The royal family has been closely involved with the Red Cross since it was founded. Queen Victoria became our first patron in 1870 and many others since then have held significant positions.
In February 1885, the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, formed her own Branch of the Red Cross to help raise money for medical aid for the sick and wounded. Thanks to her efforts, the Red Cross was able to send a hospital ship to the Egyptian campaign in 1885.
In 1905, she and her husband, King Edward VII, oversaw the reorganisation and reconstitution of the Red Cross. Queen Alexandra became the Red Cross’ president and King Edward VII became our patron. In 1908, she signed the petition for the granting of the Royal Charter, which was approved by the Privy Council.
Queen Alexandra’s continued involvement included the purchase of a building for what would become the Star and Garter Home for Disabled Sailors and Soldiers in Richmond. She died in 1925.
Princess Alice began her association with the Red Cross in the early 1920s, before her marriage to Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, in 1935. The third daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch, Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott enrolled as a member of the local Red Cross voluntary aid detachment in Selkirk and became the assistant commandant.
In 1936, Princess Alice became a member of the Red Cross council, the governing body which preceded the board of trustees, and her husband became chairman of the council following his brother’s accession to the throne as King George VI. She attended important Red Cross functions with the Duke and, in 1938, helped host the 16th international Red Cross conference in London.
During the Second World War, Princess Alice was president of the Central Hospital Supply Service and made numerous visits to various Red Cross Branches, hospitals and events to keep informed of the war-time work being undertaken. During these visits, she showed a particular affinity with children and was always popular with those who spoke to her.
Princess Alice continued her long association with the Red Cross in both an informal and formal manner, serving as honorary vice president until 2004.
The Queen Mother
The Queen Mother also had a long association with the Red Cross. In 1924, as Duchess of York, she became an elected member of the council. Following the accession of her husband, King George VI, to the throne in 1936, she was appointed president of the Red Cross.
She worked tirelessly throughout the Second World War to promote the work of the Red Cross. She hosted and attended fundraising events, inspected detachments, and donated personal items to many of the sales held to raise funds.
In 1952, she became the Queen Mother following her daughter‘s accession to the throne so her role with the Red Cross changed to vice president. In 1965, the Queen Mother became deputy president in order to allow Princess Alexandra to assume greater responsibility by becoming vice president.
Neither change affected the Queen Mother’s level of support for the Red Cross and she continued to attend functions and make generous contributions towards fundraising activities. In fact, she became president again in 1998 when the Red Cross received a new Royal Charter.
Her Majesty The Queen
In 1952, following her accession to the throne, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II became patron and president of the Red Cross. It was not her first connection with the Red Cross, though. In 1949, as Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, she became the patron of the British Junior Red Cross on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee.
In her role as patron and president, Queen Elizabeth has supported the Red Cross by attending events – such as the ball commemorating the centenary of the Red Cross Movement at the Royal Festival Hall in 1963 – and visiting offices and projects. In 1998, she presented a new Royal Charter to the chairman of the board of trustees during a ceremony at the Commonwealth Institute to bring our local Branches together as one Charity.
In February 2008, the Queen made a significant contribution to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, launched by the Australian Red Cross and the Australian government to help people who had lost nearly everything in the devastating fires.
Princess Alexandra agreed to become patron of the Junior Red Cross in August 1952 at the age of 15. The first patron, Princess Elizabeth, who had taken on the role in 1949, gave up the position after becoming Queen.
Princess Alexandra officially took up the appointment in 1954 at the age of 17. Her first public engagement took place on 11 June 1954 when she attended a display of Junior Red Cross activities in St James’ Palace. In 1956 she inspected two ambulances filled with gifts prior to their departure to Vienna and then Budapest to be distributed to refugees.
In 1983 she was appointed vice-president and resigned her position as patron of the Junior Red Cross, a position that Diana, Princess of Wales, took on. Princess Alexandra was appointed deputy president in 1998, a position she still holds today.
Prince Charles was appointed president in 2003 in succession to the Queen Mother.
Since becoming president, Prince Charles has attended many events. He has visited Iran to see the devastating effects of the earthquake in Bam, visited Pakistan after the earthquake in 2005, hosted a garden party at Buckingham Palace to celebrate 100 years of our Royal Charter in summer 2008, and has taken Red Cross first aid courses. He also hosted a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 2014 to celebrate 150 years since the founding of the Red Cross Movement.
His support has not been limited to his time as patron; he had previously visited many Red Cross projects, meeting with staff and volunteers since the 1980s.
Read about the history of the British Red Cross