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Parliamentarians share stories of the late Queen’s humour and humanity

12 September 2022

Parliament TV

The Archbishop of York tells an anecdote about “healing the Queen’s car”, in the House of Lords, on Saturday

The Archbishop of York tells an anecdote about “healing the Queen’s car”, in the House of Lords, on Saturday

THE late Queen’s “great sense of humour” and “humanity” came to the fore in bishops’ tributes in the House of Lords on Friday and Saturday.

Speaking in the Lords on Saturday, the Archbishop of York told “a slightly scurrilous story about healing the Queen’s car”.

He said: “I had preached in Sandringham parish church. We were standing outside, and the Bentley was there to get the Queen. It did not start. It made that throaty noise cars make in the middle of winter when they will not start, and everybody stood there doing nothing. I was expecting a policeman to intervene, but nothing happened.

“Enjoying the theatre of the moment, I stepped forward and made a large sign of the cross over the Queen’s car, to the enjoyment of the crowd. . . I saw the Queen out of the corner of my eye looking rather stony-faced, and thought I had perhaps overstepped the mark. The driver tried the car again and, praise the Lord, it started.”

When he arrived for lunch with the Queen at Sandringham, she exclaimed, “It’s the Bishop — he healed my car.”

Archbishop Cottrell went on to say that he had noticed that, since the Queen’s death at Balmoral on Thursday afternoon, “we are all telling our stories”. Had this been strange, given that the Queen had not been a member of people’s families, he asked. “Except she was. That is the point. She served the household of a nation. For her, it was not a rule but an act of service, to this people and to all of us.”

The Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, recalled, after the announcement of her appointment, going to Buckingham Palace to pay homage to the Queen.

“I was the first female diocesan bishop she had ever received, and there was a certain amount of fluttering before the doors opened about whether I should curtsy or bow, wearing my robes. Just before we went in when, as usual, the Bible was being carried in on a cushion open at the verse I had chosen, I was told that I would be asked to kiss the Bible at the appropriate moment.

“There were a few moments of anxiety as I said, ‘I can’t possibly do that,’ and some anxious glances, as if there was some deep theological reason why I would not kiss this amazing Bible. I simply said, ‘I’m wearing lipstick’ — that had never been experienced before. I was told simply to put my nose into it, which is what I did.”

Once the formalities of paying homage had ended, the Queen “immediately put me at my ease”, Bishop Treweek said. “Rather amusingly, she said that her husband, Philip, wondered what on earth my husband would do, and indeed what the husbands of other bishops would do. I found that rather amusing, because I thought, of all people in the country who should know what the husband of a bishop would do, one was the Duke of Edinburgh.”

Paying tribute in the Lords on Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of spending weekends at Sandringham. “While there, often in January, you go for a barbecue; fortitude!” he said, prompting laughter from peers. “You have the enormous gift given to you of being able to spend time with Her late Majesty, with her family, with the jigsaw puzzle, and all the other things that are there. Thus, on behalf of these Benches — I know from the conversations we have among ourselves — there is a profound sense of personal sorrow and an even more profound sense of the significance of the virtues of the characteristics of the late Queen.”

More seriously, Archbishop Welby said that the Queen had possessed “profound, deep, and extraordinary theological vision”. He continued: “Publicly, Her late Majesty worshipped regularly and spoke of her faith in God, particularly in her Christmas broadcasts, with quiet, gentle confidence. Privately, she was an inspiring and helpful guide and questioner to me and to my predecessors. She had a dry sense of humour, as we have heard already, and the ability to spot the absurd — the Church of England was very capable of giving her material — but she never exercised that at the expense of others.”

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, also recalled staying at Sandringham. “Coming from a farming background, I had expressed interest in her racehorses, and she was very keen to show them to me; so I was summoned outside. There was a Range Rover there, and she came out very brusquely and shouted across to me, ‘Jump in, Bishop; I’m driving.’ She set off at a rate of knots, and I was holding on for dear life. She taught me a great deal about prayer at that point, which is perhaps why she was called Defender of the Faith.”

On a more serious note, Dr Smith reflected: “Some people have asked, ‘Why has she had such an impact?’ One of the features or tendencies of many of those in leadership for a long time is that the longer they are in leadership, the less they really listen. What struck me about Her Majesty the Queen was that she really listened.”

For example, he said, after paying homage to her after his appointment was announced, she had asked for his views on the history and industry of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. “In an informed way, she showed that she absolutely knew what was going on — but what did I think about it? What did I think was happening?”

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, spoke of being Lord High Almoner to the Queen for the past ten years. One of his duties had been to take responsibility for the Royal Maundy Service, at which “the same number of men and women as the monarch’s age . . . are awarded the Maundy money in recognition of their exemplary Christian service over a long period.”

Dr Inge continued: “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.”

Dr Inge did also have one humorous anecdote. He recalled a time during the Royal Maundy Service when a woman “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.”

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, said that he, like other bishops, had visited Sandringham “in the depths of winter”.

He continued: “Like them, I have both made my homage in due time, and faced the Supreme Governor of the Church of England across a jigsaw puzzle. I have had my sermon judged, and been put at my ease in spacious hospitality.”

Bishop Chessun also spoke of his sister-in-law, who is deaf, meeting the Queen. “As soon as she realised that my sister-in-law was deaf, her face lit up and non-verbal communication took place that was at the deepest and most wonderful level. My sister-in-law felt that she had had a wonderful conversation with the Queen, the Queen not least talking with her about deafness in her own family. Her capacity to reach out, particularly to those who live in this life with great challenges — disabilities, learning difficulties and many other challenges — was a real hallmark of her own integrity.”

The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler spoke from personal experience of the Queen’s “humanity, interest in people’s lives, concern for the local community, and commitment to worship and prayer”.

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, paid tribute to the late Queen’s part in the UK’s reconciliation with Dresden. “Her visit in 1992, with one of my predecessors, was a brave act and not without cost to her. It exposed emotions that were still raw in that city, but I know from my own many visits and close relationships that it was deeply healing — transformative, even — on the long road to reconciliation.”

The late Queen had also used “the combination of her status and credibility of character” to breath-taking effect during her state visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, and to Belfast in 2012. “Again, we saw something . . . of the risk and cost that walking the road of reconciliation involves.”


MEMBERS of Parliament paid tribute to the late Queen in the House of Commons on Friday and Saturday. Many drew attention to her Christian faith.

Paying tribute on Friday, Tim Farron, a former Leader of the Liberal Democrats (Interview, 6 September 2019), said: “She was a constant to us all, but . . . the constant in her life was her faith in Jesus Christ. Let us remember this: for many people it may be a perfunctory ceremonial faith, but for her it was not; it was a living, active faith in a living saviour.”

Shabana Mahmood, a Muslim Labour MP, said that the late Queen’s Christian faith “always stood out”. Ms Mahmood continued: “She was Defender of the Faith, but she was a Queen for those of us with other faiths — and, indeed, for those of none.”

The Conservative MP Sir Gary Streeter, who chairs Christians in Parliament, said: “In our celebration of her greatness as a monarch, she would want us to recognise the significance of the gospel message that produced such fruit in her. If she was the rock on which modern Britain was built, it was because she stood on the true rock — the rock of ages.

“In our pluralistic society, containing citizens of all faiths and none, her declaration of Christian faith never jarred, grated, or alienated . . . because it was authentic, and this was demonstrated through her magnificent Christmas broadcasts.”

The Conservative MP Danny Kruger said: “If modern Britain was founded on the rock of Queen Elizabeth, that is because her life was founded on the rock of ages, on her Christian faith. I read today that, as the country became more secular in recent decades, she became more publicly religious. It is worth noting that, while she dedicated her long life to the service of the people, she held herself accountable not to us, but to a higher power. This was the source of her joy and her goodness.”

Full videos and texts of all the speeches by bishops in the Lords can be found here

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