When we think or speak of the Elizabethan era, our minds turn naturally to the 16th century; to the golden age of peace and prosperity, of art and culture, of global endeavour and naval victories, of Renaissance, Shakespeare, Gloriana, and the New World of Empire. In Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, as the trumpets and drums herald the birth of the Princess Elizabeth, it is Archbishop Thomas Cranmer who prophesies what Shakespeare and all Elizabethans already knew, for they had lived it:
Let me speak, sir,
For heaven now bids me; and the words I utter
Let none think flattery, for they’ll find ’em truth.
This royal infant – heaven still move about her! –
Though in her cradle, yet now promises
Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,
Which time shall bring to ripeness: she shall be –
But few now living can behold that goodness –
A pattern to all princes living with her,
And all that shall succeed: Saba was never
More covetous of wisdom and fair virtue
Than this pure soul shall be: all princely graces,
That mould up such a mighty piece as this is,
With all the virtues that attend the good,
Shall still be doubled on her: truth shall nurse her,
Holy and heavenly thoughts still counsel her:
She shall be loved and fear’d: her own shall bless her;
Her foes shake like a field of beaten corn,
And hang their heads with sorrow: good grows with her:
In her days every man shall eat in safety,
Under his own vine, what he plants; and sing
The merry songs of peace to all his neighbours:
God shall be truly known; and those about her
From her shall read the perfect ways of honour,
And by those claim their greatness, not by blood..
..She shall be, to the happiness of England,
An aged princess; many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to crown it.
Would I had known no more! but she must die,
She must, the saints must have her; yet a virgin,
A most unspotted lily shall she pass
To the ground, and all the world shall mourn her.
The happiness of England she was: her greatness lay in her charisma, her grasp of statecraft, her literal embodiment of political stability and increasing religious toleration. Hagiography haunts the cult of the Virgin Queen, but the myths of history persist in England’s national consciousness, not least because in many respects Queen Elizabeth I gave England meaning, and forged a distinct political and theological identity by inculcating a sense that she was Queen of God’s chosen nation; chosen to dispense special acts of grace and defeat the antichrists abroad.
Today, ‘This blessed plot’ is headed by Queen Elizabeth II, whose platinum reign of greatness our great, great, great children will come to call the Second Elizabethan Age, if not the last age of monarchical sublimity, embroidered with its own myths of majesty, nobleness and stateliness. The cult of this Elizabeth will be one of devotion, service, and love; of the light within. As she said in her Christmas broadcast back in 2014:
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, He stretched out His hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.
And as she wrote back in 2016 on the occasion of her 90th birthday:
In the last 90 years the extent and pace of change has been truly remarkable. We have witnessed triumphs and tragedies. Our world has enjoyed great advances in science and technology, but it has also endured war, conflict and terrible suffering on an unprecedented scale.
..In my first Christmas Broadcast in 1952, I asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been — and remain — very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for His steadfast love. I have indeed seen His faithfulness.
As I embark on my 91st year, I invite you to join me in reflecting on the words of a poem quoted by my father, King George VI, in his Christmas Day broadcast in 1939, the year that this country went to war for the second time in a quarter of a century.
I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied, “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
Queen Elizabeth II still gives gracious thanks for the Faith of her father: “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God.” And she reminds us of his exhortation. “That shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way.”
She radiates the light within.
In this Year of Jubilee, her Christian witness is undimmed, and it eclipses that of any bishop or archbishop of the Church of which she is Supreme Governor. She is duty, humility, and service personified. She has been Silver, Golden, Diamond, Sapphire, and today she is our Platinum Queen — the happiness of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
She is expected to receive 100,000 cards and letters of good wishes, and her Ladies in Waiting will be instructed to respond to each and every one, because this is who she is.
“She takes her duties seriously, but she doesn’t take herself very seriously. She laughs in private, she has an absolutely superb sense of humour,” the Archbishop of Canterbury says.
“‘It’s not about me’ almost sums up her reign,” he added.
The light within.
Congratulations, Your Majesty, on this glorious occasion of your Platinum Jubilee.
God Save The Queen.