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The Queen in Scotland
As we pay tribute to the remarkable life and reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II, we look back at our article on the duties of the Queen in Scotland, and where she spent her time when the work was done…
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s love of Scotland was clear to see. Before the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, Her Majesty took family holidays around the Western Isles each year aboard her, and based herself in Balmoral from August to October each year. In fact, in a break from tradition, and for the first time in her reign, and just two days before she died, last week the new British Prime Minister was appointed by the Queen from Balmoral, rather than from Buckingham Palace.
With the queen mother’s house in Scotland, Glamis Castle in Angus – where her mother grew up and her sister Margaret was born – before spending many of her later years living on Scotland’s far north coast at Castle of Mey, one almost gets the impression that Her Majesty considered herself every bit as Scottish as she did English. On a visit to Scotland in 2021, Her Majesty even took a tour of an Irn-Bru factory, which is pretty much the most Scottish thing you can do.
The Queen in Scotland: Her First Visit
Shortly after her coronation at Westminster Abbey in London in June 1953, the Queen made her first official visit to Scotland as monarch (though she had visited Balmoral in 1952). She arrived to huge fanfare on 24 June of that year, with a procession through the streets of Edinburgh, as the royal carriage transported Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh from Princes Street up to the Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral where she attended a National Service of Thanksgiving and Dedication – some of our readers may even remember the occasion.
During this ceremony, Her Majesty was presented with the Honours of Scotland, Scotland’s own crown jewels, with the crown, sceptre, and sword all being ceremonially presented to her as 1,700 worshippers looked on, with many more thousands of people watching the broadcast on TV.
The Moderator of the General Assembly said: “Today, you and I are Scotland, greeting with all that we have to offer of love and duty our gracious young Queen.”
The visit followed on from the christening of the Royal Yacht Britannia at John brown’s shipyard at Clydebank on 16 April 1953, which Her Majesty wasted no time in using to explore this part of her realm more fully.
The Queen in Scotland: Her Duties
As Head of State, the monarch’s duties in Scotland are pretty much the same as they are in England. They are obliged to perform ceremonial and formal roles related to the government of the UK while remaining neutral regarding political matters. They do not vote, nor can they ever stand for election.
As with the rest of the UK, the Queen opened each new session of Parliament in Scotland, which meant visiting Scotland’s devolved assembly at Holyrood; she granted Royal Assent to legislation, and approved Orders and Proclamations through the Privy Council.
In addition, Her Majesty was expected to hold investitures and host state visits. Although in modern times state visits may be associated with Windsor or Buckingham Palace, Her Majesty has hosted them at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, her official residence in Scotland.
The late King of Norway and the current King of Sweden have both visited the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which was held in Rwanda this year, was held at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1997.
And then, of course there are the other duties – the busy diary of openings and representations – The Queen was the patron of over 30 associations in Scotland. When Her Majesty opened the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh in 1964, few people would have imagined she would still be Queen in 2017, much less that she would return to open a new bridge crossing over the Forth on the same day 53 years later.
Royal Week in Scotland
Each year at the end of June and start of July the Queen came to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to carry out traditional duties and recognise the good work of Scottish people. Known as Royal Week in Scotland and Holyrood Week elsewhere, it’s a chance to celebrate Scottish culture, achievement, and community.
This tradition was established by Her Majesty’s grandfather King George V and has only ever been missed in exceptional circumstances. This year, Her Majesty’s appearance at Royal Week marked the first time she had been seen in public since her Jubilee celebrations and bystanders were delighted to see her arrive wearing a pale blue tweed coat with matching hat.
During Royal Week, Her Majesty attended meetings and visits other parts of Scotland, and when she was at the palace, the Scottish variant of the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom is flown, and the Royal Company of Archers formed Her Majesty’s ceremonial bodyguard.
One of the key traditions of Royal Week is the Ceremony of the Keys, an ancient tradition in which the palace’s forecourt is turned into a parade ground and hundreds of guests gather to watch as Her Majesty was presented with the keys to the city of Edinburgh, which are passed to her on a red velvet cushion by the Lord Provost, who formally welcomed her to Edinburgh and pledges the city’s loyalty.
The Queen then passed the keys back to the Lord Provost for safekeeping. During her time at the palace, the Queen hosted an annual garden party with around 8,000 guests from all walks of Scottish life, she held investitures in the Great Gallery, and audiences in the Morning Drawing Room.
This week, King Charles III took part in his first Ceremony of the Keys at Holyrood Palace as King.
The Royal Company of Archers
Did you know that Her Majesty had her own private bodyguard in Scotland? The Royal Company of Archers is the official name given to the Sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland, an old archery club formed in 1676, which in return for being given “perpetual access to all public butts, plains and pasturages legally allotted for shooting arrows”, including the grounds at Holyroodhouse, is required to present to the Sovereign three barbed arrows on request.
The Royal Company of Archers provided protection for Her Majesty on her request at any state or ceremonial occasion. It also provided a guard on vigil when Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother lay in state.
The Royal Company of Archers is most regularly seen at the Holyroodhouse garden parties when members form avenues along which Her Majesty proceeded with the Company’s Captain General and President of the Council presenting guests at random to her. The Royal Company of Archers also attends investitures at Holyroodhouse; when new Colours for Scottish regiments are presented; and during the installation of the Knights of the Thistle – Scotland’s oldest order of chivalry.
When it is not protecting the sovereign, the Royal Company of Archers is very much still an archery club, whereby members, who must be Scottish or have a strong Scottish connection, are elected. It is known for its distinct uniform, which features a dark green tunic with black facings, dark green trousers with a black and crimson stripe, and a Balmoral bonnet that displays the Royal Company of Archers’ badge and an eagle feather.
The Queen at Balmoral
Queen Victoria is largely credited with fanning the flames of Scottish tourism, first lit by Sir Walter Scott, and helping transform Scotland’s image from uncouth backwater to the fashionable land of the picturesque. It was love at first sight when she landed in Edinburgh in 1842, and over the next few years her affection was sealed, with her and Albert buying Balmoral and the estate within which it stood, and transforming it into the palace we see today.
Today, Balmoral is still a favoured holiday home of the Royal Family and Her Majesty was regularly been seen in her tweeds and wellies, embracing the natural environment of the Cairngorms, and watching her corgis run free.
More often, we expect she enjoyed not being seen at all. Unlike Victoria, Her Majesty didn’t have to wait until she became Queen to discover Scotland’s allure. She spent much of her early years at Balmoral, as her parents took more interest in the estate than any monarch since Queen Victoria, so she may well consider it her true family home.
She spent summer at Balmoral every year, when she took a break from her many duties, and members of the Royal Family were often invited to join her. Her Majesty and other senior royals were often seen attending services at the tiny church of Crathie.
Other world leaders could learn a little from Her Majesty in terms of green travel, too, as like Victoria before her, she often travelled to Scotland by royal train.
In the documentary, Our Queen at Ninety, the Queen’s granddaughter, Princess Eugenie, said of Balmoral, “I think Granny is most happy there. I think she really, really loves the Highlands.” And who could blame her?
This is an extract. Read the full feature in the September/October 2022 issue of Scotland, available to buy from Friday 19 August.
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