When Elizabeth Windsor was crowned queen of England in June of 1953, C.S. Lewis watched from afar. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was the first to be televised, an innovation that gave the great Christian author a chance to reflect on what her reign might mean.
“You know, over here people did not get that fairy-tale feeling about the coronation,” Lewis wrote in a letter. “What impressed most who saw it was the fact that the Queen herself appeared to be quite overwhelmed by the sacramental side of it.”
He continued: “The pressing of that huge, heavy crown on that small, young head becomes a sort of symbol of the situation of humanity itself: humanity called by God to be his vice-regent and high priest on earth, yet feeling so inadequate. As if he said, ‘In my inexorable love I shall lay upon the dust that you are glories and dangers and responsibilities beyond your understanding.’”
The queen herself would probably agree. While her Christian faith was one that she shared as part of her royal duties and obligations, it was also a deeply personal one that led to a life marked by humility, generosity, and service.
Over the course of her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth met with five popes, the Rev. Billy Graham, and countless other religious figures. When she died last week, the queen was 96 years old and had remained a regular church attendee. As queen, she held the title defender of the faith and supreme governor of the Church of England, a position she did not take lightly.
According to the official website of the royal family, “The Monarch’s relationship with the Church of England is symbolised at the Coronation when the Sovereign is anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and takes an oath to ‘maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.’”
Dudley Delffs, author of “The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace, and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown,” notes that Queen Elizabeth II followed the example of Queen Victoria, “going well above and beyond the traditional role of the sovereign as Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” He says, “Her Majesty clearly has a Christian faith that is personal.”
Delffs adds in his book that the queen’s faith was not simply a cultural one, one that she projected in “polite deference to historical tradition.” Rather, he writes, the “Queen’s faith transcends her inherited responsibility.”
This was evident even before she took the throne. Several years before her coronation, on her 21st birthday, the queen anticipated the great obligation she bore to her country, asking for spiritual support.
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong,” she said in a radio broadcast. “But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”
When she was crowned queen in 1952, she had already embraced this service wholeheartedly. During WWII, she became the first female royal to join the military in active duty.
Her relationship with her husband, Prince Phillip, whom she married when she was 21, was one of love and care. By the time of his death last year, the two had enjoyed the longest-running royal marriage, which lasted 73 years. “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments,” the queen remarked at their 50th anniversary, “but he has quite simply been my strength and stay all these years, and I and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.”
After the queen’s death, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby praised her “deeply rooted Christian faith,” saying of her relationship with Phillip, “Theirs was an inspirational example of Christian marriage—rooted in friendship, nourished by shared faith, and turned outwards in service to others.”
Throughout her reign, Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated her faith through her commitment to family and country. Rev. Prof. Ian Bradley, the author of “God Save the Queen,” reported that the famously reserved and understated Elizabeth decided to speak out about her faith after encouragement from her husband. Prince Phillip convinced her to speak more about how Christianity had changed her life.
In her 2000 Christmas address, the Queen “spoke very movingly and powerfully about her own Christian faith and the impact it had on her,” Bradley said. “And there was a very positive response from viewers. And Philip, it was Philip who really persuaded the queen to make more of her own Christian faith and he said, ‘You should be talking about this.’”
The Queen’s Christmas message carried on a tradition begun by George V in 1932. After the turn of the century, they became more explicit in their Christian influence. “For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life,” she said in her 2000 address. “I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.”
But Queen Elizabeth’s faith wasn’t just evident from her words. At the Royal Maundy Service, traditionally held in observance of the Christian Maundy Thursday Service, the royals distribute alms to the needy, the queen took the important step of moving the service out of London to cathedrals across the country so that more people could participate, according to Bradley.
The queen was also ecumenical, hosting Christian leaders of various traditions and emphasizing to the public that the role of the Anglican church “is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions” but “to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”
Her faith even informed her personality: Queen Elizabeth was philanthropic, reportedly patronizing more than 600 charities. In her personal life, she was characterized by her humility and humor. (According to a former bodyguard, she once took a photo for an oblivious American tourist on a hike, never letting on who she was.)
“The Queen’s gift to engage with everyone whom she met and the ability to make them feel at ease was a remarkable skill and one which showed a deep connection to the people she served and a desire to live out Jesus’ teaching,” Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said after her death.
During an era in which church attendance plummeted and society became increasingly secular, Queen Elizabeth was a quiet example of steadfast faith. Six months before her coronation, the queen addressed her country in her first Christmas message: “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.”
And though she may not have been perfect, that is exactly what she did.
Madeline Fry Schultz (@madelineefry) is the assistant contributors editor at the Washington Examiner.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.