The Orders, Medals and Decorations awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel the Right Honourable Martin Michael Charles, Baron Charteris of Amisfield G.C.B. G.C.V.O. O.B.E. Q.S.O. P.C. Educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he served as an officer in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in WW2 and saw action in North Africa during which time he was temporarily paralysed by ‘Nile Rheumatism’. Returning home to convalesce in October 1940, his hospital ship S.S. Yorkshire was subsequently torpedoed and sunk, seeing him cast adrift and then rescued before recuperating in Britain. Back in action in 1941, he took command of ‘A’ Company, 2nd Battalion, K.R.R.C., part of the 7th Motor Brigade, and fought in and around El-Alamein, Tobruk, Gazala and then in the Italy campaign. After the war he served as Head of Military Intelligence (G.S.I.) in Palestine 1945-46, and was fortunate to have not been present during the infamous King David Hotel bombing, which had targeted the offices of the senior figures of the British Administration. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and was a refined, charming and well-connected individual with a keen wit and sense of humour. He was appointed Private Secretary to H.R.H. The Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh and heiress presumptive to the British throne in 1950, and was the first to receive word from Britain of the death of King George VI during a visit to Kenya. Continuing to serve H.M. The Queen as her Assistant Private Secretary (1952-1972) under Sir Michael Adeane, and then as Private Secretary (1972-1977), the culmination of his role was his central involvement in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations of 1977. Upon his retirement in 1977 he became Provost of Eton College, and was appointed permanent Lord-in-Waiting and Life Peer as Baron Charteris of Amisfield, created on 7 February 1978, comprising:
Orders and Decorations:
The Most Excellent Order of the Bath (Civil Division), Grand Cross set of insignia by Garrard & Co., comprising sash badge, in silver-gilt, bearing hallmarks for London dated 1940, and breast star, in silver gilt and enamels, in fitted case of issue;
The Royal Victorian Order, Grand Cross set of insignia by Collingwood, comprising sash badge, in silver-gilt and enamels, and breast star, in silver, silver-gilt and enamels, both numbered ‘952’ to reverse, in fitted case of issue;
France, Legion d’Honneur, Grand Officer’s set of insignia by Arthus Bertrand, Paris, comprising officer’s breast badge in gold and enamels (minor enamel loss in lower part), and breast star in silver, both bearing hallmarks, in fitted case of issue;
Queen’s Service Order, in silver and enamels, reverse engraved (Martin Michael Charles Charteris); with original box of issue;
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Officer’s breast badge, in silver;
1939-1945 Star; Africa Star, with clasp ‘8th Army’; Italy Star;
Defence and War Medals, the latter with bronze M.i.D. spray of oak leaves;
General Service Medal, 1918-62, single clasp, Palestine 1945-48 (Major. M.M.C. Charteris. K.R.R.C.);
Coronation Medal, 1953;
Jubilee Medal, 1977;
Group court-mounted with brooch pin by ‘John G. Southern – Military Tailor’, with associated riband bar, and a folder of official warrants of appointment, toned, extremely fine, and a rare combination of medals and awards to an important figure in modern Royal history
O.B.E.: London Gazette: 13 June, 1946
M.V.O.: London Gazette: 1 June, 1953 (Coronation Honours) C.B.: London Gazette: 12 June, 1958
K.C.V.O.: London Gazette: 2 June, 1962 (Birthday Honours) K.C.B: London Gazette: 3 June, 1972 (Birthday Honours) G.C.V.O.: London Gazette: 1 January, 1976 (New Year Honours) G.C.B.: London Gazette: 11 August, 1977
Q.S.O.: London Gazette: 31 December 1977
Royal Victorian Chain: London Gazette: 7 July, 1992
MARTIN MICHAEL CHARLES CHARTERIS was born on 7 September 1913 at Halkin Place, London, the second son of Hugo Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho, and Lady Violet Catherine Manners.
Educated at Eton College, and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 31 August 1933, being promoted to Lieutenant on 31 August 1936, and serving in the jungle in Burma in 1937. Soon after the outbreak of war in 1939, he was left temporarily paralyzed by a tropical virus (then called ‘Nile Rheumatism’) in Egypt, and in the process of returning back to Britain from Gibraltar to convalesce in October 1939, he was playing chess on deck with his Doctor when the hospital ship Yorkshire was torpedoed in the Bay of Biscay. He was nearly drowned as he was dragged under- water, having only recently regained any strength at all after his paralysis. Somehow surfacing he was rescued by a life raft and eventually picked up (as recorded in his account published in the Sunday Express of 25 February 1940) by an American vessel. Being neutral at this stage in war, the American ship was carefully inspected by the U- Boat but was in the end left alone.
After his recovery, he returned to active service in North Africa in 1941, taking com- mand of ‘A’ Company, 2nd Battalion, K.R.R.C. – part of the 7th Motor Brigade. His battalion saw a great deal of fighting against Rommel’s famous Africa Corps in and around Tobruk, el-Alamein, and at the Battle of Gazala, with his unit fighting in direct support of British M3 Grant tanks. In one of his wartime letters, he wrote:
‘The Gazala Line was like a shield held out in front of Tobruk, El Adem, and the coastal communications; its right rested on the coast, but its left, as must always be the case in Libya, hung open and undefended in the great desert to the south. It seemed highly improbable that the enemy would sweep south of Hacheim with his armour. We went east pretty fast…It was like General Post. There were British columns and German ones, cannoning off each other like blindfolded people: you could see the lolloping Verey lights, and like a bass string accompaniment you could hear as a background to everything the grunting, coughing, mumbling of the Panzers rolling east…The battle swung to and fro and for many days hung in the balance; indeed at one time we came so near to a great victory that I can hardly bear to think of what might have been. For my own part, I swung to and fro with the battle. For several days I was around Hacheim, and was filled with admiration for the Free French. I was at El Adem, Knightsbridge, on the edge of the Cauldron, and for two wild days behind the enemy at Mteifel.’
He was promoted to Captain on 31 August 1941, and continued to serve in WW2, being mentioned in despatches on 24 June 1943, promoted to Major on 7 September 1944, to Acting Colonel on 27 January 1945, and Acting Brigadier on 27 February 1945.
In his personal life at this time, he married Hon. Gay Margesson, the daughter of David Margesson, 1st Viscount Margesson, on 16 December 1944, at Jerusalem.
Returning to military service, it is likely his latter wartime career was spent serving in an Intelligence capacity. After a period of work as an Instructor at Haifa Staff College, he was appointed Chief of Military Intelligence (G.S.I) in Palestine between September 1945 and September 1946, which included a good deal of counter-terrorism work undertaken against the ‘Lehi’ Zionist Paramilitary Organisation (known in British circles as ‘the Stern Gang’). It is possible that he may have been one of a number of intended targets of the infamous King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, particularly given his key position in British Intelligence, but he was not present there at the time of the bombing. The notes taken from his lecture ‘A Year as an Intelligence Officer in Palestine’ (Middle East Society Journal, September 1946), put for- ward a number of views and insights made in defence of the ‘typical’ British soldier serving in Palestine, the problems which were experienced, and the increasingly volatile political context. The arguments in many ways remain current today, and show a great deal of empathy for all concerned:
‘The soldier is a bird of passage. At most he is here for three years, probably much less. His profession is soldiering, not the Palestine Problem…(he) wants to go home, to live a normal life with his wife and family instead of seeing them every other year, or he wants to go home and marry the girl who is beginning to wonder how much longer she can wait; he is full of unexpended energy and boundless youth. His life is made wretched by guards, fatigues, alarms and excursions. Some of his friends get bumped off, and… he inevitably allocates the blame in his own mind on a broader basis than is really justified by the facts. It is not altogether surprising that sometimes things happen that every- one regrets…Well, there is the business, and in the middle of it sits the Intelligence Officer, trying to make everybody see everybody else’s point of view.’
He had been appointed O.B.E. in June 1946, and by 1949 had returned to England. It was during this time that his friend John Colville, soon to leave his position as Private Secretary to Princess Elizabeth and return to the Foreign Office, mentioned the possibility of him taking the job. After an initial reluctance, his first meeting with the Princess was enough to make him change his mind. He later recalled that: ‘I simply fell in love with her when I met her. She was so young, beautiful, dutiful, the most impressive of women.’ This statement has often been taken out of context, inadvertently suggesting a romantic involvement where none existed – only a profound respect and friendship.
Taking up the role of Private Secretary in 1950, Lieutenant-Colonel Charteris was a natural fit, aptly described in his obituary The Independent as ‘honourable, loyal and, in his maverick way, a class act’. Charteris was in fact with Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip during the fateful trip to Kenya when the news of the death of George VI first began to emerge, and it was Charteris who heard the rumour first from a Kenyan news editor. He immediately consulted Commander Michael Parker (Prince Philip’s Private Secretary) at the Royal Lodge at Sagana, in order to inform Philip, who could then properly, and privately, deliver the sad news to Elizabeth. Martin Charteris later remarked that despite the gravity of the news of her father’s passing, she ‘seized her destiny with both hands’ and became Queen on 6 February 1952.
It has been argued by some historians and commentators that Charteris was the Queen’s favourite courtier (and this point has been brought back into prominence thanks to the popular Netflix television series ‘The Crown’) and that the Queen may have wanted him to become her Principal Private Secretary from the outset. As well-liked as Sir Martin was, there is no real evidence to suggest this, and quite regardless of personal preferences, protocol was duly observed. Charteris served dutifully as Assistant Private Secretary under Sir Michael Adeane for 20 years until the latter’s retirement in 1972, whereupon Sir Martin finally took up the mantle of Private Secretary. He was appointed Privy Counsellor and Keeper of the Archives, and was known and valued for his masterful ability to walk the line between familiarity and deference in his dealings with the Queen, and also crucially – for his strict professional discretion. Charteris was forward-thinking, colourful, relaxed, occasionally shabby of appearance, highly creative, and a shrewd judge of character. He was confident enough in his convictions to be firm when necessary in offering honest opinions and guidance, and he was trusted to add new flourishes of wit and humour to the Queen’s speeches. A keen moderniser, he made strenuous attempts to improve and update the public image of the Royal Family and its perception in the eyes of both British subjects and the world at large. Aware of the ever-changing challenges and opportunities presented by modern investigative journalism and television, he reportedly told the Queen upon his appointment as Private Secretary that: “Your job is to spread a carpet of happiness”.
One of the defining events of his career as Private Secretary was the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee celebrations, which were organised in large part by Charteris, and were considered in many ways to be his finest hour. The Queen’s Press Secretary at the time of the Silver Jubilee, Ron Allison, made the comment that, ‘key to this, and never to be underestimated, was Martin Charteris – the wisest man I ever met.’ Sir Martin Charteris helped to introduce the idea of Royal ‘walkabouts’ and helped to give the general public a glimpse inside ‘the gilded cage’ of Palace life. Retiring from his position shortly after the celebrations of 1977, he was given a farewell audience at Buckingham Palace. “Martin, thank you for a life- time,” the Queen reportedly said to him, presenting him at the same time with a silver tray engraved with the very same words. In his characteristic manner, he replied “The next time you see this, it will have a gin and tonic on it.”
In the following year of 1978 he was created Baron Charteris of Amisfield (of Amisfield in East Lothian, Scotland), was made a Permanent Lord in Waiting, and was awarded the Queen’s Service Order. In civilian life, he took up directorships with the firms De La Rue (between 1978 and 1985) and Claridge’s (1978-1996), also serving as Provost at Eton College (1978-1991) – an important role which he considered to be one of the most enjoyable periods of his and Gay’s life. A very well-liked figure, in his private life he was a very keen shot, an enthusiastic and capable sculp- tor, something of a dancer in younger years, and very much a music lover (featuring in an episode of ‘Desert Island discs’). He allowed himself a few moments of frankness and honesty with journalists later in his life (as reported in his interview with The Spectator).
He died on 23 December 1999 at Wood Stanway, Gloucestershire, at the age of 86.
With a quantity of relevant research, and numerous official warrants of appointment.