Sir Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House from 2007 to 2022, says: ‘Every institution that was fortunate enough to enjoy HM The Queen’s patronage and engagement now mourns her passing, and that includes the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House. She was an inspiration.
‘Chatham House members and its members of staff who were fortunate enough to meet her will treasure and draw continued inspiration from the memory.’
Beginnings of a lifetime’s service
Chatham House celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 7 July 1953 with a garden party attended by its founders and presidents, as well as their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and several high commissioners from the Commonwealth and members of the diplomatic corps.
The 1953 edition of the institute’s academic journal International Affairs also contained two special articles offering an analysis of the coronation. Author GM Gathorne-Hardy discussed the durability and strength of the monarchy and praised the influence of the royal family within public life. Historian Nicholas Mansergh surveyed deep changes within ‘the colonies’ and acknowledged the concept of self-government was now accepted while underlining the flexibility of the Commonwealth.
When the young Queen Elizabeth II delivered a major speech to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on 21 October 1957, she offered a message of hope that the UN would stand up to its high ideals for the betterment of humanity, noting that working together had strengthened the bonds of Commonwealth countries, suggested this existing foundation of international cooperation would be what the UN would come to rely on.
The 1960s were a time of great change for Britain and the Commonwealth as many countries gained their independence and numerous international royal engagements deepened political and economic ties and ensured good relationships with former colonies and other allies.
In London, the institute’s council decided Chatham House should give priority to the study of new issues that were relevant to British foreign policy, such as promoting a better understanding of independence movements and their implications for the Commonwealth.
In 1970, when the institute celebrated its 50th anniversary with a banquet at the Mansion House, HM The Queen sent a message of good wishes to guests – including UK prime minister Edward Heath – which was read out by the Chatham House chair Lord Trevelyan. As part of her Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Queen contemplated Britain’s position in the world in an address to the UK parliament, speaking of the ‘tolerance and understanding’ necessary for the Commonwealth to evolve into an association of 36 independent nations.
Royal visits to Chatham House
On 10 December 1980 Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning monarch to visit Chatham House, when she opened the newly refurbished conference hall named after Sir John Power, a founding member of the institute.
More than 400 members and friends of the institute had contributed to the Diamond Jubilee appeal to make the refurbishment possible, enabling Chatham House to remain a leading place in central London for discussion with international leaders.
Five years later, HRH Princess Anne addressed an audience in the same hall on the work of the Save the Children Fund of which she was president.