Queen's Golden Jubilee Luncheon
Address by Mr John B Paul at Parliament House, Sydney Australia February 6 2002
Mr John B Paul Former lecturer in Political Sciences University of New South Wales Address to the Queen's Golden Jubilee Luncheon Parliament House, Sydney Australia February 6 2002
On this day fifty years ago the death of King George VI, aged 56, demised the Crown to his elder daughter and heir presumptive, aged 25, who took the title Queen Elizabeth II. As had been the case with his father King George V in January 1936, King George Vi died at Sandringham House in Norfolk which his grandfather King Edward Vll had built when Prince of Wales. But the similarity cannot be wholly sustained. King George V's death, which had been expected for some days, took place in the presence of his immediate family. The first act of his widow Queen Mary in acknowledging this was to kiss the hand of her eldest son, by then King Edward VIII, and curtsy to him. At the time of King George VI's sudden death caused by a coronary occlusion while he slept, the new monarch was in Kenya on the first leg of a visit to Commonwealth countries which included Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. The King had felt obliged to delegate this assignment to his daughter because persistent ill-health had compelled him to postpone it from late 1948.
The formal proceedings resulting from the demise of the Crown wait for no-one, in this case not even for the successor. At 11 a.m. on 6 February, that is to say, three and-a-half hours after King George VI's death had been discovered by his manservant but three-quarters of an hour before the new Queen even knew of it, an emergency Cabinet meeting was held and it was decided that the Privy Council would assemble at St James's Palace that afternoon; as an Accession Council it proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II as the new Sovereign but with her style and title significantly altered to take account of changes in the relationship between the countries of the Commonwealth since King George VI's proclamation in December 1936. Queen Elizabeth II was to be the first monarch to be proclaimed in absentia since the proclamation in 1714 of King George I, the first monarch of the Hanoverian succession. The reason for King George l's absence was that the discharge of his obligations as Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg did not permit him to cool his heels in London for an indefinite period waiting for the death of Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart monarchs. It was due to King George I's continuing and active involvement in the affairs of his German duchy that he was present there on his death in 1727 and was buried there.
Queen Elizabeth II arrived in London at 4.00 p.m. on 7 February to be greeted on the aircraft at Heathrow by her uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, and by Prince Philip's uncle, Lord Mountbatten. Then on the tarmac she was greeted by her seventyseven year old Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who had been retuned to office as recently as October 1951, by the Leader of the Opposition, Clement Attlee, and by leading members of the Cabinet. On her return at 4.30 to her then official residence, Clarence House, the new Queen was greeted by her grandmother Queen Mary in exactly the same way as King Edward Vlll had been acknowledged by her on King George V's death.
The following morning the Queen addressed a resumed session of the Accession Council at St James's Palace. Dr Hugh Dalton, one of Aulee's Ministers in the previous Labour government, remarked of the Privy Councillors attending that there were "people one didn't remember were still alive and some looking perky and self-important". One of those present recalling the Queen's demeanour remembered that "a slight figure dressed in deep mourning entered the great room alone and, with strong but perfectly controlled emotion, went through the exacting task the Constitution prescribed". After reading her formal Declaration of Sovereignty to the assembled Privy Council, which involved mentioning her father's name twice, she said simply, "My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than that I shall always work as my father did". Prince Philip then stepped forward and escorted her from that assembly. One of her future Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson, pronounced that Council "the most moving ceremonial I can recall". It was only after these formalities had been completed that the Queen was driven to Sandringham to join her mother Queen Elizabeth, her sister Princess Margaret, and her two children Prince Charles and Princess Anne, then aged three-and-a-quarter years and eighteen months respectively.
As was the case with King George V, so it was with King George VI. In the chancel of the parish church of St Mary Magdalene on the Sandringham estate a catafalque was mounted supporting the King's coffin covered by the Royal Standard and this was guarded on the weekend of 9 and 10 February by estate workers in relays of four pending its journey to London for the official lying-in-state in Westminster Hall. Bearing in mind the controversy which was so irresponsibly fomented by the media on the occasion of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it should be recalled that no-one suggested that Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and the Queen's children should leave Sandringham for London immediately the King's death was announced; nor was there any call for a flag to be raised and then lowered to half mast over Buckingham Palace. The Royal Standard, which by custom is never lowered to half mast, travelled with the Queen.
On 11 February, following the same route as King George V's in January 1936, King George Vl's body was borne on the same gun-carriage from the church St Mary Magdalene to Wolferton Station and then by train to Liverpool Street Station in London. In January 1936 the cortege which moved from that station to Westminster Hall included King Edward VIII, his brother the Duke of York who was to succeed him as King George I the following December, his two other surviving brothers, the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of Kent, and his brother-inlaw Lord Harewood, husband of Princess Mary, the Princess Royal. They walked bareheaded and simply dressed in morning clothes and fur-lined top coats, each carrying his silk top hat. In 1952 the same dress code applied but death and absence had reduced the Royal Dukes to two, the Queen's uncle the Duke of Gloucester and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. The former King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, was not then present although he had already embarked without his wife from New York by the liner Queen Mary to attend the funeral. The most haunting photograph I can recall of that day featured the three Queens, Mary and the two Elizabeths, in deep mourning as they stood watching while the late King's coffin covered by the Royal Standard and surmounted by the imperial State Crown, the Orb and Sceptre was borne by the bearer party of guardsmen from the guncarriage into Westminster Hall. During the three days the late King's body lay in state 300,000 people filed past in tribute. The funeral proper then began when the King's body was borne once more on a guncarriage drawn by a company of bluejackets from Westminster Hall to Paddington Station followed by a procession in which a multitude of monarchs and other heads of state and representatives joined. From there it was carried by train to Windsor for burial in St George's Chapel within the walls of the castle. Behind the Queen's coach walked four Royal Dukes: Gloucester in the uniform of a general as modified since the burial of his father King George V and Edinburgh and Windsor in naval uniform as similarly modified. The Queen's nephew, the young Duke of Kent, wore his Eton College uniform surmounted by top coat and top hat.
I have drawn attention to these modified uniforms because the elderly Prime Minister, caught in some sort of time warp, was at first seemingly unaware of them. At a meeting of the Cabinet which finalized the arrangements for the funeral, the Prime Minister broached the matter of the dress code for his Cabinet colleagues by making a growling reference to Privy Councillor's uniform. This declaration was received in slackjawed silence. Expressions of consternation were exchanged around the Cabinet table and then one of the Ministers pointed out that most of those present did not even possess such an outfit and that they could hardly expect to be knitted out with the same in time for the funeral.
Churchill's lack of awareness of this situation pointed to a staggering generation gap. He had been appointed a Privy Councillor in the reign of King Edward VII, on 1 May 1907 to be exact, when he was still Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Colonies. In 1908 the newly appointed Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, brought him into the Cabinet as President of the Board of Trade. As Home Secretary and holder of the most senior Secretaryship of State, Churchill duly accoutred in Privy Councillor's uniform had attended in 1910 the Accession Council which proclaimed King George V and the funeral of King Edward Vll. Of his Cabinet colleagues in 1952, apart from himself, only two as Privy Councillors had attended the Accession Council which proclaimed King Edward Vlll in January 1936, the funeral of King George V and the Accession Council which in December proclaimed King George VI. They were the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, and a survivor of Cabinets in the 1920s and 1930s, Lord Swinton, who was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for Materials. The only other members of Churchill's Cabinet in February 1952 whose appointment to the Privy Council predated 1940 were the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard Austen Butler, the Minister for Health and Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Captain Harry Crookshank and the Secretary of State for Scotland, James Stuart: all three had been appointed in 1939. All the other members of that Cabinet entered the Privy Council either during the war or as recently as October 1951 over which period wartime and postwar austerity would have ruled out functions calling for the wearing of such a uniform. Churchill acknowledged the situation readily enough and the subject was dropped.
Professor Ben Pimlott has remarked of the demise of the Crown in 1952 that there "were uncomfortable features"… that "death and renewal were combined: grief at the loss of one monarch was supposed to be accompanied by joy at the arrival of another". I daresay it was to avoid a repetition of these uncomfortable features that the official celebration of the golden jubilee has been postponed until June of this year and that the anniversary of the accession will be treated by the Royal Family as a commemoration of the late King George Vl.
The climax of the beginning of a new reign is provided by the Coronation when joy can be unrestrained and unconfined. A delay of more than a year is usual, required so that Westminster Abbey can be fully fitted out for the event. In King George Vl's case the gap was shorter because preparations for the Coronation of King Edward VIII had already been set in train well before he chose to abdicate. As the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin put it ever so laconically: "Same Coronation…different King!" In the present Queen's case the fiftieth anniversary of the Coronation will be 2 June next year.
Winston Churchill was hopeful that the Queen's Coronation would not compare unfavourably with its predecessors in terms of grandeur. Just how keen he was to ensure this became apparent to me in 1986 when I was conducting some research in the Public Records Office at Kew. In the late afternoon the air conditioning in that complex induced a certain drowsiness and lack of concentration in which event I made a practice of deserting the more ponderous aspects of my research into Churchill's post-war administration and of concentrating on what I termed my lollipops which were the files dealing with the Prime Minister's involvement in the preparations for the Coronation. Churchill's ambition was that all senior service officers, even those who were not intimately involved as participants in the Coronation but merely as spectators, should be bedizened in all the splendour of their pre-war full-dress uniforms. The response to this communicated to him by the three Service Ministers amounted to a complete frost.
The Secretary of State for War, a former Household Cavalry brigadier named Antony Head, drew the obvious distinction between those senior Army commanders who had a specific role in the ceremonial, such as Field Marshal Lord Alanbrook who was marshal of the procession, and those including members of the imperial General Staff whose role was of a more passive kind. The traditional full-dress uniform was appropriate to the former but perhaps not to the latter who in any case were keen to display the modified commissionaire-style full-dress uniform which had been introduced only recently. He then rather delicately mentioned that the pre-war style of uniform in the possession of some of them might present difficulties and he instanced Field Marshal Lord Wilson in particular. As to Lord Wilson he did not need to elaborate for it was not for nothing that he had been nicknamed "Jumbo".
The First Lord of the Admiralty, a crony of Anthony Eden's named Jim Thomas, registered the Board of Admiralty's wholehearted objection to the wholesale restoration of the pre-war full-dress uniform. The Board even suggested that the late King had not been in favour of it and that in any case over time the thread of gold bullion on such uniforms would have been tarnished. The Prime Minister's Join Private Secretary, Jock Colvilles, gave that latter excuse short shift by observing that his own pre-war diplomatic uniform had not suffered from such ravages. Even so Churchill's further remostrances ran up against a solid wall of resistance. Even if their excuses could be demolished, the old salts were simply not going to give way.
The Secretary of State for Air, Lord De L'Isle and Dudley VC, who as Viscount De L'Isle was Governor-General of Australia from 1961 to 1965, gave a very similar response on behalf of the Air Board - the Royal Air Force's pre-war full-dress uniform had never been well-liked by officers. On the other hand the modified post-war style was very much more to their taste. (King George VI as Duke of York had worn the old-style full dress uniform of a Group Captain at his wedding in 1923.)
So on that mournful note Churchill's ambitions foundered. Even so the Coronation was a great event and its fiftieth anniversary next year should provide the occasion for much rejoicing.
Even in 2004 there should be reason to celebrate the tour the Queen and Prince Philip made encircling the globe from east to west, taking in the West Indies, Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Some such visit had, as I have already indicated, been the late King's ambition. King George VI had wanted to be the first reigning monarch to visit all countries of the Commonwealth and Empire. In the event that distinction was to be Queen Elizabeth II's and that may we long continue to applaud her!
Extracted from "Australian Constitional Monarchy" The newsletter of Australians for Constitional Monarchy - March/April 2002.