If the life of Queen Elizabeth II was remarkable, so also was her death. What other figure in the world could provoke this level of global response? Flags in Europe, Canada, and America are at half-mast. Commonwealth nations are united in public grief. Brazil has declared three days of national mourning. Australia’s prime minister, an avowed republican, wept on television. Jamaica has announced twelve days of public tribute and condolence. The queen’s death provoked a moving and believable statement of friendship from President Macron of France toward Britain and the British people and a statement of public condolence from Sinn Fein in the Irish Republic. And of course, other nations too numerous to name have followed suit.
The question is, why? People across the world detected in her rule a dimension lacking in almost all other governance. We half capture it with words like “selflessness” and “duty,” but these merits are generally exhibited in many good people. No, the quality they respond to is and was the queen’s notion of sacral monarchy and her Christian enactment of such.
This was clear from the beginning. In her first Christmas broadcast in 1952, the newly enthroned queen asked, “Pray for me . . . 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.”
She was a life-long practicing Christian who was also the titular head of the Church of England. Her Christmas messages, which she wrote herself, always exhibited her self-understanding as a Christian monarch. In her Christmas broadcast in December 2000, she noted, “for me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.”
In short, to understand the English queen, her rule, and the worldwide reverence in which she was so obviously held, we need to better understand Christian monarchy and Christian empire. For in the difference between her governance and merely secular political rule is found the source of her veneration.
In the ancient, non-Christian world, pagan monarchs were considered half-gods or full deities themselves. The divine law and rule on earth were combined and there was no restraint on such a supremacy. Christianity refigured kingship so that the Christian monarchs were subject to laws and conventions that did not stem from themselves. The modern notion of the divine right of kings, against which modern progressives endlessly protest, is in a sense a reversion to the pagan archetype. Christian monarchy, by contrast, is limited monarchy—a rule where the king is constrained by the teaching and the logic of the King of Kings. Properly understood, Christian monarchs are a visible mediation between how things ought to be and how they currently are. And their task is to order the world such that the good which they both embody and transmit is given to all. Christianity is at one and the same time the most hierarchical and the most horizontal of logics. It combines the pole of the one with the pole of the many. It names the good and seeks to distribute it to all.
This is why, like priests, Christian kings and queens are anointed—they are meant ultimately to convey and offer a path to the kingship of Christ. They are a link to the incarnation and the political idea that the good exists and is something other than human will and avarice, and that this good can and should be communicated and realized on earth.
And this takes us to Christian empire, the queen’s evident internationalism, and the Commonwealth. Arguably she, more than anyone else, grew the post-empire Commonwealth from seven nations when she ascended the throne to what it is today: 56 nations comprising 2.5 billion people. Contrary to those who utter mad cries of white supremacy and ongoing colonialism, the logic of the British Crown has been to extend the good of citizenship and political equity to all. Only the ignorant believe empire is only about subjugation. Legitimacy is vital for the continuance of any polity, and empires that last are the origin of a “multiculturalism” where differences are respected and all the goods and rights of the polity are granted to all.
When Queen Victoria recapitulated the British Empire and rescued it from a brutal exploitative capitalism, she did so under explicit Christian auspices. It is no surprise that under her the British Empire as a Christian entity conducted a worldwide and multi-generational war against slavery. Indeed, where the empire was extended (e.g., West Africa), it was often with the injunction to end slavery and eliminate its institutions wherever they were found. And it is also no surprise that under Elizabeth the logic of a Christian demos and empire became expressed in a free federation of national association and political equity. What ordinary people intuit and the half-educated cannot, is that the English queen seemed to care for and respect everyone, and this came from her Christianity and her oath to it. To state the obvious, the queen was loved by almost everyone because they can and could intuit that she believed that all and everyone was made in the image of God.
For example, the queen often referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan in her Christmas messages. What she said in 2021 from Windsor Castle exemplifies the above:
We continue to be inspired by the kindness of strangers and draw comfort that—even on the darkest nights—there is hope in the new dawn. Jesus touched on this with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The man who is robbed and left at the roadside is saved by someone who did not share his religion or culture. This wonderful story of kindness is still as relevant today. Good Samaritans have emerged across society showing care and respect for all, regardless of gender, race, or background, reminding us that each one of us is special and equal in the eyes of God.
Little wonder then that people often spoke of feeling deeply respected by her, whatever their station, race, or belief.
The peculiar excellence of Britain’s mixed constitution is that it protects this monarchical rule and all that it might mean from partisan political power, by denying any partial ideology the possibility of rule over all. The constitutional monarch preserves the national and international good apart from the waxing and waning of secular political powers. Republics are inherently more unstable and more prone to reversion to authoritarian rule. Under the demos, agnostic politics increasingly polarize, driving the polity into civil war and then absolute rule by the victorious party. Christian monarchies, by contrast, preserve liberty by articulating a common good that embraces all. And that, in the final analysis, is why people loved Queen Elizabeth: As a world queen of a Christian monarchy and the inheritor of a Christian empire, she upheld and tried to serve the common good of the whole world.
Phillip Blond is the author of Red Tory: How Left and Right Have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It.
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