On Thursday 8th September 2022, Queen Elizabeth II passed away at Balmoral Castle. Regardless of political views, this should be a time where everyone comes together to respect the Royal Family in their grief for a beloved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. The Queen was above all, a human being who lived for 70 years of her life in service of our country. There have been many posts on social media in the past few days asking what this service has actually meant for this country. Whilst I am no expert, I thought it would be a fitting tribute and celebration of her life to highlight some of the contributions she made to the furtherance of literature across the UK. The Queen and literature had a truly special connection.
The Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom
From 1953 to 2018, Her Majesty was Patron of The Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom (RSL). Throughout her patronage she oversaw seven Poet Laureates, many of whom are now mainstays of the different school curriculums across the UK. She also oversaw several RSL awards, including the Benson Medal which recognised the achievements of anti-apartheid South African writer Nadine Gordimer in 2007. Aside from the awards and formal roles, RSL offers education outreach programmes to help children in disadvantaged areas get into reading and creative writing. To see their message of condolence, click here.
The London Library
From 2002 until her death, Her Majesty was Patron of The London Library. The library houses over one million books in a diverse range of languages and genres. During the Queen’s patronage, the library became more accessible than ever. The historic Reading Rooms were refurbished in 2013 to become study spaces. More recently, the Emerging Writers Programme was launched to recognise new literary talent across all genres. The programme provides writers with mentorship and networking opportunities to help launch their careers. To see their message of condolence, click here.
The Seashell Trust
From her ascension to the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was Patron of the Seashell Trust. This organisation was known as The Royal Schools for the Deaf until 2008. During this patronage, the schools extended their remit to include all children with special educational needs (SEND). They provide their pupils with the highest quality education possible, with literacy – as in any school – undoubtedly a focus. They are also now able to offer assisted living facilities within the community through a network of houses. To read their message of condolence, click here.
The Queen and Literature
Aside from her official appointments, Her Majesty was a great advocate for literature and culture. Who can forget the famous James Bond sketch at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony? Although not strictly related to books, the sketch raised the profile of the James Bond series to the some 900 million viewers around the world. It is easy to forget that besides being a British cinematic institution, it is also a British literary institution with over 100 million copies of the 14 book series sold. In highlighting James Bond to the world in such a humorous and unexpected way, Her Majesty did a great service to British culture, both cinematic and literary.
However, perhaps the most famous moment relating to the Queen and Literature has something to do with a little duffel coat wearing bear. Probably beyond the limits of comprehension when Michael Bond first created the marmalade-loving bear from Peru, everyone was amused to see Queen Elizabeth II sat at a table with Paddington during her Platinum Jubilee. The bear brought a sense of fun to proceedings for both the audience and the Queen and highlighted her sense of humour. People instantly took the encounter to heart with wonderful drawings (like the one from Eleanor Tomlinson, above) being created. There was also renewed interest in the Paddington books and films amongst the younger generation, which can only be a good thing for literacy.
It is difficult to know how to sign off on a post like this, but Paddington nailed it during his visit with Queen Elizabeth II – thank you for everything, ma’am.
Loved reading this!
Good work! Thanks