Damian Thompson, editor of the Telegraph blogs, made this online comment yesterday, in tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne: “…I often think that the Queen is the most impressive religious leader in Britain. She says little in public about her Christianity, but what she does say – usually at the end of her Christmas Day broadcast –is powerful in its directness.”
I wholly endorse what he says. Her Majesty, intuitively and skilfully, manages to remain the still centre of the ever-turning Anglican world simply by affirming her faith in Jesus Christ. In her Christmas message last year, quoted by Damian in his post, she stated: “God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families. It can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.”
The Queen has met plenty of philosophers and even more generals in her time. With her unique place at the summit of the Establishment, she has had innumerable opportunities to encounter the masters of this world in every walk of life. She knows their place and she knows her own. More than other modern monarchs, I think, she understands the spiritual significance of her coronation oath: a lifelong dedication to her people and her public duties; something to be undertaken with utmost seriousness.
This dedication is deeply admirable. Not for the Queen the possibility of abdication, as in the curious Dutch tradition. As a child of ten she witnessed at first hand the trauma of the Royal Family following her uncle’s dereliction of his duties. Watching her father, unprepared, untrained and unconfident, dutifully take up the burden of kingship as Edward VIII walked away from it, taught her what it means to accept your destiny.
Watching Margaret Thatcher after one of her election victories, the Labour MP Mrs Barbara Castle observed that she had a glow about her: the glow that comes from power. I do not jib at this; by definition, being prime minister is the exercise of power. But it is worth contrasting this with the observation of Cecil Beaton at the Queen’s coronation; that after she had taken the oath and had been anointed with the holy oil, there was an aura, a definite radiance about her. This was nothing to do with vanity, ambition or ego (things that constantly drive politicians); it was the instinctive response to the most solemn moment of a strange and solemn destiny.
When her Majesty said yesterday that she looks to the future with a ‘clear head and warm heart’ I felt that at heart it is her Christian faith that gives her the resilience and the resolve to be able to say this.
Long live the Queen.