ahead of the royal cars as they processed towards the showground’s Royal Pavilion.

But of course, in addition to relaxation, the Queen was never off duty at Balmoral. The red boxes followed her from London each day, with official documents to be perused and signed. Her Majesty also invited her Prime Minister and his/her spouse each year for a weekend stay. Although there were elements of fun to the visit, such as an informal evening barbecue somewhere on the Balmoral estate, the Prime Minister also had an audience with the Queen. Indeed, given the royal work ethic, it is hardly surprising that the last image of our late Sovereign was of Her Majesty undertaking one of her main constitutional duties: the receiving of the Hon. Liss Truss MP, the newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, to invite her to form a government as Prime Minister.

The new King (Charles III) also has a deep love of Scotland, some of it thanks to the influence of his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, a member of the aristocratic Bowes-Lyon family, with deep roots in Glamis and the county of Angus (Forfarshire of old). Previously, His Majesty was known here as the Duke of Rothesay and Lord of the Isles. As such, he has regularly toured the islands and mainland of Scotland, involving himself with many projects, such as a major restoration programme at Dumfries House, which has brought work to many locals. However, the late Queen Elizabeth II has set a very high benchmark: to many (indeed, the vast majority) she was a Queen Regnant without equal.

Robert Prentice is a biographer and regular contributor to ‘Majesty’ magazine in the United Kingdom. His biography, ‘Princess Olga of Yugoslavia: Her Life and Times’ is available to purchase in hardback or as an e-book through Amazon.

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A Greek Princess in New York.

As the swinging 1960’s dawned, Greek-born Princess Olga of Yugoslavia decided to make her first journey “across the pond” from Europe to “the Big Apple”. The occasion was to attend the birth, in September 1961, of the firstborn child of Olga’s much-loved daughter Elizabeth and the latter’s American husband, Howard Oxenberg.

Following an eight-hour air journey in first class, the Princess arrived in New York, on the evening of 20 September, in a gale and sweeping rain. She was met by Elizabeth, Howard and the Greek Consul and whisked to Elizabeth’s Manhattan apartment at 983 Park Avenue. Olga would actually stay with a friend of her daughter, Countess Atalanta Arlen, at the latter’s ‘luxurious Louis XVI double flat’, where she was given the use of the owner’s bedroom and boudoir. However, the Princess did not have long to wait for the arrival of her grandchild: On the afternoon of 21 September Olga and Howard accompanied Elizabeth to Doctors Hospital where, in the early hours of 22 September, she gave birth to a daughter. Soon, father and royal grandmother were gazing contentedly at the new arrival through the glass screen of the hospital’s baby nursery. A somewhat exhausted Olga then returned to her luxury lodgings and slept until late. However, at noon she returned for another hospital visit, followed by a walk through Central Park. This, the Princess noted somewhat disapprovingly, was ‘full of squirrels and dirty, screaming children!’ Later, during the evening visiting hour, she looked on disdainfully as ‘crowds had gathered at the glass window at 8[pm] to see their babies, like a zoo!’

As Olga had still not had a chance to see much of the city, some friends took her up to the 82nd floor of the Empire State Building to admire the ‘staggering view’. Howard then drove his mother-in-law through Manhattan’s main streets to give her a flavour of Manhattan. The duo then dined together at the Hemisphere Club restaurant on the 48th floor of the Time-Life building. Being alone, they had ‘a long talk’ and the Princess noted enthusiastically that Howard ‘has nice, honest opinions and ideas…’ There was also the opportunity for Olga to pay a visit to the United Nations and listen to President Kennedy give a speech on nuclear proliferation and the current situation in Berlin (where a wall had just been built to prevent East Berliners disaffected with the communist regime from escaping to the Allied zones). The Princess, descended as she was from the Romanovs, kept a beady eye on the Soviet delegation’s reaction to the President’s discourse and observed reprovingly that they didn’t clap. Her appetite whetted, Olga returned the next day to take in a session of the Security Council and later dined with the United States chief representative to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson.

However, the Princess’ thoughts soon returned to the practicalities of everyday life and she rushed to Bloomingdales to buy her new granddaughter (whom she learned was to be named Catherine) a Moses basket. She then hired a Cadillac and chauffeur and journeyed out to Glen Cove, Long Island to visit her cousin Xenia (‘Thomas’) in her cottage there. Xenia was the younger daughter of Olga’s late Aunt, Princess Maria of Greece and Denmark by her first marriage to Grand Duke George Mikhailovich.

On 1 October Elizabeth and Catherine came home to Park Avenue. Olga helped sort through the baby clothes and assisted Howard with making-up a bed for the nurse in the dining room. The Princess then enjoyed a trip to Broadway to see the musical “Camelot” and even managed, next evening, to embrace Noel Coward at the opening night of his musical “Sail Away”. Thereafter, events took a downward turn when Olga spent several days in bed and complained of feeling washed out. When her concerned hostess called in the doctor, he confirmed that the Princess had a particularly virulent case of flu. Fortunately, by mid-month she had recovered sufficiently to be taken on a long drive via the Bronx to New Jersey and back to Manhattan’s East Side via Harlem. It was all such a novel experience.

On 18 October, baby Catherine was christened by a Greek Orthodox priest in the drawing room of Greek shipping magnate Basil Goulandris’ Manhattan apartment. Olga gave her firstborn granddaughter her heart-shaped turquoise and diamond brooch to commemorate the occasion. Then, despite an on-going period of dental treatment, the Princess ventured to the Stork Club to enjoy the United States’ ‘national dishes’ of a hamburger followed by apple pie. Her horizons were further expanded when she attended a Polish Ball, at which the “twist” (which she described as ‘the new crazy sexy dance’) was performed. There was time too for a weekend visit by train to snowy Washington (where Olga stayed at the Ladies Club as the guest of the philanthropists Mr and Mrs Robert Bliss). She made time visit the National Gallery and to meet a childhood friend, Leonid Ouroussoff, who had lived in the States for thirty years. Leonid took her out to Arlington to view the Pentagon and he and the Princess also paid a visit to the Lincoln Memorial and explored the Capitol. On the final day, Olga accompanied Mrs Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks, the Bliss family’s former home in Georgetown, which had recently been donated (together with the Bliss’ Byzantine art collection) to Harvard University. After attending a ‘huge’ lunch in her honour, a tired but happy Princess boarded the train for her return journey to New York.

As her New York visit drew to a close, Olga made a visit to the Saint Sava Serbian Cathedral on West 26 Street and quizzed the priest on work being done to assist Yugoslav refugees in the United States. At a ladies’ luncheon hosted by Elizabeth she met the actress Merle Oberon; while Joan Fontaine was also introduced to her at a farewell dinner given by Adlai Stevenson. The Princess summed up her trip by noting that she had ‘met with so much affection and kindness.’ Indeed, so much so that she would make a return visit to the Big Apple in October 1965.

Robert Prentice is the author of Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is published by Grosvenor House Publishing and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets both as a hardback and an e-book.