The Quiet Empire of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
On Thursday 8 September, 5:30 PM local time, Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, and other Realms, Defender of the Faith, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England passed from this life into eternal glory. The entire world immediately responded. World leaders sent condolences to His Majesty and the Royal Family, thousands traveled to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle to lay flowers and pay respects, and social media was abuzz with reactions. It is clear that Her Majesty had a vast impact on the world.
The Queen grew up in the last days of the glory of the British Empire. It was already hanging on by threads before her grandfather George V died. And yet, Princess Elizabeth grew up referring to the King as “Grandpa England,” because in her mind, he was synonymous with that Empire. We all know the story of Elizabeth’s father, the future King George VI, and the abdication of her uncle after a short reign as Edward VIII that led to the man who was not supposed to be king ruling over Great Britain in its darkest hour. Neither World War was kind to Britain, and following each, the Empire continued to crumble and fade away. Such was the state when Her Majesty unexpectedly ascended the throne in 1952. Surely no one expected much of the 25-year-old young woman whose head barely supported Saint Edward’s crown. Yet, like her namesake, Her Majesty set about laying the foundations for a grand empire that would span the globe.
The new Queen was smart enough to know that the days of the brash, braying British Empire were long gone. No longer would empire be established by combat or exploration of distant undiscovered lands. Instead, Her Majesty used her charm and diplomacy. With purposeful political moves, she quietly built a grand group of nations under the title of “Commonwealth.”. This quiet empire was influential in establishing peace around the globe, often in places where peace had not reigned in decades. In South Africa, Her Majesty helped negotiate an end to apartheid. In Ireland, she shook hands with the prime minister who, as an IRA commander, had been influential in the murder of her cousin, Lord Mountbatten. But navigating rocky relationships abroad wasn’t Her Majesty’s only duty, there was plenty of work on that front right in her own household.
Like Queen Victoria, it’s evident that Her Majesty wanted to present her family to the world as “Christmas Card Royals.” Also like Queen Victoria, that desire would be foiled time and time again. Through a series of divorces, scandals, and generally bad behavior, the Queen guided her children and grandchildren, never losing her grasp on decorum, and never allowing her family to make her lose her grasp on the great things she had established. She handled each issue with much grace, and it seems that many people remember her for how she handled the bad things as well as the good. Her Majesty said in many Christmas speeches that it was her strong faith that kept her going and gave her comfort during those bad times.
As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a certain amount of faith, or at least a public appearance of faith, is expected from the ruling monarch. Yet from the very beginning, the Queen made it plain who was really in charge in Great Britain. At her coronation, Her Majesty bypassed the throne and went instead to kneel in front of the high altar, a gesture of humility and piety not seen by any head of state since. As she took her vows before God, with the Archbishop of Canterbury placing the crown on her head in a gesture that reminded all present that her temporal power came from God, her reverence was apparent.
This attitude continued throughout her life and reign. She frequently attended church services, she was the first monarch to open the general synod of the Church of England, and she maintained very close relationships with the various Archbishops of Canterbury who served during her reign. Her faith was not just for show, however, it was a genuine faith expressed also in private. One politician told this story in a BBC interview after the Queen’s death: He recounted that during a meeting with Her Majesty, they had been discussing some very difficult decisions that needed to be made. In the middle of this discussion, the politician stopped and asked “Your Majesty, would you please pray for me?” The Queen immediately folded his hands in hers and spent about three minutes in silent prayer. The fact that this statesman felt comfortable in asking such a question, with confidence that she indeed would pray for him, speaks volumes to Her Majesty’s personal faith.
She used this foundation of trust in Christ to guide the Church of England, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion through some very difficult times. The Church underwent some great changes since 1952, not least of which being the ordination of women and the recentering of the Communion away from traditional Europe. But Her Majesty remained to give advice and comfort where needed. Where words of comfort were most needed was during the height of the Covid pandemic. Her Majesty once again took to televisions and live streams across the world to offer encouragement to her subjects and citizens who felt isolated and alone. In a way that only she could have done, the Queen spoke personally to each person throughout her quiet empire, talking about her faith in Jesus Christ, her own loss after the death of her husband, and the reassurance that we would all be back with our friends and families again soon. A sentiment that rings differently now after Her Majesty’s death as she is united once again with her dear Phillip in paradise.
I must say that Her Majesty’s death hit me harder than I anticipated here in the United States. As my wife and I prayed for her repose during evening prayer, I am not ashamed to say that I wept openly and it took me several minutes to finish the prayer. That is a testament to how great she was, that people all over the world knew of her and mourned her. I am told that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren had taken to calling her “Grannie England,” proof of her legacy, her empire, not just an empire of nations, but one of faith and family that will be inherited and guarded by her descendants as she lives on in the hearts of so many. With poise and decorum, Her Majesty presented herself as, if not empress of the world, then definitely the empress of our hearts. She was truly an instrument of peace in the world.
God save the King.