Queen Elizabeth II


The University of Cambridge community is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty The Queen.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope said: "This news brings great sorrow for the United Kingdom as a whole, for the Commonwealth, and most particularly for members of the Royal Family, to whom we extend our heartfelt condolences.

"Her Majesty The Queen's reign defined the United Kingdom of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Her Majesty’s devotion to public service and the common good, her dignity, her sense of duty and her strong moral compass, will always be an inspiration." 

Queen Elizabeth II had a long association with the University through her family, and one that she characterised as happy. Her father King George VI, two sons, Princes Charles and Edward, and two cousins, Princes William and Richard of Gloucester, all studied at Cambridge. A grandson, Prince William, was created Duke of Cambridge and spent a term studying at the University, while her husband Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was an enthusiastic and supportive Chancellor from 1976 to 2011. 

The Queen on her most recent visit to Cambridge, in 2019, meeting Fellows and students of Queens' College, of which she was Patroness.

The Queen on her most recent visit to Cambridge, in 2019, meeting Fellows and students of Queens' College, of which she was Patroness.

Item 1 of 1

The Queen on her most recent visit to Cambridge, in 2019, meeting Fellows and students of Queens' College, of which she was Patroness.

The Queen on her most recent visit to Cambridge, in 2019, meeting Fellows and students of Queens' College, of which she was Patroness.

The Queen visited the University and Colleges on numerous occasions during her reign, seeing Cambridge through a time of great change. At the time of Her Majesty’s first visit as monarch in 1955, women had only recently been admitted to full degrees, the great majority of undergraduates were male, and student behaviour was perhaps a little more colourful: several veterinary students attempted to welcome the Queen by laying down their gowns for her to walk over, in homage to the famous story of Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I.

While maintaining her customary neutrality and rarely taking up a public position on an issue, during that visit The Queen chose to tour Newnham and Girton, both Colleges for women – perhaps a quiet signal of support. In 1948 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother had been the first woman admitted to a degree in the Senate House. 

On her most recent visit, in 2019, The Queen lunched with Fellows, staff and students at Queens’ College – of which, like The Queen Mother, she was Patroness.

Dr Mohamed El-Erian, the President, said: "Queens’ College was honoured to have Her Majesty as our Patroness. We will always remember with deep affection and great appreciation her visits to the College. On every occasion, she engaged our students, Fellows and staff in her uniquely interesting, elegant, and gracious manner.

"We are enormously grateful for all her wonderful contributions to Queens’, including how she inspired so many members of our community. She will be sorely missed." 

The University has a long history of connections with the Crown. Its existence as a body entitled to regulate its own affairs was confirmed in a writ issued by King Henry III in 1231. Monarchs and members of their families have founded Colleges (King’s and Queens’ most obviously, but also Trinity, St John’s and Christ’s); and have been both Chancellors and students. The Crown has established or designated certain professorships as Regius Professorships. The Queen designated two such during her reign: the Regius Chair of Botany in 2009 and the Regius Chair of Engineering in 2011 – the latter to commemorate the Duke of Edinburgh’s 35 years as Chancellor. 

Emeritus Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz said: "I had the privilege of meeting Her Majesty The Queen on several occasions. When she opened buildings and attended major events in Cambridge, she always engaged warmly with our staff and students as well as showing a continued interest in the University.

"On each occasion it was an honour and pleasure to meet with her, particularly in the knowledge that she always valued Cambridge University’s contribution to the education and wellbeing of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth." 

Regius Professor of Divinity on his role as Queen's Scottish chaplain

In these days of mourning, much has rightly been made of the length of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, its historic moments, and distinctive characteristics.

As Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, I have been privileged to add my own words of appreciation.

While the events that have punctuated her life have been recited, some constant features of this long reign have often gone unnoticed, especially those qualities that outlasted so many movements, trends, and fashions in our national life.

The Queen always turned up and stuck to the programme. This might seem easy with staff to organise and plan ahead, but it required a discipline to adhere steadfastly to a schedule that was demanded and often dictated by others. Looking forwards was also a characteristic attitude displayed by The Queen. It seems that she didn’t dwell long on the past or reflect nostalgically on what was once the case. There was an unsentimental focus on the task at hand.

Paying attention to other people was another hallmark of her long reign. Every teacher, health care worker or counter assistant knows how demanding this can be. We speak of ‘emotional labour’ – the effort involved in listening, reflecting, and responding in the right way to different needs, circumstances and personalities. The Queen gave her undivided attention, however briefly or however long, to those around her.

On the affairs of politics, The Queen always remained discreet. But on one matter she was anxious to tell us what she really thought. Since the turn of the millennium, she became increasingly explicit in her festive broadcasts on the significance of her faith. There was acknowledged a dependence on the grace of God to fulfil her work, a dependence that was strengthened by daily habits of devotion. And there was also an appeal to the example of Christ as a way of living. The theme of service was never far away from these reflections, nor was the sense that other faiths also stressed the importance of loving God and one’s neighbour above all else. A consciousness of divine vocation sustained her since she unexpectedly became heir to the throne after the abdication crisis of 1936; reaffirmed at her accession and coronation, this sense of calling has been a constant feature of her life and work.

I was appointed a chaplain to the Queen in 2015, becoming Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland from 2019, a position that I continue to occupy following my move to Cambridge last year. I met the Queen on various ceremonial and social occasions, and twice I was privileged to be her weekend guest at Balmoral when preaching at Crathie Kirk. In the numerous tributes paid to her over the past week, I can recognize the Queen I met. These form a coherent pattern in describing someone who invariably displayed kindness, determination, cheerfulness, and much practical wisdom. Perhaps more than any monarch since James VI took the road south to unite the crowns in 1603, the Queen has enjoyed a deep connection to the people and land of Scotland. There has been a fittingness about the peaceful end to her reign at Balmoral Castle.

The Chapel Royal in Scotland has been closely involved in the arrangements in the days immediately following her death. These have included the devotions at Balmoral led by her local parish minister, the successive nightly vigils at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and St Giles’s Cathedral, the service of thanksgiving, and her final departure for London. As Dean, I have been involved in the planning of these events, and I was honoured to be included in the party that accompanied the coffin on the RAF flight to Northolt. Driving through the streets and motorways of our two capital cities, we sensed the tides of emotion from the thousands of people of all ages who had gathered to show their respect and affection for our late Queen.

Very Revd Professor David Fergusson (Regius Professor of Divinity)