‘God bless the Queen with a full measure of her father’s wisdom, integrity and charm, and God bless the new reign!’
So Eric Hamilton, the Dean of Windsor, concluded his description of the funeral of King George VI, and greeted the new reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Hamilton, in his capacity as Dean, had an extra connection to the Royal Family, having been appointed Domestic Chaplain to George VI in 1944. He was appointed to continue in this role for Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.
The image at the head of this article shows Hamilton’s certificates of appointment to this post, which he held simultaneously with the office of Dean [SGC M.399]. He describes his appointment in 1944 in his autobiography, which involved a surprise summons to Windsor to stay for a weekend and preach a service. During the weekend, he was the guest of King George VI and his family, and it was at this point that he met them for the first time. In his description of their meeting he presents himself as being very nervous beforehand, despite the attempts of Princess Elizabeth (as she was) and her cousins to entertain him, and indeed, apprehensive at the prospect of moving to Windsor from his rural parish at Edgmond. However, by the end of his visit he had been won over, partly by the kindness of King George VI, and partly by the fine architecture and music in the Chapel.
His moving account of the 1952 funeral in the Friends’ Report demonstrates the depth of his feelings for the late King, saying that ‘no eulogy from Archbishop or Prime Minister has been too good for him or less than wholly true.’ His gratitude to a King whom he was glad to serve is evident.
He picks out one scene from the funeral to focus on: at Horseshoe Cloister, awaiting the gun-carriage, remembering it ‘was impressive and moving beyond description.’ Lay Clerk Fred Naylor, whose account of the funeral the archives also holds, attempted to describe it nevertheless. He found the arrival of the gun-carriage to be one of the most moving scenes of the day, writing that it was ‘one of those poignant moments that will live in the memory of all those who witnessed it.’ [SGC M.155/C/1/4/1]
Naylor’s impressively long service as a lay clerk included singing at the funerals of Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and George V as well as George VI. He finally retired in 1957, after 62 years at St George’s.
At the end of the funeral, the choir sang Sir Henry Walford Davies’ anthem God Be in My Head. Walford Davies was himself a former organist and choir director at St George’s, from 1927 to 1932. He also had a connection to the Royal Family, as he held the post of Master of the King’s Music from 1934 until his death in 1941.
Naylor’s description, like Hamilton’s, dwells on the popular reaction to the funeral. The floral tributes, which carpeted the green around the chapel, came from ‘people in all walks of life and in every part of the world’. The new Queen departed the Chapel, and so, on 6 February this year, we mark the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II coming to the throne.
Anne Courtney, Assistant Archivist