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Friday July 5 2019

Looking Back: the First Royal Lord High Commissioner

The 1929 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was the first to have a member of the Royal Family as Lord High Commissioner, in the person of the Duke of York (later King George VI). The appointment was celebrated in July's Life and Work.


THE General Assembly of 1929 was not merely epochal but was in one respect unique. Making history by its decision in favour of Church Union, it created a precedent through the person of its Lord High Commissioner, H.R.H. the Duke of York. Not that the Venerable Court had never before been honoured by the presence of Royalty, for at the end of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth King James VI attended several Assembly in person; but in 1929 His Majesty’s deputy and representative was for the first time a member of the Royal House. As Professor R. S. Rait, the Historiographer-Royal for Scotland, has put it aptly and memorably – “The Commissioner is always royal during the sitting of the Assembly, but never before has he been royal apart from his Commission.”

His Royal Highness Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, Baron Killarney, Earl of Inverness, Duke of York, K.G., P.C., K.T., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., D.C.L., was born at York Cottage, Sandringham, on 14th December 1895, the second son of H.M. King George V.  After periods of service both in the Navy and in the Air Force he began early to take a part in public life, manifesting a special interest in social and industrial questions, and showing in his intercourse with all ranks the kindliness of nature and the graciousness of manner which are so happily characteristic of the members of the Royal House.

On 26th April 1923 His Royal Highness married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, youngest daughter of the Earl of Strathmore – an event which aroused the most intense interest throughout the country, particularly among the bride’s compatriots. It was a romantic union which appealed to the heart of the people, and the feelings of affection and loyalty with which the Prince and his frank and attractive consort were then regarded have steadily deepened with the passing of the years. They have one child, the Princess Elizabeth, whose name is on everyone’s lips.

Their Royal Highnesses have been prominent in public life, both at home and abroad, their personal qualities of sympathy and sincerity and their unaffected interest in good works making them most welcome wherever they go. Their visit to Australia in 1927, when the Duke opened the new Houses of Parliament at Canberra, was a specially successful undertaking.

The appointment of His Royal Highness as His Majesty’s Commissioner to the General Assembly, which was so warmly welcomed as a sign of the King’s personal interest in his ancient realm of Scotland and of his sympathetic approval of Church Union, proved an extraordinarily happy one. The distinguished occupant of the Throne Gallery and the Assembly seemed at once to “make friends,” as by instinct. He won all hearts by his frank natural bearing, his unaffected interest in the proceedings, his merry appreciation of a telling point in debate, as well as by his own gracefully expressed, clearly enunciated messages, so full of good feeling and practical sense.

This son of the Royal House showed in full measure what Shakespeare calls “king-becoming graces,” and his return to the Throne Gallery, when the adjourned Assembly meets in October, will be the subject of happy anticipation with all.

The Duke of York became King George VI in 1936 on the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII.

The Lord High Commissioner is the monarch's representative at the General Assembly unless they attend in person. Following Prince Albert's appointment it became relatively common for members of the Royal Family to perform the role, and all four of the current Queen's children have done so at least once.

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