Ninety years ago today, Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth Alexandra May of York was born in London to the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth). Though almost no one would have anticipated her accession to the throne when she was born, she has now reigned as Queen of Australia, the United Kingdom and her numerous other realms, for more than two thirds of her long life, as Queen Elizabeth II. 80 years ago, she became the heir to the throne at the age of 10, upon her uncle’s controversial abdication of his kingship. Even then, succession laws meant the Crown would have passed over her, should her parents have produced a male heir prior to her father’s death. This little girl remarkably went from being an unlikely Queen to the longest reigning monarch in British (and Australian) history, oldest Sovereign in the world (and in British history) and arguably the most well-known woman in the world.
My support for the monarchy as an institution is well known to many, but my personal regard for her Majesty as a particular officeholder of the Crown is a significant element in this. She deserves recognition as one of the greatest sovereigns in British history, for her distinguished service, admirable conduct and genuine interest in her people around the world for more than six decades. I would argue that her sense of duty, irreproachable dignity, provision of stability and constancy of character make her the greatest monarch ever in Australia’s young history – even more notable since she has reigned for more than a quarter of our history as a modern, federated nation.
Times have changed significantly during her 63 years on the throne and the Queen has shown an impressive capacity to not only personally age with dignity, but to steer the royal family into the 21st century and provide advice to numerous prime ministers and other officials as they set the course for their respective nations.
She is precisely the kind of person who is appropriate to look to as a dignified symbol of leadership, justice, cultural heritage, honour, multi-culturalism and the various freedoms her subjects enjoy under the rule of law of the Crown.
She is popular and newsworthy, rather than obscure or irrelevant – yet she maintains a gravity about her not possessed by the world’s batch of banal celebrities and does not share their need to steal the spotlight. She has vastly more experience than any of her Commonwealth ministers and seeks the public good far more consistently than the countless politicians whose stars have risen and fallen during her reign. She is the constitutional head of a particular religion and sworn to uphold a certain form of Christianity in the kingdom where she was coronated, yet she deeply respects people of other faiths and no faith and is in a sense the guardian of freedom of religion in all her realms.
The honour and respect that is her due is not an archaic privilege demanded on the basis of the accident of birth, as some today might like to characterise it. It is a status bestowed on her as a public trust. The Crown carries with it enormous prestige and social capital, yet as with all such prestige and capital, this can be carelessly, foolishness or scandalously squandered or it can be used for what it was intended: the betterment of society and the increased trust and goodwill of the people. Elizabeth II deserves respect across the world and especially in her realms, not simply because she inherited a title, but because she is a model monarch for the modern world.
I have greatly enjoyed reading The Servant Queen and the King she Serves, a book about the Queen’s lifelong faith in Christ, published by the British Bible Society this year to commemorate her 90th birthday. It is impossible to assess whether her Majesty fits within what we would categorise as an “evangelical” from this distance from her. Besides the fact that many of her personal thoughts and feelings are kept relatively private from the public eye, the fact that she occupies the ceremonial role of leadership over the Church of England means would require her not to identify herself too closely with one faction or another within one of the world’s broadest churches. What is clear however, is that she does treasure and revere Jesus Christ as her own Sovereign Ruler and His teaching and example deeply affect her life.
I recall the emphasis she placed on Christ’s saying “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt 20:28) as the motto of her Diamond Jubilee a few years ago. It was clearly not a new emphasis for a woman who has essentially carried out her weekly civic duties for more than 60 years as Public Servant No. 1. This Queen draws on Christ’s example to remind herself that her queenship is not for her, but for the benefit of the people she serves.
I also annually look forward to the Queen’s Christmas message, hoping it will be one of the years in which she offers one of her more profound spiritual reflections to the people of the Commonwealth, as Christ’s birth is being marked around the world. Two of my all time favourites can be found below:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBRP-o6Q85s (the original televised message, in which the young Queen finishes by quoting from Pilgrim’s Progress!!!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1ZivB72j3c (the 2011 message, where she offers “History teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.”)
I thank God for blessing Queensland, Australia, New Zealand and all the nations of the Commonwealth with such a wonderful monarch. Happy 90th Birthday Your Majesty. God save the Queen.