03 Apr The Queen’s Speech
Americans, being independently minded, are proud of the fact that they dispensed with the government of King George III in 1776. Having freed themselves from the tyranny of “taxation without representation”, early Americans forged a new country out of the old, one based on an idea of freedom, which was enshrined in the Constitution (although at the time, slaves were not free). Today, the United States is the most powerful and prosperous country in the world, and it has arrived at this position without the need for a monarch’s rule.
It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that the monarchy continues to exercise a fascination for a large number of people on this side of the pond. How else to explain the headlines made by Harry and Meghan this week, in their interview with Oprah Winfrey? They made much of the difficulties they faced, and garnered much sympathy from around the globe. But what of the woman who is head of the family that Harry & Meghan have fled from? What do we know about Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II a.k.a. the Queen?
She has become more widely known due to “The Crown”, a dramatized series of her life. She ascended to the throne at the relatively young age of 26. Older folk remember the powerful image of the young Queen coming down the steps of the plane that brought her home to Britain, after her father George VI died in February 6, 1952. She adored her father and saw at first hand how the awesome responsibility of being king affected his health.
Elizabeth’s coronation took place on June 2, 1953. Six months earlier, she had spoken to the country in a radio broadcast.
“At my Coronation next June, I shall dedicate myself anew to your service…You will be keeping it as a holiday; but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day – to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life.”
The Queen’s Christian faith is apparent in the speech. Her faith grew during a time of war. As Winston Churchill said on the eve of the Battle of Britain, “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.” This understanding, which places Christianity at the heart of the shared values of a nation, would have been a commonly held view at the time. Yet, note the reference for people to pray for her “whatever your religion.” The Queen is also Head of the Commonwealth, comprising nations of many faiths from around the world. Note too, the Queen’s humility in asking others to pray for her, underlining the fact that she is the servant of both God and the people.
At her coronation the Queen was anointed, as is the custom, with the oil of chrism. This is the seal of the Holy Spirit, whose gift will help her to fulfill the promises she made before God and her people. The Queen is anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who blesses her and invokes God’s assistance for all her duties. This is an indelible seal, like Baptism. As Shakespeare wrote in Richard II, “not all the water in the rough, rude sea, can wash the balm from an anointed king.”
Although the Queen was born into a life of privilege, there are distinct drawbacks to her being a monarch. She has a life in the public eye, and her well documented family problems are fodder for an endless stream of articles and stories which appear in the media. Keenly aware, no doubt, that there is nothing she can do about these, the Queen has carried on with as little fuss as possible, even at times making light of her problems. Referring to the the break-up of two family marriages, one divorce and a fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, she joked that her year had been an “annus horribilus.”
Although she is the head of government, she does not publicly support any political party. In fact she has very little real power; yet her regal status confers on her a degree of authority that is both impressive and mysterious. Unlike her forbears who wielded power as despots, the Queen has a role in society that is mainly ceremonial and ambassadorial. It would be easy, therefore, to dismiss her importance. But her duties give her a vital role in a variety of areas, social and international. She welcomes visiting heads of state, but is equally at home visiting the sick in hospital. Her presence is more than functional. Her arrival in a town or village generates a great deal more excitement or “buzz” than would the arrival of a prime minister or president. Being independent of party political concerns means she avoids the opprobrium we heap on our elected leaders.
Every Christmas the Queen gives a fifteen minute speech, which is broadcast on TV. Although it no longer draws the number of viewers it once did, it has become a Christmas tradition,. The “Queen’s Speech” had its first television transmission in 1957, (in black and white, of course). Although it was 63 years ago and addressed to the people of the United Kingdom, its message could apply to the USA today. Here is an excerpt from that speech.
“At this critical moment in our history we will certainly lose the trust and respect of the world if we just abandon those fundamental principles which guided the men and women who built the greatness of this country… Today we need a special kind of courage, not the kind needed in battle but a kind which makes us stand up for everything that we know is right, everything that is true and honest. We need the kind of courage that can withstand the subtle corruption of the cynics so that we can show the world that we are not afraid of the future. It has always been easy to hate and destroy. To build and to cherish is much more difficult.”
Despite the challenges she has faced in both her public and private life, the Queen has always conveyed a message of hope to her people. Her strength grew out of her own Christian faith, which has guided her throughout her life. She demonstrates, in her words and actions, the firm belief that God will bless and prosper the work of those who seek to follow his teachings, and make the world a better place for others.