What Lady Mary Russell Couldn't Stop Thinking About During Queen Elizabeth's Coronation

On September 26, 2022, a short, simple death notice was posted on the obituary page of the British national newspaper The Times. It read: "​​RUSSELL Lady Mary. Died peacefully at home with her family around her on Sunday 18th September. Beloved wife of David, much-loved mother of Arabella, Anthony, Philip, Jason and Mariana, and dearly loved by her 12 grandchildren. Funeral to be held on Monday 10 October at 2 p.m., Our Lady of Lourdes, Hungerford. Family flowers only. Donations please to the NSPCC."

To most readers, the notice might have looked typical of those posted for grandmothers, albeit in this case for a grandmother with the aristocratic title of "lady." For royal watchers in Britain and abroad — particularly those in the media —  the announcement had a great significance coming just over a week after the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. As People notes, Lady Mary Russell, who died at the age of 88, had been a maid of honor of the late queen on the occasion of her coronation all the way back in 1953. The timing of Russell's death was especially tragic, coming as it came on the eve of the queen's funeral.

The weight of history

Though it is to be assumed that Lady Mary Russell (third from the right) was in too poor health to pay her respects during the days of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022, over the years, she has made clear the feelings she had on the day of the queen's coronation at London's Westminster Abbey way back in 1953. 

Per People, Russell was invited at the age of just 19 to become one of the new queen's six maids of honor. "Of all the girls our age in the country, we six girls were chosen to carry the queen's train and that meant a great deal," Russell claimed. She was invited through her father, Earl of Haddington, who had been a lifelong friend of the Queen Mother, though Russell had never previously met the queen, and her invitation via mail to be a maid of honor was a great shock. "It was overwhelming and moving — especially during the anointing," Russell recalled (via Tatler), adding: "It was an incredible moment, but all I could think about was how heavy the embroidery felt."

A lifelong honor

Like her fellow maids of honor who helped carry Queen Elizabeth II's train on the iconic occasion of her coronation seven decades ago, Lady Mary Russell made sure to highlight what an honor it had been to play her part in royal history. On several of the queen's jubilee years, Russell and the other maids of honor made public appearances as part of the celebrations, most notably coming together to recreate the original coronation photographs in 2013, per the BBC.

Queen Elizabeth II's extraordinary longevity allowed her to become the longest reigning monarch in British history, spending a full 70 years on the throne and being celebrated by Platinum Jubilee six months before her death. And somewhat strikingly, young women who served as the queen's maids of honor have also been blessed with long lifespans. Apart from Lady Mary Russell, who was the youngest of the queen's six maids of honor, another of that select group died after a long life by the time of Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral: Lady Moyra Campbell, who died in 2020 at the grand old age of 90, according to People.