The King and Queen took a keen interest in Antarctic expeditions from the outset, Kind Edward and Queen Alexandra inspecting Scott's Discovery at Cowes before she sailed in August 1901, and the Queen's friendship with Shackleton in particular seems to have started here ('The Queen noticed the fine carnations which Dr. Shackleton had sent to decorate his son's cabin...', H.R. Mill, The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton, London, 1923, p.60).
Six years later, Shackleton received a telegram from the King's equerry 'commanding the Nimrod to visit Cowes in order to enable their Majesties the King and Queen to come on board and inspect the ship and equipment on Sunday, August 4...On the Sunday we were anchored at Cowes, and their Majesties the King and Queen, their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales, the Princess Victoria, Prince Edward and the Duke of Connaught came on board. The King graciously conferred upon me the Victorian Order, and the Queen entrusted me with a Union Jack, to carry on the southern sledge journey.' (E.H. Shackleton, The Heart of the Antarctic, London, 1909, I, p.85). 'The occasion was all that Shackleton could desire...The Queen in particular was struck by the personality of the leader. She and King Edward were to take a considerable interest in the career of this man who, more than any other explorer in the twentieth century, looked and acted the part.' (M. and J. Fisher, Shackleton, London, 1954, p.130). She in turn became Muse to the diarist at Cape Royds: 'last night as we sat at dinner the evening sun entered through the ventilator and the circle of light...shone full on the portrait of HM slowly it moved across and found the portrait of Her Majesty: it seemed an omen of good luck for only on this day and at that particular time could this have happened and today we started to strive and plant Her flag on the last spot of the world that counts as worth the striving for though ungilded by aught but adventure.'
On the return of the Nimrod expedition Shackleton gave a lecture before the King at Balmoral: 'The atmosphere of ease and cordiality did not come only from gracious royalty. It was something called forth by Shackleton himself, by his spontaneous enjoyment of praise and attention; and the King and Queen seem to have felt a keener personal interest in him than was customary in those whose duty it was to appear interested in everything. It was not long before His Majesty was to make clear in a public manner the extent of his appreciation of Shackleton. On 1 November 1909, a note went out from 10 Downing Street to Shackleton telling him that his name would appear in the Honours List on the King's Birthday, and his knighthood was announced in the List on 9 November.' (M. and J. Fisher, op. cit, p.272). Touring Scandinavia in 1909, Queen Alexandra attended his lecture on the Nimrod expedition at the Geographical Society in Copenhagen.
Four years later in July 1914, the Endurance lay in the Thames preparing to sail from South West India Dock: 'The Dowager Queen Alexandra, keenly interested as always in Shackleton's plans, brought her sister, the Empress Marie Feodorvna of Russia, and the Princess Victoria...Queen Alexandra had arranged to stay for half an hour but her visit became three times as long, for she insisted on being shown all over the ship, commenting favourably on the appointments and posing for numerous photographs. Her royal sister had brought a camera, and copies of some of the groups she took were afterwards sent to Shackleton at Queen Alexandra's request...The Queen presented Shackleton with a silk replica of her own personal standard and a Union Flag, together with two Bibles, one for him and one for the ship. When the ship was preparing to sail she sent Shackleton a telegram: 'I am anxious to tell you how much I am thinking of you and the officers and men of the British Antarctic Expedition upon the eve of your departure from England. I know it must be a sad parting for all of you who are leaving their nearest and dearest but we shall follow you with our thoughts and I pray that the Almighty will have you in his gracious keeping and will guide and guard you through hardships and perils. Wish you from my heart all possible success godspeed and a safe return. Alexandra.'
Both the Royal Standard and pages from her bible were saved from the wreck of the Endurance by Shackleton (the pages kept in his pocket) and survived the boat journey, indicating the depth of their friendship in these later years, and Shackleton's own belief in the Dowager Queen as his protector.
The Standard can be seen hanging in the wardroom of the Endurance in Hurley's photograph taken of the Midwinter Dinner, 22 June 1915.