The RNLI’s Patrons: a history of royal heritage

In 2017 The RNLI received a gift of £2,500 from The Patron’s Fund to catalogue and digitise records in the archive relating to our Royal Patrons.

The Story of the Life-boat Coronation Number

Photo: RNLI

The Story of the Life-boat Coronation Number

The RNLI Archive holds a wealth of records relating to our Patrons that tell the story of the support and contribution of the Royal Family throughout the history of the charity. They include correspondence, photographs, naming ceremony programmes, and certificates.

By digitising these records, we are preserving them for future generations, and taking an important step towards making our historic records more widely available.

As well as our Patrons, these records contain fascinating insights into the Royal Family’s wider involvement with the RNLI. This includes our Vice Patrons and Presidents, support of the Ladies Lifeboat Guild, plus their appearances at ceremonies – such as the openings of our buildings, and the namings of our lifeboats.

The Royals and the RNLI: a brief history

The founder of the RNLI, Sir William Hillary, had royal connections, having been equerry to George III’s sixth child, Prince Fredrick Augustus.

When Hillary established the RNLI on 4 March 1824, King George IV became Patron. Since then, the reigning monarch has always held the position.

1911 was the first year the RNLI had more than one Patron, when Queen Mary joined her husband, King George V. Two years later in 1913, the Queen Mother joined them – with all three operating as RNLI Patrons together.

Patrons of the RNLI: a timeline

 1824-30 King George IV
 1830-37 King William IV
 1837-1901 Queen Victoria
 1901-10 King Edward VII
 1910-1936 King George V 
 1911-53 Queen Mary
 1913-25 Queen Alexandra
 1936 King Edward VIII
 1937-52 King George VI 
 1937-2002 Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother)
 1952-2022 Queen Elizabeth II 

Royal lifeboats

The RNLI has had many lifeboats named in honour of the Royal Family.

Royalty and rescues: From the archive

Over the years, the RNLI’s long-running Lifeboat magazine (previously Life-boat Journal) has reported on many stories involving members of the Royal Family.

In 1881 the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh were rescued by the Sidmouth lifeboat.

In 1953, we ran a Coronation Supplement, detailing the history of the Royal Family and our lifeboat service, which you can read here.

An unwavering bond

After almost 200 years, The Royal Family’s unwavering support for the RNLI is stronger than ever. Their warmth, generosity and understanding of our lifesaving work is incredibly valued, and we look forward to many more years of saving lives under their patronage.