"Let us not take
ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom."
--Queen Elizabeth II
(1991 Christmas broadcast)
Historians tell us that
Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II became lifelong friends--with great
In 1928, after their first meeting when she was two years old, the future prime minister wrote of his first impression that she was "a character ... having an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant."
"She was a highly conscientious
young woman, with wisdom beyond her years," said John Colville, who served
as private secretary to Princess Elizabeth from 1947 to 1949.
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned sovereign
on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey, following the death of her father, King
George VI, who had been the monarch since 1937.
Tutoring the Queen
Thus began a working relationship and
friendship in which Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II met
for weekly meetings, prescribed by British law, which stretched from 30 minutes
to two hours, of which no records were kept.
Henry Marten, the vice provost of Eton College, schooled Princess Elizabeth on constitutional history. 1 Churchill tutored a queen without formal
education on the complexities of constitutional monarchy, politics, practices,
and the law. Both had a profound effect on helping her to become the respected royal icon she was--up to
the moment of her passing on 8 September 2022. 2
Queen Elizabeth II met with fourteen sitting prime ministers weekly over 67 years. Her initial preparation for that duty is primarily attributed to time spent with Winston Churchill.
Liz Truss became the U.K.'s new prime
minister after meeting with the Queen at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on 6
September 2022. Truss was formally asked by the Head of State to form a new
government after the resignation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Understanding the longevity of Queen
Elizabeth II's success comes from knowing who she was and how she approached
her role. The Queen's vast time on the world stage begins with a crisis in
the Suez Canal (1956) and ends with the Russian invasion of Ukraine
In paying tribute, Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said, "She was
the still point in a turning world." (T. S. Eliot)
Giving and receiving advice
Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning
monarch in British history at 70 years and 214 days, combined a royal heritage,
and inspirational character, with a profound faith. "She reveres the work
she believes God gave her," according to one biographer. Those are
appropriate values for someone who was also the Supreme Governor of the Church
Self-effacing, common sense, and the
ability to know the pulse of her people. The Queen displayed those qualities
and more, though infallible she was not.
British law forbids a king or queen from giving orders or publicly taking sides on matters of state, though they are free to ask questions and offer a point of view. That means a well-read Queen Elizabeth II, with a wealth of historical perspective, including state secrets placed in her Red Box, was trained to be discreet with her thoughts.
News reports from No. 10 Downing Street, London, imply that her credibility with prime ministers was reinforced by restraint. Former British Prime Minister John Major said Queen Elizabeth II was a "safe place to speak openly without fear of reprisal."
She knew legitimate areas for giving
counsel and when the process ended. Unlike most executive coaches who focus on
the client, the Queen was interested in both the client and the institution.
That is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In 2019, The Wall Street Journal
proclaimed Queen Elizabeth II as "the world's most experienced executive
Suppose the Queen had published her
principles for being a trusted advisor (a guaranteed bestseller). The Journal suggested a short table of contents--letting clients speak openly, guarding their secrets, redirecting their thinking--incrementally, and doing everything with humility.
All of which takes practice.
Queen Elizabeth II knew what seasoned
coaches know--the only way to let leaders learn and grow is by allowing them to
make their own mistakes.
Breaking protocols and tradition
Can someone old school who lived to ninety-six
be institutional and fresh in their thinking?
When Winston Churchill died in 1965,
Queen Elizabeth II broke protocol by arriving at his funeral before the family
at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. She wanted to be there to show respect
and honor the man who was her most trusted advisor in the earliest days of
Usually, the Queen is the last person to
arrive at any function.
In the days following the 11 September attacks
in 2001, Queen Elizabeth II, breaking 600-year- old tradition, ordered the band
of the Coldstream Guards to play "The Star-Spangled Banner" to show
solidarity with the U.S.
According to The Guardian, on 13
September 2001, over 3,000 people were gathered outside Buckingham Palace when
the band played the U.S. national anthem during the changing of the guard
A sovereign sense of humor
On a different note, the Queen is shown
jumping out of a plane (a stunt double) with James Bond (Daniel Craig) to begin
the 2012 Olympics. Earlier this year, she discloses to Paddington Bear, in a
video sketch produced for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, that while her host
keeps a marmalade sandwich under his hat, she keeps one in her purse "for
On a visit to Scotland, she was told she looked just like the Queen. Instead of making a scene where she pointed out she was the Queen, Her Majesty replied, "How reassuring." 3
Queen Elizabeth II was a dignified figure with a lineage of thirty-seven generations. Yet behind
that pedigree, she was a
"character," as Winston Churchill first observed.
How true his description proved to be.
1 Elizabeth and Margaret: Love and Loyalty
3 The Wicked Wit of Queen Elizabeth
© Bredholt & Co.