What role does the Bible have in the life of Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history? How has her inspirational character and profound faith been shaped by Scripture? On the throne bridging the 20th and 21st centuries, Queen Elizabeth has faced many personal and public storms: an early and surprising ascension to the throne, the dissolution of the British Empire, political upheavals, international crises, national tragedies, family deaths, and the tabloid travails of her children and grandchildren. But throughout all her trials and triumphs, Her Majesty credits her personal faith in Jesus Christ as the steadying anchor to her life and reign.
Bible Gateway interviewed Dudley Delffs about his book, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Poise, Grace and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown (Zondervan, 2019).
Describe the childhood of Queen Elizabeth in terms of her spiritual development.
Dudley Delffs: Queen Elizabeth II grew up with the Christian faith instilled in her upbringing. Her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother as she was later known), made sure Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret, attended weekly church services, read their Bibles, and said bedtime prayers. The Queen Mother instilled a great love of the Scriptures in her daughters when they were young, reading from the King James Version as well as having them memorize favorite passages, often from the Psalms.
Elizabeth’s parents also tried to help her appreciate the universal bonds all people share and the need to serve others with humility and respect, particularly those in need. For example, during World War II when Elizabeth and Margaret lived at Windsor, they realized their disruption was small compared to those families losing homes and loved ones during the London Blitz.
Her Majesty also had an extraordinary example of the Christian faith in the life of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. The longest-reigning British monarch prior to Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria provided an extraordinary model of servant leadership. A strict moralist, Victoria firmly believed in the importance of propriety, obedience, and self-discipline, but her faith also included service, charity, and evangelism. For many years she led a Bible study for the children of her servants and the staff at Buckingham Palace. Her church attendance exceeded her ceremonial duties as sovereign and included active ministry to the poor, the sick, and those in need.
Queen Elizabeth II has followed this example, going well above and beyond the traditional role of the sovereign as Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Her Majesty clearly has a Christian faith that is personal.
How did she come to be Queen of England and what role did the Bible have in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation?
Dudley Delffs: Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne occurred upon the death of her father, King George VI, in 1952. Delivering her first Christmas address to her subjects that year, she anticipated the sacred vows she would be taking during her upcoming coronation. “I want to ask you all,” she said, “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.” Less than six months later, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in a spectacular ceremony in Westminster Abbey with more than 8,000 in attendance and millions of viewers watching a live broadcast.
The coronation service consisted of five parts: Recognition, Oath, Anointing, Crowning, and Homage. The sacred centerpiece of the ceremony, however, was her anointing with holy oil, a mixture of sesame seed and olive oil, perfume with roses, orange flowers, jasmine, musk, civet, and ambergris. Shielded by a canopy directly above Her Majesty, the Archbishop of Canterbury poured oil from the ampulla, the solid gold vessel in the shape of an eagle used only for coronations, into the spatula-shaped spoon, another priceless artifact set apart for use only on this occasion.
Dipping his finger in the holy oil, the Archbishop made a cross on Elizabeth’s hands, then her heart, before concluding, “Be thy head anointed with holy oil, as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed…. As Solomon was anointed King by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be thou anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord Thy God has given thee to rule and govern.” His words come from the precedent set by the earliest known coronation as recorded in the Old Testament (1 Kings 1:38–50) and consummates the intimate bond between sovereign and God, the King of Kings—and in this case, Queens. The Anointing conveys the holy seal of God empowering the monarch, a meeting and mingling of the sacred and sacrificial, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the mortal.
How has the Queen communicated her faith and her reliance on the Bible in her annual Christmas addresses?
Dudley Delffs: The sacred authority of the Bible not only figured at the center of Elizabeth’s coronation, where it was described as “the most valuable thing that this world affords,” but it has also been foundational in many of her speeches and messages.
From the beginning of her reign, the Queen has consistently cited references from the Scriptures, particularly in her annual Christmas broadcasts. “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn,” she asked rhetorically, “than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?” In her 2016 address, Her Majesty explained, “Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value in doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”
What would be a favorite Bible passage of the Queen’s?
Dudley Delffs: While the Queen has never identified one singular passage as her favorite, she has indicated several that hold special meaning, including Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
When did your interest in Queen Elizabeth and her life first begin?
Dudley Delffs: My interest in Queen Elizabeth II—the kind of interest that viewed her as a real person and not just an historical figure—began when I took a trip abroad my senior year in high school. When our entourage reached London, it was near the end of our tour and felt like a kind of homecoming.
When we toured Windsor Castle the next day, I wanted to know more about Great Britain and the United Kingdom—including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I was especially intrigued by the events of the 20th century leading to her accession and coronation. How was she able to sustain an institution that even a majority of her subjects considered an anachronism? What role did she fulfill in the actual workings of the British government? And what was she like as a person; as an individual? How did her personality affect her ability to do her duty?
My interest in Her Majesty and the Royal Family followed me into adulthood, as an English major at university and then as a writer. Subsequent trips to the UK along with visits to Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand allowed me to explore my fascination with the Queen and the evolution of the British monarchy.
What aspects of the Queen’s faith story do you find most surprising?
Dudley Delffs: The most surprising aspect of the Queen’s faith story emerged in the consistency of how she treats others. Naturally, we would expect Her Majesty to treat others well enough because she’s such a public figure and would not want to reflect negatively on the Crown or to give the insatiable tabloid press more fodder. But I found that throughout her life, Queen Elizabeth has shown respect, kindness, compassion, and curiosity toward all people. She’s as human as the rest of us but has practiced the Golden Rule since she was a girl—a princess—and treated others as she wants to be treated.
This consistency surprises me because I don’t think most of us, myself certainly included, are as charitable and Christian in our regular daily interactions. For myself, I have good days and bad days and, unfortunately, often allow those to determine how I interact with those around me. Her Majesty’s example inspires me to think twice about my attitude in regard to my commitment to practice my Christian faith.
Is there a singular event in the Queen’s life which you feel most shaped her spiritual beliefs?
Dudley Delffs: If I were to choose a singular event that has dramatically shaped the Queen’s spiritual beliefs, I’d make a case for the abdication of her Uncle David, King Edward VIII. This event continues to echo across time even now more than 80 years later. The Succession to the Crown Act was only passed in 2013.
The abdication crisis forced everyone involved to examine the sovereign’s duty in relation to an individual person’s liberties. In many ways, this is the same challenge almost any person of faith must consider: the dilemma the Apostle Paul examines in Romans. What is my duty as a follower of Jesus versus my freedom to live my life as I choose? The abdication of her uncle forced Her Majesty to consider these issues from a young age and likely prompted her to solidify her personal convictions and beliefs prior to her accession to the throne.
The Faith of Queen Elizabeth is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Dudley Delffs, PhD, is an award-winning novelist, poet, and biographer. Dudley’s lifelong fascination with his Celtic ancestry has resulted in great affection for British culture and frequent trips to the UK. When he’s not writing or traveling, Dudley enjoys hiking, painting, and smoking his Dunhill pipe on the porch of his home in Sewanee, Tennessee. He is the author of The Faith of Dolly Parton and his latest book, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth, releases just in time for Season 3 of The Crown on Netflix.
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