obituaries: Lavinia Norfolk

Your obituary of Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk [by Richard Griffiths, 12 December] paid tribute to her career on the turf. She and the late Duke were also closely involved in many great moments in British ceremonial life, writes Hugo Vickers.

In 1937 she was one of the four duchesses who held the canopy over Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) at her sacred anointing. Of these only Mary Roxburghe now survives. In 1953 she spent days rehearsing aspects of the present Queen's Coronation as her stand-in. I once interviewed the Duchess and all she said was "I wore what she wore". But in the 1993 Yorkshire Television documentary Days of Majesty she was more forthcoming:

I had to be ready to come to the abbey every single morning at about half past nine, 10 o'clock. I had to take the part of the Queen. So whoever was rehearsing, they always had something to do with what the Queen was doing . . . The crown itself was very heavy and one had to make sure that it fitted absolutely right, otherwise it could easily have toppled off. It was so heavy and as

one's hands were full of other things

and it felt like falling off the whole time, so you had to tell whoever was putting it on to put it on a little bit forward or a little bit back.

When the Queen placed the collar of the Order of the Garter on the Duchess's shoulders in June 1990, it was not, therefore, the first time that she had worn one. The Duchess was the first Lady Companion of the Order and duly took her place in the procession, wearing a long Garter blue dress under robes. Unfortunately she tripped in the quire at the 1992 ceremony, suffering a much publicised nosebleed. She did not appear again.

The Duchess was a safe establishment choice for the first Lady of the Garter, meaning that Baroness Thatcher followed in her wake rather than setting a precedent.

When the Duke was alive, since he was Senior Knight, they would get into car no 1 for the return ride up the hill. When she joined the Order, she had to wait her turn and enter car no 23, the penalty of membership of a club, however elevated.

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