GUEST COLUMN: Privileged to be invitied to Order of the Thistle service, by Royal expert, James Taylor

There have been many celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday so far this year.

I was at Windsor on 21 April, the day the Queen turned 90 which saw her carry out a walkabout outside Windsor Castle and also in London for Trooping the Colour, Her Majesty’s official birthday parade.

There have also been visits to Wales and Northern Ireland before the Scottish leg of the tour.

Each year the Queen carries out a week of engagements that celebrate Scottish life in early July.

This is known as Holyrood Week because the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh take up residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

This year, the engagements began with the Queen opening the new session of the Scottish Parliament in the parliament building opposite the palace and also included a garden party, investiture and a visit to Dundee.

I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend the Order of the Thistle service at St Giles’ Cathedral.

The Thistle is the premier Scottish order of chivalry. There are theories that there was an ancient order but it was revived by James VII, James II of England, and later by his daughter, Queen Anne.

The order is limited to 16 members who are all hand picked by the Queen for offering eminent service to public life.

Among the number is former Liberal leader, Lord Steel and former Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Airlie, who is the brother-in- law of Princess Alexandra.

Added to that number are the Queen as the Sovereign of the Order and a number of royal knights.

Although Prince Charles, known as Duke of Rothsay in Scotland, was not present, the Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, known by his Scottish title of Earl of Strathearn and the Princess Royal.

The service is held every two years and this one included special prayers of thanksgiving for the Queen’s 90th birthday.

St Giles’ Cathedral has a long history and the service made mention of the fact that John Knox argued with Mary, Queen of Scots here and where James VI lectured on liturgy.

I always feel a real sense of pride when singing the National Anthem but this is multiplied when the Queen is present.

Afterwards the procession made its way to the signet library opposite the cathedral where we were able to watch the Queen and the royal family enter their cars to return back to the palace at the end of the Royal Mile from the cathedral’s entrance.

The Company of Archers, the Queen’s bodyguard in Scotland made a colourful sight in their traditional uniforms, including kilts and performed a salute as the royal cars passed.

Holyrood week ended the following day. I was present in the crowd for the Queen’s last engagement in the city, a visit to the jewellers Hamilton & Inches before the Queen and Duke rounded off the week at the races.