Adeane, Michael Edward, Baron Adeane 1910-1984, private secretary to Queen Elizabeth II, was born 30 September 1910 in London, the only son of Captain Henry Robert Augustus Adeane, of the Coldstream Guards, who was killed in action in 1914, and his wife, Victoria Eugenie, daughter of Arthur John Bigge (later Lord Stamfordham) [qv.]. He was educated at Eton and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he achieved a second class (first division) in part i of the history tripos (1930) and a first class (second division) in part ii (1931). The college made him an honorary fellow in 1971.
He then joined the Coldstream Guards and from 1934 to 1936 was aide-de-camp to two successive governors-general of Canada, the Earl of Bessborough [qv.] and Lord Tweedsmuir [qv.]. In 1937 he was appointed equerry and assistant private secretary to King George VI and accompanied the King and Queen on their visit to Canada and the United States in the summer of 1939. On the outbreak of war he rejoined his regiment, being promoted to major in 1941. From 1942 to 1943 he was a member of the joint staff mission in Washington with the acting rank of lieutenant-colonel. From 1943 to 1945 he served with the 5th battalion Coldstream Guards as company commander and second-in-command. In the battle of Normandy he had to take over command of the battalion, was wounded in the stomach, and mentioned in dispatches. In 1945 he returned to Buckingham Palace and for the remainder of the reign served as assistant private secretary to King George VI. In 1947 he was a member of the royal party on their visit to South Africa and in 1952, having been seconded to the staff of Princess Elizabeth, was with her in Kenya at the time of her father's death. The new Queen decreed that he should continue as one of her assistant private secretaries, which he did until, on the retirement of Sir Alan Lascelles [qv.] on 1 January 1954, he became her principal private secretary, retaining this office until his retirement in 1972. He was also keeper of the Queen's archives (1953-72).
The three main duties of the Queen's private secretary are to be the link between the monarch and her ministers, especially her prime ministers, to make the arrangements for her public engagements and for the numerous speeches which she is called upon to make, and to deal with her massive correspondence.
The first twenty years of the reign were marked by demands for an ever-expanding programme of public engagements at home and abroad, and by an intrusive, and not always charitable, scrutiny of the Queen and her family by the media. It was largely due to Adeane that the monarchy was able to adjust to these pressures, while retaining its essential dignity and mystery. Although some judged his advice to be unduly cautious and the speeches which he drafted for the Queen to be lacking in imagination, he was able to avoid the controversies to which a more adventurous private secretary might have exposed a constitutional sovereign. Adeane had to deal with six British prime ministers and with many more from Commonwealth countries as well as with their governors-general. He treated all with equal courtesy and respect and was invariably well briefed on their personalities and policies. These qualities showed to particular advantage during overseas tours. During these years the Queen visited almost every country in the Commonwealth, several of them more than once, and many foreign countries including most of those in western Europe. Adeane was responsible for the arrangements for all these visits. He also performed a notable service to the royal family by his compelling evidence to the select committee of the House of Commons on the civil list in 1971 outlining the Queen's workload and commitments. This led later to the civil list being reviewed annually and submitted to Parliament in the same way as a departmental budget.
Professor Harold Laski [qv.] wrote in 1942: The Secretary to the Monarch occupies to the Crown much the same position that the Crown itself in our system occupies to the Government; he must advise and encourage and warn — The Royal Secretary walks on a tight-rope below which he is never unaware that an abyss is yawning — A bad Private Secretary, who was rash or indiscreet or untrustworthy might easily make the system of constitutional monarchy unworkable (Fortnightly Review, vol. clviii, July-Dec. 1942). By these criteria, Adeane was highly successful.
In his style of work, he closely resembled his grandfather, Lord Stamfordham, of whom it was said (DNB 1931-40) that he was a man of persistent industry, making it his practice to finish the day's work within the day. Like him too, he was regarded by his colleagues with a love which perhaps never wholly cast out fear. His wisdom, sense of humour, and discretion endeared him to other members of the royal family and their households, to whom his advice was always available. But he could also be severe on any lack of tact or competence. He was a popular member of several dining clubs, and although he enjoyed conversation, he would never gossip about the royal family. A totally concentrated listener, he rarely came away from such occasions without useful information which he stored in a capacious and accurate memory.
Adeane was at heart a countryman, a fine but unassuming shot and a skilful fisherman. He was an enthusiastic gardener, on the roof of his house in Windsor Castle and in the small gardens of the house in Chelsea and the cottage in Aberdeenshire which he made his homes in his retirement. He also painted in water-colours and was a voracious reader of biography, history, and Victorian novels, especially those of Anthony Trollope [qv.]. Modest, even spartan in his personal life, he nevertheless appreciated good food and wine and liked to smoke a good cigar. He was entirely free from social, religious, and racial prejudice.
On his retirement in 1972 he acquired several directorships, including those of Phoenix Assurance, the Diners Club, the Banque Belge, and the Royal Bank of Canada. He was also appointed chairman of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments and served as the Queen's representative on the board of the British Library. He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and a governor of Wellington College. As a member of the House of Lords he sat on the cross-benches but spoke rarely.
His honours came in a steady progression after the war until his retirement. He was appointed MVO in 1946, CB in 1947, KCVO in 1951, KCB in 1955, GCVO in 1962, GCB in 1968, and, on his retirement in 1972, received the Royal Victorian Chain. He was made a privy councillor in 1953 and a life peer in 1972.
In 1939 he married Helen, elder daughter of Richard Chetwynd-Stapleton, stockbroker, of Headlands, Berkhamsted. They had one daughter, who died in 1953, and one son, Edward, who became private secretary to the Prince of Wales (1979-85). Adeane died in Aberdeen 30 April 1984 of heart failure after enjoying two days' fishing in the Dee. It was characteristic of his modesty that, by his special request, no thanksgiving service was held in his memory. A portrait of him by David Poole, commissioned by the Queen, hangs at Buckingham Palace.
The Times, 2 May 1984
Contributor: Edward Ford