Former church leader recalls Queen playing cards and sharing ‘holiday snaps’

·4-min read

A former church leader has shared memories of the Queen – telling how he saw her playing card games and also watching horse-racing.

The Very Reverend Dr Angus Morrison, who has previously served as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said he was “nervous” the first time he met Elizabeth II on a visit to the Balmoral estate in the Highlands.

But he recalled that, when he was introduced to her, she was “sitting at a small table playing the game of patience”.

The minister, a member of the Chapel Royal, is leading Sunday’s service at Crathie Kirk – where the Queen would often attend – while parish minister the Rev Ken MacKenzie travels to Edinburgh as part of the funeral cortege.

The hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II left Balmoral on Sunday morning (Owen Humphreys/PA)
The hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II left Balmoral on Sunday morning (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The Very Rev Dr Morrison has previously taken services at Crathie, including when he served as Moderator from 2015-16, when he enjoyed a weekend stay at Balmoral Castle.

He said: “I suspect, like most visiting preachers, spending the weekend at Balmoral with the Queen for the first time, I was somewhat nervous in anticipation of our first meeting.

“Escorted to the drawing room, I found the Queen sitting at a small table playing the game of patience.

“After friendly greetings, she resumed her seat, with me sitting close by.

“She continued to play as we engaged in conversation. It struck me as a very kind means of helping the visitor to relax, having us both focus on the table and cards.”

But he said that “as the conversation developed, the Queen gave increasingly less attention to the game and became quite animated as we spoke”.

Recalling her as an “extraordinary person”, he spoke of her “genuine personal interest and humanity”, saying these “soon dispelled any sense of nervous unease”.

He continued: “Not long before my first visit to Balmoral the Queen, Prince Philip and various generations of the Royal Family had been on their summer holiday, cruising around the Western Isles on board the Royal Yacht, Britannia.”

And he said the Queen showed him “holiday snaps” which had included “picnics with the children on some lovely beaches”.

Speaking about this, he said: “For a few moments, you felt it could have been any devoted grandmother speaking of the fun they had.”

He also recalled being at Balmoral ahead of the Queen presenting gifts to her staff there – something he said she did at the end of each season.

While he said this took place in the ballroom at the castle, he had been taken to the library to meet her “where a horse race was under way on the somewhat unusual television installed there”.

The clergyman continued: “One of the Queen’s own horses was competing and we stood in the middle of the floor, with Her Majesty clutching her handbag, for what felt like a rather long time.”

And he recalled: “The Queen’s commentary as the race progressed, especially when another horse appeared to cut across hers, was interesting.”

The Very Rev Dr Morrison also recalled more sombre moments with the monarch, saying one of his services at Crathie Kirk took place during the time of the Iraq War, when “a number of military officers, in uniform, were sitting close to the pulpit, directly opposite the Queen”.

He said: “One of them had a heavily bandaged hand, in a sling, having been wounded in action.

“For the all-age talk, I happened to have prepared the story of love and sacrifice involving the Durer brothers, Albrecht and Albert, in which Albert’s hands were irreparably damaged in the mines as he laboured sacrificially to support his brother during his years of study.”

He said it was “traditionally believed” that Albrecht Durer’s Praying Hands artwork was modelled on his brother’s hands.

“The Queen was quick to link the story to the situation of the injured young officer present in Crathie Kirk and was clearly very struck by the connection,” he said.

“Sacrificial service was a theme close to the Queen’s heart and wonderfully exemplified throughout the long years of her reign.”