A fine Collection of Medals to Members of the Royal Household

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Date of Auction: 28th March 2012

Sold for £21,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

The highly important G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.M.G., Great War M.C. group of fourteen awarded to the Rt. Hon. Sir Alan “Tommy” Lascelles, late Bedfordshire Yeomanry, whose long and distinguished career as a Private Secretary in the Royal Household encompassed the trials and tribulations of the Abdication in 1936 through to the momentous days of the 1939-45 War, when he was witness to many defining Churchillian episodes and joined H.M. the King on his first visit to Normandy: having then retired after the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, he remained a loyal servant, listening intently to the proceedings of the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer shortly before his death in August 1981, aged 94 years - his private diaries, published to much acclaim under the title King’s Counsellor in 2006, serve as a fascinating behind the scenes’ record of many other notable chapters in the recent history of the Royal Household, including such events as portrayed in the award-winning film The King’s Speech

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, G.C.B. (Civil) Knight Grand Cross set of insignia, comprising sash badge, silver-gilt, hallmarks for London ‘1938’, and breast star, silver, with gold and enamel centre, the reverse privately inscribed, ‘The Rt. Hon. Sir Alan Lascelles, P.C., appointed G.C.B. 1953’, with dress sash; The Royal Victorian Order, G.C.V.O., Knight Grand Cross set of insignia, comprising sash badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, with silver-gilt and enamel centre, both officially numbered ‘339’ and the reverse of the Star further inscribed, ‘The Rt. Hon. Sir Alan Lascelles, P.C., appointed G.C.V.O. 1947’, with dress sash; The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, C.M.G. Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Military Cross, George V, unnamed as issued; 1914-15 Star (Lieut. A. Lascelles, Bedf. Yeo.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. A. F. Lasecelles); Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937; Coronation 1953; France (Third Republic), Legion of Honour, Grand Officer’s set of insignia, comprising breast badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, mounted court-style as worn where applicable, lacquered, generally very fine and better (14) £6000-8000

G.C.B. London Gazette 1 June 1953.

G.C.V.O. London Gazette 12 June 1947.

C.M.G. London Gazette 2 June 1933.

M.C. London Gazette 1 January 1919.

Footnote

For the purposes of such a catalogue entry, it would be impossible to incorporate sufficient detail to lend justice to such a fascinating career, encompassing as it does so many salient chapters in recent Royal Household history, not least the momentous events of the 1939-45 War. Instead, interested parties are strongly recommended to consult King’s Counsellor - Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, edited by Duff Hart-Davis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 2006), and indeed other pertinent published sources such as Philip Ziegler’s official biography, King Edward VIII (Collins, London, 1990). There follows, however, a brief account of Sir Alan’s career.

Alan Frederick Lascelles, known to his intimates as “Tommy”, was born in April 1887, the son of the Hon. Frederick Lascelles, a brother of the 5th Earl of Harewood, and was educated at Marlborough and Trinity College, Oxford.

Commissioned in the 1/1st Bedfordshire Yeomanry after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, he first went out to France in June 1915, where, among other adventures, he ‘defied a Major-General on the field of battle and got away with it’ and was wounded by shrapnel in his right forearm on 24 November 1917. He was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 4 January 1917 refers), and awarded the M.C., the latter distinction while on attachment to the 15th Hussars. He was demobilised in November 1920, after latterly serving as A.D.C. to the Governor of Bombay.

Returning to the U.K. Lascelles entered royal service as Assistant Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VIII, in which capacity he remained employed until 1929, when he grew distinctly uneasy with the Prince’s conduct and resigned. In the course of his time with the Prince in the 1920s, Lascelles gained a unique insight into his charge’s foibles, whether on foreign visits to Canada, the U.S.A. or Africa, or on the home establishment - the Prince’s insatiable appetite for grand affaires, interwoven with numerous petites affaires, often with married women, was but the tip of the iceberg. To quote Lascelles, it was more like ‘working for the son of an American millionaire’ - he was ‘an abnormal being, half child, half genius’ and the cause of grave concern in terms of his suitability to reign. Indeed on resigning his post on returning from a safari with the Prince in East Africa, Lascelles took the opportunity of delivering him a severe dressing-down: the Prince responded by buying him a new car.

An appointment as Secretary to the Governor-General of Canada ensued, for which he was awarded the C.M.G., but in 1935 Lascelles was persuaded to return to royal service as Assistant Private Secretary to King George V, an invitation which he accepted on the basis the King would probably survive for several years. Instead, six weeks later, on George V’s sudden death, he found himself back in Edward’s employment, this time in face of the gathering storm over his seemingly innocent relationship with Wallis Simpson - Lascelles later confided that any element of innocence was as likely ‘as a herd of unicorns grazing in Hyde Park and a shoal of mermaids swimming in the Serpentine.’ And if he ever had moment to doubt his belief in the seriousness of the affair, it would have been quickly eroded during the course of the King’s yachting trip with Simpson in the Nahlin in the Mediterranean - a hugely expensive, often outright vulgar display, enacted under the glare of the world’s media. But as related by Lascelles, Simpson wasn’t the only problem, for he had seen Edward’s reaction on learning that his late father had all but written him out of his Will in terms of cash funds - by abdicating he would be in a position to negotiate better funding. And so it proved when Edward did indeed abdicate. Remarkably, however, his Private Secretary bore him no real bitterness, and, on the rare occasions he could be persuaded to touch upon the Abdication, spoke frankly, with the added weight of his unique and protracted dealings with Edward.

As it transpired, the antics of the Duke of Windsor would continue to haunt the Royal Household with alarming regularity in the lead-up to the renewal of hostilities in September 1939, Lascelles often finding himself in the unenviable position of having to act as middle man between the Duke and his increasingly exasperated brother, George VI. But it was during his subsequent years in office in the War, after a successful royal tour to Canada and the U.S.A. in 1939, that he became an invaluable asset to the Royal Family, so, too, witness to an international cast of visitors and crucial wartime meetings that would place him high in the ranks of those afforded such privilege. Once again, interested parties are strongly recommended to consult King’s Counsellor - Abdication and War: The Diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, edited by Duff Hart-Davis (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 2006), where a wealth of vivid descriptions of such encounters may be enjoyed, including full story of the King’s visits to Normandy in mid-June 1944 - it had taken all of Lascelles’ diplomacy to dissuade the King and Churchill from sailing with the invasion armada on D-Day itself - and to Belgium and the Netherlands in October 1944. Indeed, King’s Counsellor is hugely important reference work, containing as it does so many first hand accounts of secret meetings and personal opinions on the great and the good of the 1939-45 War, not least Churchill hard at work with his ministers and top brass. And of more behind the scenes work such as the employment of Lionel Logue to assist the King with his momentous wartime addresses to the nation.



So, then, to the King’s meeting with Truman in early August 1945 and the War’s end with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki a few days later, but while everybody else was celebrating V.J. Day, Lascelles was occupied by the discovery of secret papers in Germany that implied the Duke of Windsor had been in contact with enemy agents in Portugal back in 1940. And before his retirement after guiding the Royal Household through the tragic loss of the King, and the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, he would be challenged yet further by constitutional matters, though in telling Peter Townsend ”Either you’re mad or bad” when he confessed his love for Princess Margaret, Lascelles was probably- for once - wide of the mark: to his credit the much-decorated Group Captain was a naturally modest, diffident and genuine man, who dealt with the crisis in a gentlemanly and sensitive manner throughout.

Lascelles retired on the last day of 1953, having turned down a peerage, and received the following letter of appreciation from Winston Churchill, once more back in power at Downing Street:


‘My dear Tommy,

In the difficult and delicate and also highly important work you have done during so many years you have made your country your debtor. Your knowledge has enabled you to steer the best course through tangles which would have baffled others. It will always be a joy to you to have played the distinguished part which fell to your lot in the Coronation of our brilliant young Queen and to have advised and helped her during what must have been to her the anxious ordeal of the opening years of her reign.

For all your kindnesses to me and the help you have given me I am deeply grateful. I do hope you will enjoy the years that are to come and find them full of interest and activity. Please keep in touch with me whether I am bearing the burden or following the burden of example. Give my cousinly love to Joan.

Yours ever,

W.’


And over those ‘years that were to come’, Lascelles kept himself busy with correspondence and a constant flurry of visitors to his residence at The Stables at Kensington Palace, among the latter Siegfried Sasson, with whom he shared an interest in poetry - so, too, assorted journalists and authors keen to tap his brains. One such, charged by the B.B.C. to produce a television programme on the future of British Monarchy, asked whether Lascelles would be happy to grant an interview - and was startled to be told that the former Private Secretary would sooner walk stark naked down Piccadilly.

Sir Alan, who also claimed to be the only citizen of London to ‘have been accosted by a whore while walking its streets with the Archbishop of Canterbury’, died in August 1981; his papers are held in the Churchill Archive Centre.

See lot 798 for the recipient’s miniature medals.