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HM Queen Elizabeth II Obituary

HM Queen Elizabeth II

Beyond the pomp and circumstance of her role as monarch, The Queen was a true countrywoman

The announcement on 8 September 2022 of the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II came as deeply sad, if not entirely unexpected, news. Born on 21 April 1926, she ascended the throne on 6 February 1952 aged just 25 years old, following the untimely death of her father, King George VI. As the longest-reigning British monarch and the world’s longest-serving head of state, her illustrious and remarkable achievements in terms of service and dedication to the nation and the Commonwealth have been widely and rightly acknowledged. But away from the pomp and circumstance of her role as monarch, Her Majesty was at heart a dyed-in-the-wool countrywoman.

The Queen shared her love and esteem of the countryside, its sports and its people with her husband of 73 years, the late Duke of Edinburgh, whom she had described as her “strength and stay”. This mutual regard for rural life was exhibited most acutely, yet privately, on the Royal estates of Sandringham and Balmoral. While an invitation to shoot at Balmoral came from the Duke, it was The Queen who would extend a summons to come stalking. And Her Majesty was no mere bystander on the hill. In her younger years, she was herself adept with a rifle; later she continued to take a keen and personal interest in the doings of the deer and those who stalked them. Indeed, it was by no means unknown for Rifles going into a stalk to become aware that down in the glen a Range Rover had come to a halt, and the monarch was observing their efforts with a knowledgeable eye, adding an additional frisson of expectation to an already agitated stalker.

Her Majesty

Her Majesty took a keen interest in field trial events and she was also an avid picker-up

Mutual respect

Furthermore, during the stalking season, The Queen would make a point of visiting the larder at the end of the day, where she would examine the stags that had been accounted for and discuss their merits with the estate stalkers. Her relationship with estate staff was essentially one of mutual respect. She fully appreciated their time-won knowledge, and they reciprocated with a similar regard. The two principal sporting estates are justifiably proud of this relationship, for her close connection with estate employees was by no means restricted to agents and factors. The birthdays, weddings, christenings and funerals of all members of staff were noted and marked, celebrated or commiserated. Trainees fresh out of college were encouraged, their progress followed. Retirees continued to feel a valued part of the operation. There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that The Queen recognised that a successful estate was necessarily the result of team effort.

Her Majesty’s bond with her keepers was particularly close and wholly natural. The common glue that bound them was a shared and enduring love of dogs. At one point The Queen had a pack of 14 corgis, dorgis and all points in between as house dogs. She also was a noted handler of gundogs, both spaniels and retrievers.

FTCh Wolferton Drama won the 91st Kennel Club Cocker Spaniel Championship for her in January, the dog known as Lissy at home, the name given in honour of Her Majesty. Windsor, Balmoral and Sandringham were all popular and regular locations for field trial events, in which The Queen took a keen interest and was invariably, state duties permitting, on hand to watch and present the winners with their laurels.

Away from the rarefied atmosphere of trialling, Her Majesty was an avid picker-up. While the Duke was an accomplished and keen Shot, The Queen enjoyed both the intimacy and anonymity provided by standing behind the Guns, working her dogs and being a part of the mechanics of a shooting day. Guns who have shot at Sandringham recount the feeling of understandable nervousness when it dawned on them that the monarch, accompanied by a steady labrador, was ensconced behind their peg.

HM The Queen with Bill Meldrum

Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland, accompanied by her gamekeeper Bill Meldrum – The Queen was a noted handler of gundogs, both spaniels and retrievers

Clear roles

Those who knew her speak of the clear roles that Her Majesty and the Duke had when they were hosting a day’s shooting. While the Duke would place the Guns, The Queen was unquestionably in charge of lunch. The Duke had designed an imaginative lunch trailer, in which plates, Tupperware containers and cutlery all had very specific places to go. Her Majesty was also an efficient timekeeper and was renowned for chivvying along those who tarried too long over luncheon. Both she and the Duke were of the same mindset that a day’s shooting was principally for shooting, and not for lengthy wining and dining. One of their regular guests remarked to me that shooting at Balmoral was remarkable, not so much because of who the hosts were, but for the way they hosted.

It is a poignant truth that The Queen was probably most happy, most comfortable and at home acting as the hostess of a shooting party. Away from fieldsports, The Queen had a love of the turf and an in-depth knowledge of bloodstock. A noted aficionado of the Flat, she owned and bred four Classic and more than 20 Group One winners. An accomplished horsewoman in her own right, she continued to ride out on a trusted Fell pony into her 96th year.

One of the most enduring images of our Queen is that of her in uniform at Trooping the Colour, mounted side-saddle upon her trusted horse, Burmese. Her Majesty once admitted that she never felt prouder than when riding back down The Mall after the Birthday Parade at the head of her Household Cavalry and Guards. I was fortunate to form part of her retinue at the 1990 Trooping the Colour, a moment in time that remains as if set in aspic within my memory.

Every citizen of this country will have their own memory of Her Majesty: she was, after all, not merely The Queen, but our Queen. With her passing, for those of us who live and work in the countryside, we have lost one of our own. We owe it to her to continue to cherish and care for that countryside she so loved, just as the new King has vowed to do. God save the King.