It bore a lovely informal picture of the monarch in a trademark bright outfit and hat, carrying flowers. It meant a lot to my mother, and even as the cruel decline of dementia took its toll on her, the Queen’s face was one of the few that she still recognised.
My mother never met the Queen, although she would have dearly loved to. I suspect, if they had, they would have found that they had much in common. They were both of that war-time generation, which faced real privations that are unknown to most of us today.
Growing up not in a palace but on a hill farm in Inverness-shire, my mother’s journey to high school consisted of a three-mile cycle down the glen, a half-hour bus journey to the centre of Inverness, and then a walk from the bus station across the town. The journey was repeated in reverse every afternoon, in sunshine, rain, sleet or snow.
It was an upbringing which bred a toughness and self-discipline which gave my mother strength to endure all that life threw at her.
She was a lady with little sympathy for self-pity. We used to joke that if I had phoned her to say that I had just lost an arm, her response would be that I should be grateful still to have one fully functioning, as there were plenty people in life who managed well with no arms at all.
That stoicism was reflected in the late Queen Elizabeth’s approach to her own troubles, not least the break-up of three of her children’s marriages, and the tragic loss at a young age of her daughter-in-law and the mother of the future King.
Both women came from that generation where a sense of service, based on the Christian principle of the duty to help others, was at the heart of their approach to life.
My mother spent years caring for her elderly parents, and when they died threw herself into voluntary work for so long as she was capable of performing it. For the Queen, it was illustrated by the fact that she was still diligently working up to the age of 96, even meeting her new Prime Minister just two days before she died.
The tremendous outpouring of national grief and emotion we have seen over the past few days has been a recognition from a generally unemotional nation of the lengthy and enduring service provided by Queen Elizabeth over the 70 years of her reign. It also provides the perfect template for the new King as he takes up his role as head of state.
Losing a loved one is a traumatic experience for anyone, but to have to do so in the full glare of international and media attention, with your every move being filmed or photographed, must be a horrifying experience.
Moreover, Charles not only has to deal with the loss of a dearly loved parent, but simultaneously assume the role of the country’s symbolic head, with all the responsibilities and burdens that brings with it.
Those who, in the past, have questioned his suitability for the role of monarch will have been given cause to rethink over the last few days. The King’s public comments, whether in his address to the nation last Friday, or in his speeches to the UK Parliament and the Scottish Parliament on Monday, have been perfectly pitched in terms of the tribute paid to his mother, and give an insight into the sovereign that he will be.
Charles has served the longest apprenticeship in history of any monarch-in-waiting, but has the benefit of a perfect template to follow. He has referenced, with more emphasis than we have heard from him before, his own Christian faith, reflecting that of his mother which she was never ashamed to profess. He has committed to follow her example in devoting himself to public service for the remainder of his life.
The events of the last few days are a reminder of the value that a constitutional monarchy has to the country, in providing a unifying force that all of the nation can look to, regardless of sex, race, age or religion.
Whilst those who would argue for an elected head of state say we should choose a leader rather than have one put there by accident of birth, the advantage of monarchy is that we have a figurehead who transcends politics. A President Thatcher, Blair or Johnson would by definition be a divisive character, and it is impossible to imagine the scenes we have witnessed over the past week, with the overwhelming and near-universal national outpouring of grief, at the loss of an elected politician, however eminent.
The spontaneous shouts we have heard of “God save the King” reflect not just affection for her late Majesty the Queen, but also support for her son and heir as he steps up to take on her mantle, and doing so in the tradition of public service that she so diligently performed. All the signs are there that Charles will be a King for the people, and in so doing will secure the monarchy for generations to come.
At his address to the Scottish Parliament on Monday night, the King quoted lines from Robert Burns. But here is another verse from Scotland’s national poet that seems appropriate for the moment:
“... while we sing ‘God save the King’,
We'll ne'er forget The People!
But while we sing ‘God save the King’,
We'll ne'er forget The People!”
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife