Thoughts on the Sapphire Jubilee

As I write these words, it is February 6, 2017 — the Sapphire Jubilee of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and her other Realms and Territories, Lord of Mann, Duke of Normandy and Lancaster, and Head of the Commonwealth. Sixty-five years ago to-day, she succeeded her father, George VI in those roles — though then she was Queen of South Africa, Pakistan, and Ceylon as well: her father had stopped being Emperor of India five years earlier. It is an extraordinary date in the life of an extraordinary woman — her larger-than-life-image being due to her role rather her own rather unassuming personality. No British Monarch has ever achieved a sixty five year-long reign, although the Queen now joins such foreign rulers as Louis XIV, Franz Josef, Bhumibol of Thailand, and Romania’s heroic-yet-tragic Michael I in the Sapphire Club; Japan’s Hirohito did not quite make it — although he did if you add his years as regent for his father to his own days on the throne.

Now, at first glance, this date may seem of interest only to Monarchists such as myself. I make no apologies for my views, nor shall I use this space at the moment to defend them or the institution. If you want to throw Henry VIII and Nero at me, I’ll toss Hitler and literally hundreds of initially-elected “Presidents-for-Life” across the globe back at you. Give me Washington and Lincoln, and I’ll point to the scores of Royal Saints and Martyrs, and to Constantine, Bl. Charlemagne, Henry VI, and Bl. Emperor Charles. I’ll tell you further that Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I, Louis XVI, Maximilian, and Nicholas II were better people and rulers than were their murderers, even as the Stuarts, Charles X, Henri V, the Carlists and Miguelists, and Umberto II were than their opponents — though they escaped defeat with their lives. I’ll make the same claim for George III, the Loyalists, and the Latin American Royalists; indeed — I even like Frederick Wilhelm IV and Edward VIII! Mind you, I have known two Royals — Archduke Otto and King Kigeli V of Rwanda, both of whom I respected and liked immensely; I met the King and Queen of Sweden once.

But in reality, none of my personal crusades are really important just now — for the Queen represents two other elements than Monarchy that should be of importance to us all. The first is generational. She and her husband are among the last members of the World War II generation — the so-called “greatest generation” — still active in public life. They were the young people, raised in the Great Depression, and bled freely in World War II, who were our parents and grandparents. Trying to make sense of the hardships and horrors they had endured, they created our world. The G.I. Bill allowed thousands to attend college and buy homes in the exploding suburbs; from their ranks emerged the “Organisation Man,” “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit,” and, in some cases, the denizens of “Peyton Place.” Some Anglicans were more idealistic, trusting to the arts to improve humanity — whether it was John Langstaff trying to create beauty and community with the Revels, or Sidney Lanier and theatre with The American Place in his own church. For the Catholics who came back and faced the emptiness of contemporary American life, a number of new or existing efforts came to the fore — St. Benedict Center, of course, the Catholic Worker, the Friendship and Madonna Houses, the “Movement,” Integrity, Ramparts, and Jubilee Magazines, Marycrest, Catholic Rural Life, and various others — all of whom would go in different directions in the wake of the 1950s and the Council. In the midst of this, Princess Elizabeth became Queen. When she dies, a major living link to that generation shall be cut.

But not just to them — we have all grown up with her. Pius XII was Pope (and all our Masses in Latin), Churchill was Prime Minister, and Harry Truman was president when Elizabeth ascended the throne, and she saw the 50s pass along with Suez and the end of the British Empire. She was Queen when I was born, and opened the St. Lawrence Seaway shortly before that. She continued her round of duties as the 1960s shook the West, and the British Invasion hit America. Her Silver Jubilee occurred when I was in High School — and her successive Ruby, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees have punctuated our lives — and those of the seven Popes, thirteen PMs, and twelve presidents who have come and gone in those years. Every year, her Christmas Message remains one of the few given by Heads of State to mention Christ. Regardless of our feelings for her, her office, or her countries, by her own experience the Queen in an odd way summarises all our pasts.

There is more, however, to the Queen and her personal life and role. In a real way — and again, regardless of whether one likes it — Her Majesty symbolises the entirety of the English-speaking world — the Anglosphere. It is not only because of her headship of the Commonwealth and the Church of England (mother church of the Anglican Communion and the Protestant Episcopal Church of which it is the American branch). Even in these United States, Royal Visits remain big news, occasionally even Federal protocol officers curtsey to her, and at Royally-chartered William and Mary College, in Virginia, the Queen’s Guard remain in readiness for her return or that of her successors. Despite the annoyance of such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians (and I for one wish their ire would be directed toward those in Ireland who voted for same-sex marriage), Anglophilia is a big thing in this country, as the popularity of the endless supply of PBS British costume dramas (most recently, Downton Abbey) shows.

Nor should this be a surprise. By blood, I am a member of Francophonie; my city is a bastion of Hispanidad. Nevertheless, we speak English in the United States — since 1607 and Jamestown, the die has been cast. For all that I might wish my French ancestors had triumphed over the British at the Plains of Abraham, or that St. Augustine, San Antonio, Monterey, and Santa Fe were still under the Spanish Crown, they did not and are not. The country that gave my family and myself harbour and opportunity is part of the Anglosphere. For good or for ill, Chaucer and Shakespeare, the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, and all of the many British writers whose devotees have formed literary societies in their honour are the basis of the language of America. Even the devotees of Richard III have branches here, as do those of Charles I. Nor should we forget the British roots of much of our folklore, music, dance, and customs — and even mere entertainments, like the Renaissance Faires and the SCA. The continuing attraction of Highland Games, Burns Night Suppers, Boar’s Head festivals, Kirkin’s of the Tartan, Veteran’s Day Poppies, Maypoles, Blessings of the Hounds, foxhunting, and even the Fourth of July fireworks (which were originally used to celebrate the King’s Birthday) — to say nothing of the innumerable English, Scots, and Irish pubs around the country — all point to the hold the British Isles retain upon our collective psyche. Indeed, this hold is even genetic on a large part of us, as a number of the Hereditary Societies reveal. Try as one might, the heritage of the Anglosphere, with its mixture of heresy and rebellion, heroism and martyrdom, is the birthright of all who live in it.

Her Majesty’s age cannot help but make one wonder about the future of the British Monarchy — again, given its significance to the entire Anglosphere. Indeed, I was invited last week to address the Naples, Florida branch of the English-speaking Union on this very topic. The Union, brainchild of Sir Evelyn Wrench (who also founded the Royal Over-Seas League, similar to such organisations as the Royal Commonwealth Society and the Royal Society of St. George), exists to bring the various peoples of the Anglosphere more closely together through a shared appreciation of their joint heritage and culture — which efforts were spurred by Sir Evelyn’s experiences up to and including World War I. While mentioning the possibility of post-BREXIT economic and migration bonding between Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as advocated by such CANZUK International, I focused on the personality and works of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. Despite the constant harping on his much regretted moral lapses, and the attempts of the media to portray him as a moron, the real life Prince is at least as sympathetic a character as any in public life — that is to say, far more so than anyone I have had the chance to vote for lately. His website will repay careful viewing, as will those of his Duchy of Cornwall and of his charities in Great Britain, Canada, Australia — and even here in the United States, which can have no claim on his largesse. His encouragement of the received heritage in arts and all else is very encouraging. But most useful of all are the “Black Spider Memos” (so-called because of Prince Charles’ unique style of penmanship). Ordered opened to the public by the courts, these documents chronicle decades of campaigning by Prince Charles on behalf of private individuals to address their grievances against various government bodies. I assured my audience that while there might be some friction between the new King and his government, given said Monarch’s decidedly sensible views on education, architecture, and much else, the Queen would be leaving her inheritance in capable hands.

That is certainly good news for the Anglosphere at the moment and as it is. But regardless of H.R.H.’s good intentions — and, indeed, despite the good and useful work being done around the globe in attempting to preserve and strengthen our common heritage by so many, it is not enough. For this new “Elizabethan Age” (as Churchill hopefully dubbed it) in which we have all lived, Royals and commoners alike, since that day has been one of decay and death. Religiously, if the Anglican Communion has become a sideshow, the Catholic Church has never been in more disarray than now. Morals, taste, and sanity itself have collapsed — not only in the Anglosphere, but throughout the West. It has been the misfortune of the Queen to have to (ironic as it seems) reign as helplessly over this confusion as her subjects have perforce lived under it. These things cannot be repaired at the ballot box; what is required is a religious conversion — a return to what made Western civilisation in the first place.

Among the ruins, there are shoots of hope, tiny though they may be — and despite the chill of the current Pontificate. Such as Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., in his Christendom Awake and The Realm dare to dream of a conversion of Britain and the Anglosphere. Pope Benedict XVI, in his liberation of the Tridentine Mass and foundation of the Anglican Ordinariates in Britain, North America, and Australia has sown seeds that shall surely blossom in future, once the current chill in the Church ends. People both in and outside the Church are looking once more at Britain’s and Europe’s Catholic past. Under their influence the growth of popularity of the St. James pilgrimage and its web of former and current shrines across the continent, non-Catholics are rediscovering the sacred places of their ancestors. Much of this latter effort is cloudy and even mixed with neo-paganism; but as and when the Church hierarchy regain their commitment to the Salvation of Souls, they shall find fields white with harvest — as we all can now, if we wish to. Perhaps the spate of Eucharistic Miracles over the past quarter century presages that this Elizabethan Age will be succeeded by something better.

What of the Monarch herself? Well, her great-grandfather, Edward VII, was the first King since James II to publicly attend a Catholic Mass — a Requiem for Portugal’s King Carlos I at St. James, Spanish Place in London. Of his death, Fr. Leonard Feeney wrote in London is a Place, “The last clergyman who entered the bedroom of King Edward VII, when he was dying, was not the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was Father Bernard Vaughan. And after he came out, no other clergyman went in. ‘How did things go,’ Father Vaughan was asked, concerning the last hours of King Edward VII. ‘Everything was quite satisfactory,’ was all that Father Vaughan consented to answer. But anyone who knows a Catholic priest, knows that there may be great depths in such a reply, without the violation of any secret.” Her Grandfather, George V, refused to take the Coronation Oath of that time (1910) which required the new King to condemn the Mass and Marian devotion as superstition and idolatry, and the offending language had to be taken out — Padre Pio predicted the moment of his death and called the people with him at that moment to pray for the King’s soul — who “was just then at the judgement seat of God.”

With that in mind, in addition to all we ought to be doing for the evangelisation of wherever we happen to find ourselves, we might remember the prayer said for the Queen in all the Catholic Churches in Great Britain before the Council (and some now) after High Mass on Sunday:

Lord, save our Queen Elizabeth, and graciously hear us in the day when we call upon Thee.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, we pray that Thy servant our Queen Elizabeth, who by Thy mercy has undertaken the government of this realm, may receive increase of all the virtues; so fittingly adorned, may she be enabled to avoid all foul temptations, (overcome her enemies), and with her prince consort and the Royal family, may she at the last be welcomed by Thee, who art the way, the truth, and the life. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

If we say this prayer for the conversion of Her Majesty, the Royal Family, all their Realms and Territories, and indeed, the entire Anglosphere — to include these United States and the tragic Irish Republic — we shall be giving her, and indeed, all of us who speak the Queen’s English, a fit gift for her Sapphire Jubilee.