My Lords, like millions of others across the globe, I was immensely sad to learn of the death of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I have just travelled up from Worcester and lots of people are gathering at the cathedral to pay their respects, as they are at many other parish churches. I am sure I speak on behalf of all the people in Worcestershire and Dudley in the diocese of Worcester in saying how desperately sad we are at this news.
In my tribute to her late Majesty today, I shall refer to my particular place in the Royal Household. For some 10 years I have been privileged to be the Lord High Almoner to the Queen, a rather esoteric title for an ancient role. Cardinal Wolsey was one of my predecessors, and he did not come to a very good end. Traditionally, the almoner has been responsible for all the monarch’s almsgiving. Nowadays my duty is to take overall responsibility for the Royal Maundy Service. At that service, as your Lordships will know, the same number of men and women as the monarch’s age—so 96 men and 96 women this year—are awarded the Maundy money in recognition of their exemplary Christian service over a long period. I was moved to be able to accompany Her Majesty the Queen, someone who herself gave exemplary Christian service over her lifetime, in honouring those who had done the same. It seemed to me that as they looked into one another’s eyes, they understood one another and what made them tick. Her Majesty took the Royal Maundy Service very seriously, I think because it symbolised what motivated her. She served because of her faith in Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. In doing so, she was an inspiration to millions around the globe.
The Royal Maundy Service is a very serious matter but, with the constant twinkle in her eye and that radiant smile, the Queen managed to put people at their ease, immensely nervous though they were. I told them beforehand that they should just say, “Thank you, Your Majesty” or “Thank you, Ma’am”, as the Queen approached them and then give a bow. But, one year, there was a woman who could not resist thrusting a pot of marmalade into the Queen’s hands as a sort of return gift. As you can imagine, the Queen dealt with that unexpected development with great aplomb. All those who were privileged to know Her Majesty can attest that not only was the Queen a fount of wisdom, but she had a great sense of humour and fun. Only latterly did James Bond and Paddington make that plain to everyone.
This is a time of deep grieving, but the Queen was a person of profound Christian faith, who believed in a God whose love is stronger than death. Some 16,000 Anglican parish churches and cathedrals, as well as other places of worship, that have symbolised that Christian hope for centuries are now open for people to give thanks, reflect and pray. As we give thanks for the life of this most remarkable monarch and wonderful woman and commend her to the God in whom she believed, I pray that we shall all come together as a nation as we honour her. That would surely be the most fitting tribute to our late beloved Queen who was, through her faith and service, the glue that held us all together.
We pray too, as we do so, for His Majesty the King, for him to be given the strength and grace that he needs as he takes over the reins of the monarchy. God save the King.