Bible Gateway interviewed Dudley Delffs, author of the book, The Faith of Queen Elizabeth: The Balance, Grace and Quiet Strength Behind the Crown. This was originally posted on biblegateway.com.
Describe Queen Elizabeth’s childhood in terms of her spiritual development.
Dudley Delff: 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), ensured that Elizabeth and her sister, Margaret, attended weekly church services, read their Bibles and said bedtime prayers. . The Queen Mother instilled a great love of scripture in her daughters when they were young, reading the King James Version and having them memorize favorite passages, often Psalms.
Elizabeth’s parents also tried to help her appreciate the universal bonds that all people share and the need to serve others with humility and respect, especially those in need. For example, during World War II, when Elizabeth and Margaret were living in Windsor, they realized their disruption was small compared to families who lost their homes and loved ones during the London Blitz.
Her Majesty also had an extraordinary example of Christian faith in the life of her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. The longest reigning British monarch before Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria provided an extraordinary model of servant leadership. A strict moralist, Victoria believed strongly 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 Buckingham Palace staff. Her church attendance went beyond her ceremonial duties as sovereign and included active ministry to the poor, sick, and needy.
Queen Elizabeth II has followed suit, going far beyond the sovereign’s traditional role 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 become Queen of England and what role did the Bible play in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation?
Dudley Delff: Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne came on 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 that she would pronounce at her next coronation. “I want to ask you all, whatever your religion, to pray for me on that day, to pray that God will give me the wisdom and the strength to fulfill the solemn promises that I will make, and that I can serve him faithfully, he and you, all the days of my life. Less than six months later, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned in a spectacular ceremony at Westminster Abbey with more than 8,000 people in attendance and millions watching a live broadcast.
The coronation service consisted of five parts: Recognition, Oath, Anointing, Coronation and Tribute. The sacred centerpiece of the ceremony, however, was her anointing with holy oil, a mixture of sesame seeds and olive oil, scented with roses, orange blossoms, jasmine, musk, civet and ambergris. Protected by a canopy directly above Her Majesty, the Archbishop of Canterbury poured oil from the Ampule, the solid gold eagle-shaped container used only for coronations, into the spoon-shaped spatula, another priceless artifact set aside for use only on this occasion.
Dipping his finger in the holy oil, the Archbishop made a cross on Elisabeth’s hands, then on her heart, before concluding: “Let your head be anointed with holy oil, like kings, priests and the prophets were anointed…. As Solomon was anointed King by Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet, so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the peoples whom the Lord your God has given you to reign and rule. His words come from the precedent set by the earliest known coronation as recorded in the Old Testament (1 Kings 1:38-50) and consummate the intimate bond between the ruler 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 blending of the sacred and the sacrificial, the eternal and the temporal, the divine and the mortal.
How did the Queen communicate her faith and trust in the Bible in her annual Christmas speeches?
Dudley Delff: The sacred authority of the Bible not only figured centrally at Elizabeth’s coronation, where it was described as “the most precious thing this world offers”, but it was also fundamental to many of her speeches and messages. .
Since the start of her reign, the Queen has consistently quoted references from Scripture, particularly in her annual Christmas broadcasts. “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn,” she asked rhetorically, “than to the imperishable truth that lies in that treasure, the Bible? In his 2016 speech, His Majesty explained: “Billions of people now follow the teaching of Christ and find in him the light that guides their lives. I am one of them because the example of Christ helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, no matter who does them or what they themselves believe.
What would be the Queen’s favorite Bible passage?
Dudley Delff: Although the queen never identified a single passage as her favorite, she pointed to several that have special significance, including Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
When did your interest in Queen Elizabeth and her life begin?
Dudley Delff: My interest in Queen Elizabeth II – the kind of interest that saw her as a real person and not just a historical figure – started when I took a trip abroad during my senior year of high school. When our entourage arrived in London, it was towards the end of our tour and it was like a kind of homecoming.
When we visited Windsor Castle the next day, I wanted to learn more about Britain and the UK, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I was particularly intrigued by the events of the 20th century leading up to his rise and crowning. How was she able to maintain an institution that even the majority of her subjects considered an anachronism? What role did it play in the actual functioning of the British government? And what was she like as a person? as an individual? How did his personality affect his ability to do his 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 as well as 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 Delff: The most surprising aspect of the Queen’s faith story emerged in the consistency of how she treats others. Naturally, we’d expect Her Majesty to treat others well enough, as she’s such a public figure and wouldn’t want to cast a negative image of the Crown or give more fodder to the insatiable tabloid press. But I discovered that throughout her life, Queen Elizabeth showed respect, kindness, compassion and curiosity towards everyone. She’s as human as the rest of us, but practices the golden rule since she was a girl – a princess – and treats others the way she wants to be treated.
This consistency surprises me because I don’t think most of us, myself included, are so charitable and Christian in our regular daily interactions. For my part, I have good days and bad days and, unfortunately, I often let them determine how I interact with those around me. Her Majesty’s example makes me think twice about my attitude towards my commitment to practicing my Christian faith.
Is there a singular event in the Queen’s life that you think shaped her spiritual beliefs the most?
Dudley Delff: If I had to pick one singular event that dramatically shaped the Queen’s spiritual beliefs, I would argue for the abdication of her uncle David, King Edward VIII. This event continues to echo through time, even now more than 80 years later. The Succession to the Crown Act was only passed in 2013.
The crisis of the abdication forces everyone to question the duty of the sovereign in relation to individual freedoms. In many ways, this is the same challenge that almost every person of faith faces: the dilemma the apostle Paul examines in Romans. What is my duty as a follower of Jesus in relation to my freedom to live my life as I see fit? Her uncle’s abdication forced Her Majesty to consider these matters from an early age and likely prompted her to solidify her personal convictions and beliefs before her accession to the throne.
Authors biography : Dudley Delffs, PhD, is an award-winning novelist, poet and biographer. Dudley’s fascination with his Celtic ancestry translated into a great affection for British culture and frequent travels 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, which comes out just in time for Season 3 of The Crown on Netflix.