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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Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping the Colour.

The start of a busy four days of Platinum Jubilee events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s Accession to the throne commenced on 2 June with the Trooping of the Colour in London’s Horse Guards Parade, an imposing ceremonial parade ground overlooked by the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, as well as the offices of the Privy Council. The ‘Trooping’ is an annual event (with rare exceptions such as during wartime or a train strike), now customarily held on a Saturday (often the second) in June, to celebrate the Official Birthday of the Sovereign (as opposed to Her Majesty’s actual birthday on 21 April). Thus the Trooping is also often referred to as the Queen’s Birthday Parade. However, given Her Majesty’s ongoing mobility issues, and in deference to her great age, this year Prince Charles deputised for his mother to take the salute, just as when, in 1951, the present Queen-then The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh-presided over proceedings on behalf of her ailing father, King George VI; with the slight difference that, on 2 June, Her Majesty was able to be present on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to inspect the troops of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards (whose turn it was to have the new colour trooped) as they marched past, after having progressed just over half-a-mile up the Mall, from Horse Guards, at the conclusion of the Trooping ceremony.

The event has its origins in the 18th century, when the guards and sentries of the royal palaces and (other important buildings) were mounted daily at the Horse Guards (a Palladian building constructed around 1750, replacing an earlier guard house belonging to the Palace of Whitehall). As part of the ‘mounting’ of the guard, the Regimental Colour (or flag) of the battalion, bearing the battle honours of the battalion (and used historically as rallying points in battle) was carried (‘Trooped’) down the ranks, so as to be seen and memorised by the troops. Queen Victoria twice took the salute at the Trooping at Windsor during her reign, with the future King Edward VII (then still Prince of Wales) taking the salute in London in 1896.

The nucleus of the current form of the Trooping was developed thanks to the intervention of Edward VII’s son, King George V in 1913. Until then, the traditional ceremony involved the customary exercise of several elements carried out in slow and quick march time, with the Escort for the Colour advancing to the centre of the parade ground to receive the new regimental colour from the Colour Party. This was then carried down the ranks, followed by a march past of Foot Guards (and sometimes the Household Cavalry) after which the Monarch or their representative departed with minimum ceremony. However, George V was keen to offer a more impressive public display for his official Birthday Parade, and at the close of the ceremony, George V placed himself at the head of his Guards and rode down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, proceeded by the mass bands. There, the troops who were to provide the new King’s Guard at the Palace (and the nearby St James’ Palace) marched into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to prepare for the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The Monarch, meanwhile, positioned himself in the central gateway of Buckingham Palace, where he was saluted by the remainder of the troops on parade, as they returned to barracks. The King then moved into the palace between the Old and New Guards, who offered him a salute. Thereafter, the Changing of the Guard continued apace in the Palace forecourt.

King George VI also introduced a further innovation: following the completion of the salute at the gates of the Palace, the Monarch joined other members of the royal family (many of whom had, as was customary, earlier travelled both to and from Horse Guards in a carriage procession) on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to witness a fly-past by the Royal Air Force. It is also worth noting here that the present Queen first appeared on parade in the first post-war Birthday Parade on 12 June 1947 in her role as Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards.

During Elizabeth II’s reign, the Queen rode on horseback down the Mall, preceded by the Sovereign’s Escort . However, from 1987, she instead travelled in Queen Victoria’s 1842 ivory-mounted phaeton. In 2020 and 2021, as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, a modified Trooping event took place in the presence of the Queen in the quadrangle of Windsor Castle, but without the attendance of the customary dignitaries, diplomats and members of the public. Normally 1400 to 1500 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians (led by the Massed Bands of the Household Division) take part in the Queen’s Birthday Parade. And, once again in 2022, the crowds returned in force to line the Mall with Union flags and celebrate Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Instead of the customary 41-gun salute in Green Park provided by the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on this special Jubilee year, all witnessed an impressive 82-gun Royal Gun Salute from Hyde Park, as well as a well-executed fly-past of 71 aircraft.

Robert Prentice is the author of the recently-published Princess Olga of Yugoslavia Her Life and Times which is available to buy through Amazon and other on-line and local bookshops.

Queen of Scots Arrives in Edinburgh.

Today, Her Majesty the Queen commences her annual visit to Edinburgh for what the Royal Household refer to as the ‘Holyrood Week’, so-named as the focus of this stay is the Queen ‘s official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the bottom of the Royal Mile. Normally frequented by tourists, this infrequently-used Royal Palace closes it’s doors well in advance of the Queen’s arrival (this year on 24 June) and then comes alive as royal staff arrive from London to man the ground-floor kitchens, fill the State Rooms with flowers and give the private apartments a much-needed airing.

The visit always follows a traditional, time-tested format: When the Queen arrives at the Palace, she is formally welcomed in the forecourt to her “ancient and hereditary kingdom of Scotland’’ by the handing over of the keys of Scotland’s capital city by the Lord Provost (the Scotch equivalent of a Lord Mayor). The Queen then returns them, entrusting their safekeeping to Edinburgh’s elected officials. The Ceremony of the Keys concludes with Her Majesty inspecting the Guard of Honour, this year formed by F Company, Royal Scots Guards.

The Palace is also the focus for two other events: an investiture and a garden party. The Investiture takes place, watched over by the portraits of Scotland’s Kings, in the Palace’s largest room, the Great Gallery. The event is for Scottish residents whose outstanding achievements to their profession or community have been recognised in the twice-yearly Honours List . The Royal Garden Party, meanwhile, is held on the sweeping lawns of the Palace and is usually attended by 8000 guests, including the First Minister of Scotland and other local worthies. Guests feast on dainty finger sandwiches and cakes. During this event, the Royal Company of Archers, the Sovereign’s Official Bodyguard in Scotland, are much in evidence, dressed in their distinctive dark green tunics and feathered Highland bonnets.

Away from the Palace, another ‘hardy annual’ of Holyrood Week is the Order of the Thistle Service at St Giles Cathedral, half-way up the Royal Mile in the Old Town. The Thistle is Scotland’s highest Order of Chivalry and the sixteen Knights or Ladies appointed reflect a cross-section of individuals who have made a significant contribution to national life. Participants, including the Queen (who is Sovereign of the Order), process in their distinctive green velvet robes or ‘mantles’ from the nearby Signet Library to the service held in the Order’s Chapel inside the Cathedral.

Most unusually, 2019’s Holyrood Week commences on a Friday, with a visit to a High School in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, where Her Majesty will receive a greeting in Gaelic from some of the pupils and be serenaded by North Lanarkshire Schools’ Pipe Band. Various members of the Royal Family, including Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay and Prince Edward, the Earl of Forfar will support the Queen. The highlight of this years’ visit is the Sovereign’s attendance, accompanied by Prince Charles, at the Scottish Parliament’s 20th Anniversary Celebrations. Her Majesty is no stranger to the Parliament (this is her ninth visit) and she will make a congratulatory speech in the debating chamber.

Although the Queen spends around 11 weeks of the year in Scotland (mostly at Balmoral, her private estate on Royal Deeside), this week of engagements in Edinburgh helps to maintain the strong links between the Queen of Scots (her preferred title in Scotland) and her Scottish subjects.