On the second of June, 1953, around 20.4 million people in the United Kingdom crowded around only 2.7 million television sets to watch the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey. This was a watershed moment in the modern era, a day on which the ancient rituals of an ancient kingdom were open to the public in an unprecedented way.
One thing that was not broadcast was Elizabeth’s anointing. During the rendition of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, the Queen was divested of all symbols of her status — her Parliamentary robe, the Diamond Diadem and the Coronation Necklace — and was dressed in a simple white dress. She entered the Anointing Canopy and, in private, was anointed with holy oil on the hands, breast and head by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this most holy of coronation ceremonies, the Queen, who had made her oaths to God, Country, and the Church, was granted kingship from the One from whom all authority flows.
It would be easy to be distracted by the pageantry of such events, its perhaps anachronistic connections to the Protestant settlement in England, or indeed the entire media frenzy which tends to follow the British Royal Family, and forget that the Queen is a deeply religious woman. This comes not only from the obligation of the British Monarch to be, as Pope Leo X decreed, the Fidei defensor, but a genuine religious faith.
This faith is always evident in what in a secular country is perhaps the most direct form of Christian evangelism that occurs in public: the Queen’s annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth. The 2015 message was typical:
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role-model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.
Those who know the Queen best say that these sentiments are heartfelt and real.
Today, members of the Commonwealth celebrate the Queen’s official 90th birthday. We sing God Save the Queen and acknowledge that God has heard our prayer.
“No king is saved by the size of his army”, wrote the Psalmist, “but the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him.” Orwell, no royalist sycophant, believed the monarchy was one of the things that saved Britain from fascism. They may be some truth in this — all political leaders in the United Kingdom are servants of the Queen, who herself only reigns because of the consent of the people. The army owes its allegiance to the monarch but she could never declare war. It is a glorious balancing of power, one honourably embodied by Elizabeth R. There are good and bad ways to govern people; the British way is one of the good ways.
“May she defend our laws, and ever give us cause, to sing with heart and voice, God Save the Queen.” She has and I do.