Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary Nov. 20, 2017. CNS photo/Matt Holyoak, CameraPress handout via Reuters

The Queen and her prince keep royal traditions alive

  • November 23, 2017
In a democratic age, we need to be reminded that the governing image of Christ Jesus is kingship, a biblical image of deep resonance.

The feast of Christ the King is such a reminder, that to govern is a sacrificial duty for the good of those governed. The feast itself was instituted in 1925 when the age of kings was passing away — the Russian Tsar, the German Kaiser, the Austrian Emperor and the Ottoman Sultan had all fallen in the decade previous.

The British monarchy survived the 20th century, though the Greek monarchy fell. All of that comes to mind as this week Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

Marriage is another great biblical image for God’s love for His people. So numerous have been the longevity milestones of the Queen that she and her husband opted for a private celebration. Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, retired this past fall from public events at the age of 96 after a lifetime of service that included more than 22,000 official engagements.

The long marriage of the Queen and the Duke should not go unremarked. Indeed, almost all of the trouble the royal family has experienced in the past decades has been due to the marital instability of the children. Prince Charles brought the royal family to brink of ruin with his cruel infidelities, destabilizing his young bride. So reckless did she become that her death became a crisis for the entire monarchy.

Yet only months after Diana’s death in August 1997, the Queen and Philip celebrated their 50th anniversary and their long fidelity to duty and to each other plotted the course for the royal family’s return.

How long is that service? When Philip was born in 1921, his uncle was king of Greece. In 1922, the Greek monarchy was abolished and Philip’s family was exiled to France. On his mother’s side he was part of the Danish royal family, of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, rather a mouthful. He eventually did his schooling in Britain and by 1939 he was serving in the Royal Navy, choosing to fight with Britain against his German relatives (three of his sisters had married German princes).

He first met Elizabeth when she was 13 and he was 18, though their relationship only took a serious turn later, when the future Queen was 17 and 18. They were engaged two years after World War II ended and married on Nov. 20, 1947.

Philip’s German relatives did not attend the wedding. By that time, Philip had renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the anglicized version of his German name, Mountbatten (Battenberg). Elizabeth’s family had set aside its own German name, Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha, in favour of Windsor at the time of the Great War.

That Philip, despite his German background, would prove to be a stalwart consort in the British royal family is one of the signs of the European reconciliation that followed the two world wars. The longevity of the Queen and Duke are such that they have survived into an entirely new era.

Seven years ago when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain, the secular fundamentalists and atheists were at fever pitch for months before the papal visit. It was the Queen who put an end to it all with her most gracious welcome in Scotland.

Who could have predicted, say in 1945, that one day the Queen, head of the Church of England, would welcome a German pope to Britain? Or could have predicted that that German pope would publicly thank the British people for their sacrifice in defeating Nazism during World War II?

The world into which the Queen and Philip were born, and in which they were married, is barely recognizable today. All the more remarkable, then, are the enduring realities of kingship and marriage, both understood by the Queen to be solemn, sacred obligations.

The Queen doesn’t speak much about herself, a most pleasing contrast to her children and grandchildren. She speaks even less about her marriage, preferring simply, as the British are wont to say, to get on with it.

Twenty years ago though, on their golden anniversary, the Queen did speak about the Duke having been a patient listener, and much more. It has been widely quoted partly because the Queen has so rarely spoken on the topic. But mostly because it sums up, with admirable reserve and touching sincerity, those 50 — now 70 — years:

“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium.ca and a pastor in the archdiocese of Kingston.)

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