LIKE MANY members of the Queen Mother's Household, Patricia Hambleden held on to office until an advanced age, partly because the Queen Mother, now 93 years old, has naturally been reluctant to replace old and valued friends, partly because the attachment of members of the Household to the Queen Mother is so strong that they are determined to carry on as long as she.
And Lady Hambleden's stint as a Lady of the Bedchamber, which lasted more than half a century, did not in itself reflect the true length of that attachment, for she and the Queen Mother were friends long before either was married. Her death, following so soon after those of her fellow courtiers Ruth, Lady Fermoy, and Sir Martin Gilliat, will be a severe blow to the Queen Mother.
Born in 1904, Patricia Herbert was the only daughter of the 15th Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery. Her family were no strangers to royal service. A 16th-century ancestor, Sir William Herbert, created Earl of Pembroke in 1551, was Master of the Horse; the fourth Earl was Lord Chamberlain; in more recent times Patricia's grandfather was Lord Steward of the Household to both Queen Victoria and Edward VII. Having in Tudor times established their headquarters at Wilton House, in Wiltshire, which became a favourite place of resort for Charles I, the family seldom strayed far from the centre of affairs, and it was no surprise when in 1935 Patricia Hambleden's brother, the 16th Earl, was appointed an equerry to the Duke of Kent. On the Duke's death in 1942 he became private secretary and comptroller to Princess Marina, who had already appointed his wife a lady-in-waiting.
It was at Wilton that the then Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon attended Patricia Herbert's coming- out dance in 1922. Lady Patricia was debutante of the year, despite the misfortune of her father choosing that very year to go bankrupt, but somehow almost all the treasures at Wilton were saved, her strongminded mother taking in hand both her husband and the family finances. In 1928 Lady Patricia married the third Viscount Hambleden, and in 1937, when the new Queen Elizabeth had need to enlarge her Household, she invited Patricia Hambleden to be a Lady of the Bedchamber. At first Lady Hambleden declined, afraid that royal duties would interfere with her family life (she was to have three sons and two daughters), but when the Queen promised that she would not be called upon during school holidays, she agreed, remaining with the Queen Mother for the rest of her life.
Tragically, Lord Hambleden died, from a brain tumour, after only 20 years of married life, leaving Patricia with a young family to bring up on her own. In the first volume of his memoirs, Second Son (1972), her brother David Herbert described her as 'a saint, intelligent and humorous, without an ounce of snobbery in her veins', and what was refreshing about Patricia Hambleden's love and respect for the Royal Family was that it was not wholly uncritical. As sharply observant as her mistress, she believed that the conduct in recent years of some of the younger members of the royal family had caused the Queen Mother far more personal anguish than her concern over the abdication of Edward VIII.
Like most courtiers, Lady Hambleden remained grateful for the trips overseas, but endured a good deal of tedium while in waiting at Balmoral and Windsor. Charades and racing daemon, two of the Queen Mother's favourite after-
dinner pastimes, are not to everyone's taste, although the dinners themselves Lady Hambleden always found exemplary. Of the Queen Mother's cleverness she was never in doubt. 'You were never bored with the Queen Mother,' she used to say. 'She always had something amusing or interesting to say. In 50 years I only once saw her cross, and then she wasn't really cross; someone hadn't opened a door or something.' Lady Hambleden thought the way the Queen Mother retained her famous outward serenity in the face of family problems was to pretend that the problems did not exist.
Even when semi-retired, and living in comfortable seclusion in a charming Oxfordshire dower house, lame and in considerable pain, Lady Hambleden kept in close touch with royal affairs, partly through her niece, Mary Morrison, a Woman of the Bedchamber to the Queen. At 85 she rallied round to help acknowledge the thousands of letters and presents sent to the Queen Mother on her 90th birthday. The member of the royal family she most respected, apart from the Queen and the Queen Mother, was the Princess Royal. The one of whom she was most fond was the Duke of Kent - 'such a nice creature'. She was at one time chairman of the NSPCC, and carried out voluntary work for King's College Hospital. In 1953 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, and in 1990, to celebrate the Queen Mother's 90th birthday (by that time she had served her for 53 years), she was advanced to Dame Grand Cross.