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The Queen and patronage

Our series on the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth, as reported by the Church of Ireland Gazette, concludes with recollections of her links with many church organisations as their patron.  Karen Bushby reports.

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, one definition of a patron is ‘a famous person who supports an organisation such as a charity and whose name is used in the advertisements, etc. for the organisation.’

Her Majesty the Queen was patron of many charities, and this is apparent when scrolling through the archives of the Church of Ireland Gazette.

A number of organisations of interest to the Church of Ireland were particularly special to Her Majesty – the Mothers’ Union, the Church Army and the Church Lads’ Brigade (CLB), now, of course, the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade.

And it was the CLB that was making the news on June 20 1958 when the Gazette reported: “All is set for the Royal Review of the CLB when Her Majesty the Queen, who is patron, will receive a parade of 300 lads at Buckingham Palace on July 11 at 12.30pm. Included in the parade will be Col JR Stewart and seven members of the Ulster Regiment. Col Stewart will have the honour of being presented to Her Majesty.”

A later visit to the CLB headquarters, in June 1994.
A later visit to the CLB headquarters, in June 1994.

On January 8 1965, the Gazette carried a photograph of the launch of a new Church Army headquarters in London, when Her Majesty was joined by the Mayor of Marylebone to open the eight–storey building in Marylebone Road. The Guard of Honour was formed by Church Army College students.

Opening Church Army's new headquarters.
Opening Church Army's new headquarters.

“The fact that women, as well as men, are required to expand the valuable work of the Church Army, was stressed by Her Majesty,” the Gazette reported. “The Queen was welcomed by the Most Rev FD Coggan, Archbishop of York, and President of the Church Army, who expressed gratitude at having members of the Royal Family so closely linked with the Army’s work.”

Her Majesty had another headquarters to open in December the following year, when the Gazette of November 25 1966 reported that as Patron of the Boys’ Brigade, the Queen would formally open the new headquarters at Paison’s Green (shared with the Girls’ Brigade).

“A Guard of Honour comprising 36 members of each organisation will be mounted and Northern Ireland will send two boy representatives.”

The article continued: “All Company Captains have been requested to nominate a boy who will fulfil the required conditions. These are that the boy should be in the 16–18 age range, should hold the Queen’s Badge and should preferably be an NCO (other than Staff Sergeant). He should not be less than 5ft 5ins in height.”


The Queen’s interest in organisations involving young people was not restricted to groups based in the United Kingdom. On July 31 1970, the Gazette highlighted Her Majesty’s engagement with the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) on a visit to Australia.

“’You are the Girls’ Friendly Society aren’t you,’ said Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, on her way from Evensong service at St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane, on Sunday, May 12. The Duke of Edinburgh also spoke to them,” the article revealed.

“Approximately 56 members of our Society, dressed in Commonwealth uniform, were gathered in the Court of Honour for the Royal Family as they entered the Cathedral for Evensong. The girls waited patiently outside the Cathedral for the duration of the service, and it was on their way out that the Queen and the Duke spoke with the members.”

The article, penned by the GFS in Australia, carried on: “We, as GFS members should feel honoured that the Queen knew us, because she spoke her words not as a question but as a known fact. This event was the first of many an exciting moment for members of our Society.”

The GFS also benefited from the interest of the Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, the Gazette reporting: “On April 13, two members of GFS were given the privilege to represent our Society at the Fashion Parade at the Oasis Garden at which Princess Anne was present.” The two members reported that after the parade and morning tea in the main swimming pool area, they had the ‘wonderful experience’ of speaking with the princess.

We learn that Coorparoo girl Jane Elliot was chosen to present a bouquet to Princess Anne at the Brisbane cricket ground the following day. “After presenting the bouquet to the Princess, the thrill of Jane’s life came when the Duke of Edinburgh spoke to her and asked her where her school was, so that he could give them an extra big wave.

“The Queen passed our GFS club rooms on three occasions on her way to the city for different functions, so I hope she saw our sign and flags as she passed. All in all the GFS really had more than their share of ‘good luck’ on this Royal occasion and I am sure the Queen found a place in all our hearts – even those of us who were not lucky enough to get to see or meet her.”


Constance Clarke, General Secretary for Mothers’ Union Ireland, submitted this report to the Gazette on July 30 1973. “In June a party of 47 representatives from every part of Ireland travelled to London for the Central Celebrations. The most wonderful part of these celebrations was the sense of worldwide fellowship as one met and mingled with the hundreds of delegates from so many nations, even from the farthest comers of the earth. 

“The first event on the 9th June was a reception at St James’s Palace where our Royal Patron, HM Queen Elizabeth, received all the delegates. In addition to the General President of Ireland, Mrs Joan Pike, five Irish members were included amongst those presented to the Queen. Her Majesty expressed sympathy with Mrs Elinor Shannon who was bravely enduring the effects of an accident. 

“On the next day was the very beautiful Thanksgiving Service in Westminster Abbey, when the sermon was preached by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Irish Banner was carried in procession by Mrs Burrows of Dublin. Mrs Hall of Cork, dressed in Irish national costume, joined the international lining party outside the Abbey to greet the Queen Mother who attended the Service. 

“Afterwards, at the Garden Party for all the congregation in the Westminster Gardens, the Queen, attended by Mrs Varah, the Central President, spoke to many of the members. On this very special occasion it was a great pleasure to have with us the Primate, the Bishops of Killaloe, Tuam and Derry, and our own Chaplain, the Rev NV Commiskey.”

Meeting Mothers' Union members on the organisation's centenary, 1976.
Meeting Mothers' Union members on the organisation's centenary, 1976.

When the Mothers’ Union celebrated its centenary in 1976, Her Majesty was a valued guest at a number of key events in London. An Open Day was held at Mary Sumner House on June 9, and this was followed by a reception for delegates in St James’ Palace, with Her Majesty in attendance.

The following day, the Queen and the Queen Mother were also present at a Service of Thanksgiving and Praise for the Mothers’ Union in Westminster Abbey. The Gazette reported that this was followed by a river cruise arranged by the London and Southwark Dioceses – though there is no mention of the Queen joining MU members on the cruise!

In September, the Gazette carried a photo of Her Majesty meeting MU members at the celebrations in London, and reported that these events were followed by centenary celebrations held in Dublin.


The Church Army celebrated its centenary in 1982, and the front page of the July 9 issue of the Gazette carried a lovely photo of Her Majesty cutting a celebration cake at a reception in the Church Army College grounds with Admiral Sir Horace Law, chairman of the Board, and the Rev Michael Turnbull, Chief Secretary.  The reception followed a National Service of Thanksgiving for the Church Army held in Westminster Abbey.

A visit to celebrate Church Army's centenary.
A visit to celebrate Church Army's centenary.

Mothers’ Union members were back in London meeting Her Majesty in June 1985, when 18 of them travelled over for the occasion of the renovation of their international headquarters, Mary Sumner House.

“The building has been re–equipped at a cost of a million pounds which the members have donated in keeping with a custom established when the headquarters was built,” the Gazette reported. “Queen Elizabeth, a patron of MU, will attend a service marking the Diamond Jubilee of Mary Sumner House and will visit the headquarters which is the base of the organisation’s research and support workers.”

Another organisation of which Her Majesty was patron was the Council of Christians and Jews. On July 27 1990, the Rev Leslie Stevenson wrote a lengthy article about a young adults’ study tour of Israel.

“Through the engagement and financial help of the Bishop of Down, I was able to take part in the Council of Christians and Jews Young Adults Study Tour of Israel in the spring of this year,” he wrote. “The Council was founded in 1942 and is under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen. Its aim is to promote dialogue between Christians and Jews.”


The Queen was also a patron of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), and hosted a reception in St James’ Palace in 1996.

“The Very Rev Philip Knowles, Dean of Cashel, and Mr John Crothers, Joint Chairman of the Joint Committee for Church Music in Ireland, were presented to Her Majesty the Queen at a Royal Reception in St James Palace, London, at the end of May,” the Gazette reported.

“The reception was held to raise much needed funds for the Royal School of Church Music Appeal, enabling it to provide increased training and support at local levels from its headquarters in Dorking, Surrey.

“Both gentlemen, along with other RSCM executive officials, were presented by the School’s Director, Dr Harry Bramma, to the Queen, who was dressed appropriately in RSCM royal blue. Queen Elizabeth then passed into other rooms of the palace where she and some 600 guests, some from Ireland, were entertained by musical groups…

“John Crothers said: ‘It’s very gratifying to see the importance the RSCM attaches to its Irish connections.’”

In June 2003, the Mothers’ Union was lobbying its patron in relation to concerns about world poverty.

The Gazette reported that the MU had issued ‘an urgent call’ for people all around the world to take part in its global Prayer and Petition initiative from June 10–14.

The climax of the initiative, which formed part of MU’s global prayer vigil, was to be marked by a formal presentation of the petition to Her Majesty the Queen. 

It stated: “In our concern for the well–being of millions of families around the world – which include many of our own valued members – we recognise the horrors of global poverty.

“If the Jubilee Debt Campaign can help to improve the standard of living for even a handful of some of the most deprived families in the world, then it will have been a huge success,” Clare Berry, Head of Marketing at the MU, was quoted as saying. The Gazette pointed out that the Jubilee Debt Campaign was launched in London on May 14 2002 by a coalition of supportive agencies.

On June 1 2017, Valerie Ash, President of Connor Mothers’ Union, was one of five Diocesan Presidents from across the UK and Ireland to attend a Garden Party hosted by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

The Queen greets visitors at the party in the palace gardens.
The Queen greets visitors at the party in the palace gardens.

Speaking to the Gazette published on June 23 that year, Mrs Ash said it had been a privilege to represent Mothers’ Union members at this once in a lifetime event, especially as MU in Ireland was celebrating ‘13 decades of Love and Service,’ a programme marking the 130th anniversary of the founding of the first MU branch in Raheny, Dublin.

“What a wonderful day it was!” said Mrs Ash. “I enjoyed the fellowship of the Diocesan Presidents from Sodor and Man, Bristol, Manchester, Southwell along with Robert Dawes from Mary Sumner House.”

Mothers' Union Diocesan Presidents at the Royal Garden Party, 2017.
Mothers' Union Diocesan Presidents at the Royal Garden Party, 2017.


‘The Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy does much more than just take care of the sons of clergymen’ shouted an advertisement which ran in the columns of the Gazette on a regular basis during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Despite its name, the advert reveals that the Corporation gave out grants to more than 2,000 serving and retired clergy and clergy widows each year. “We know that there must be many more cases of hardship than those we hear about. Perhaps our name deters people!” the advertisement states (maybe time for a rebranding!).

Needless to say, the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy is not shy about declaring that its patron is Her Majesty the Queen.

Being able to boast that Her Majesty is a patron of an organisation clearly gave that organisation quite some kudos.  ‘By appointment to …’ was also something to shout about. Through advertisements in the Gazette, we learn that Walker Organs, established in 1828 were organ builders by appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

An advert from December 1955.
An advert from December 1955.

Throughout her reign, the Queen was patron of more than 600 charitable organisations – the practice of members of the Royal Family lending their names to organisations through formal patronages is thought to have existed since the 18th century. The first recorded patronage was King George II’s involvement with the Society of Antiquaries.  The first patron of the Mothers’ Union was Queen Victoria, in 1898.

As in everything else she committed to, Her Majesty gave herself willingly to all those charities who could proudly declare her their patron.

With thanks to the editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette for copyright reproductions.

Readers may also be interested in yesterday’s article on opinion on the monarchy throughout the Queen’s reign.

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