That instruction was supposedly given by Martin Charteris (1913-99) on his appointment as her private secretary, the post he is best remembered for (partly thanks to his portrayal in the Netflix TV series The Crown, played by British actor Harry Hadden-Paton). He served Her Majesty from 1950-77 and oversaw the Silver Jubilee celebrations.
Later Baron Charteris of Amisfield, he was clearly a strong supporter of the royal family, his attitude summed up by his words: “Our monarchy is the best in the world. It's better run than the others, does a better job, and it's a lot more fun.”
After distinguished service in the Second World War and subsequent intelligence work in Palestine, then a British Mandate, Charteris returned to the UK in 1949. It was then that his friend John Colville mentioned the possibility of him taking the job of private secretary to HRH Princess Elizabeth.
After an initial reluctance, Charteris’ first meeting with the princess was enough to make him change his mind. He later recalled that: “I simply fell in love with her when I met her. She was so young, beautiful, dutiful, the most impressive of women.”
According to M&E, this statement has “often been taken out of context, inadvertently suggesting a romantic involvement where none existed – only a profound respect and friendship”.
Seizing her destiny
It was on a royal visit to Kenya with the princess and the Duke of Edinburgh that Charteris was the first to receive the news from Britain that King George VI had died. He later remarked that despite the gravity of the news of her father’s passing, the princess “seized her destiny with both hands”. She became queen on February 6, 1952.
M&E says: “It has been argued by some historians and commentators that Charteris was the queen’s favourite courtier (and this point has been brought back into prominence thanks to The Crown). Regardless of personal preferences, however, protocol was observed and Charteris served dutifully as assistant private secretary under Sir Michael Adeane for 20 years until the latter’s retirement in 1972, whereupon he finally took up the mantle of private secretary."
As a keen moderniser, Charteris made strenuous attempts to improve and update the public image of the royal family and its perception in the eyes of both British subjects and the world at large. The abdication of King Edward VIII over his intended marriage to American divorcee Wallis Simpson had particularly challenged the institution of monarchy as times changed.
Charteris helped to introduce the idea of royal ‘walkabouts’ and enabled the general public to get a glimpse inside ‘the gilded cage’ of palace life.
The culmination of his role as royal courtier was his central involvement in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977 and his organisation of the celebrations were considered in many ways to be his finest hour. Ron Allison, the queen’s press secretary at the time of the Silver Jubilee, made the comment that “key to this, and never to be underestimated, was Martin Charteris – the wisest man I ever met”.
Retiring from his position shortly after the celebrations of 1977, Charteris was given a farewell audience at Buckingham Palace. “Martin, thank you for a lifetime,” the queen reportedly said to him, presenting him at the same time with a silver tray engraved with the very same words. In his characteristic manner, he replied: “The next time you see this, it will have a gin and tonic on it.”
Rare combination of medals
The orders, medals and decorations awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel the Right Honourable Martin Michael Charles, Baron Charteris of Amisfield GCB GCVO OBE QSO PC, are estimated at £10,000-15,000 at the June 28 sale.
The group comprises the Queen’s Service Order; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 1939-1945 Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Defence and War Medals; General Service Medal, 1918-62; Palestine 1945-48; Coronation Medal, 1953 and the Jubilee Medal, 1977, as well as The Most Excellent Order of the Bath (Civil Division); The Royal Victorian Order and France’s Legion d’Honneur.
M&E auctioneer David Kirk says: “This is an exceptionally rare combination of medals and awards to an important and well-respected figure in modern royal history. We are delighted to be able to offer these superb medals at auction, for the first time, on behalf of his family.”