The Second Elizabethan Age

A black and white photograph of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by Sir Cecil Beaton

God-willing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will today surpass her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, to become the longest reigning monarch in our nation’s history.

As I write this column I am aware of a deep sense of gratitude and anticipation. Elizabeth II has been our constant point of reference in a period of unprecedented change for more than sixty-three years.

In the aftermath of the Second World War Britain’s relative success in rebuilding was expressed in the mood of conservatism prevalent in the 1950s. This was captured in the seemingly timeless and unchanging imagery of Elizabeth II’s coronation ceremony. The Church of England, the monarchy and the nation were united with the long procession of our island history. For the first time the Coronation was watched on television, indeed, my Grandpa built a television set specially to watch history in the making. Millions watched and listened across the world. The coronation service was of deep spiritual significance to the Queen and her people.

A black and white photograph of the British Royal Family mounted above the signatures of Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II, dated 1957

The Queen’s Christian faith has been one of the cornerstones of her life and reign. It has informed her sense of calling to the role of monarch and the qualities of service, respect and duty through which she has blessed us all. The words from The Book of Common Prayer Communion resonate in my heart as I pray – ‘We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant Elizabeth our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed…’ Elizabeth II still holds the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’. In her first Christmas address she asked people, whatever their religion, to pray that God would give her the wisdom and strength to carry out the promises that she would make on the day of her Coronation.

Elizabeth ascended the throne when she was just twenty-five supported by her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Throughout their married life Prince Philip has been her strength and stay, a marriage which has endured for nearly sixty-eight years. Prince Philip and their family have been another of the cornerstones of her life and reign. Like all families they have faced both joys and sorrows including the untimely loss of Lord Louis Mountbatten and Princess Diana. It was with great empathy that the Queen responded to the tragedy of 9/11 through the British Ambassador to Washington when she said ‘Grief is the price we pay for love…’

A Wedgwood Elizabeth II coronation mug designed by the Sussex artist Eric Ravilious, which captures the hope and excitement at the beginning of the second great Elizabethan age

Queen Elizabeth II has overseen great changes. The success of the Commonwealth of fifty-three nations is amongst her proudest achievements. It has maintained Britain’s international outlook in a post-colonial world. Reconciliation, too, has been a defining quality of her reign. Here is a monarch able to bring reconciliation to her peoples as witnessed in Northern Ireland.

Queen Elizabeth II’s long reign has been defined by her faith and her family, by love, service, respect, duty and courage. She has been our constant point of reference in a period of unprecedented change for more than sixty-three years.

Like Queen Victoria before her, Elizabeth will be at Balmoral today and this evening will no doubt reflect on the day’s significance with The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is perhaps fitting then to end with Prince William’s reflection on his grandmother in the preface of a new book about the Queen, written by the former home secretary Douglas Hurd. In it Prince William writes ‘Time and again, quietly and modestly, the Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without comprising the things that are important.’

I thank God that I am blessed to live in the second great Elizabethan age – long may she reign over us that we may be godly and quietly governed.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th September 2015 in the West Sussex Gazette.