Elizabeth II: 70 years of reign, 75 years of “priesthood”

This was the founding event of the sacred bond uniting the British sovereign to her people. On April 21, 1947, the one who was still only Princess Elizabeth made a solemn speech in which she pledged, Urbi and orbito henceforth “serve” his country, by “a solemn act of consecration” which she formulates very simply: “I declare before you all that my entire life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service and to the service of our great Empire family. »

Both radiant and serious, determined and frail, the young woman reads her text studiously from Cape Town, South Africa, during a tour she is doing with her parents and sister. The speech is broadcast, but it is also filmed to shine around the world.

The birth of a queen

The speech fits into a symbolic timeline in many ways. First, it is the day when the young woman becomes an adult, since she has just reached her 21st birthday. It is now certain that it is indeed Elizabeth who will one day succeed her father, even if no one can imagine that her accession to the throne will take place less than five years later, on February 6, 1952, due to the untimely death of King George VI.

The future Queen Mum, 46, has passed childbearing age and will eventually give a male heir to the Crown, who would supplant Princess Elizabeth in the line of succession to the throne. It is therefore the first official and political speech of the future sovereign. She is also a future wife and mother, who is preparing to perpetuate a dynasty more than a thousand years old. Indeed, we now know that the young woman will marry Philip Mountbatten, which Buckingham will officially announce on July 9. For the anecdote, King George VI had demanded of the boiling Philip to wait until the day of the majority of his daughter to ask for her hand. The queen, however, fell in love with Philip in the summer of 1939. She was only 13 years old.

The succession of the faltering Empire

Second, Elizabeth’s speech comes at a crucial time. The glory of the British Empire was tarnished a few weeks ago when the British began to evacuate India, a prelude to the inevitable independence that would take place on August 15, 1947. To the defunct reality of “the Empire where the sun never sets”, the British will replace, in a completely pragmatic way, the Commonwealth federation, which still continues today and to which Queen Elizabeth was very attached, but which is not yet at the time only a fairly virtual reality. The Empire is in the process of faltering: hence the importance, for the morale of the British, of realizing that a “succession” does exist, embodied by the young princess.

After World War II

Third, we are also only 20 months after the end of the Second World War – we will remember here that the British, unlike the French, date the end of “their” war to mid-August 1945, with the Japanese capitulation, because of the intense fighting they experienced in Asia and the heavy human and civilian losses they suffered there.

The world is, moreover, very far from being peaceful because of the cold war, which is setting in relentlessly: a year earlier, the “old lion” Winston Churchill denounced, in a memorable speech, the “Curtain of iron” that falls on Europe. We must also not forget the persistence of very serious economic difficulties across the Channel.

While France is on the verge of a social explosion, the British are still subject to food rationing, which will last for several more years. The princess also refers several times in her speech to the “terrible and glorious years” of the conflict. It will be remembered in passing that Elizabeth had wanted to join the British army as a driver and mechanic of heavy vehicles.

The difficulties of the present time

The princess presents the difficulties of the present time as so many opportunities for resilience, for those who “resolute faith, great courage and a quiet heart”. She ends her sermon with a ride that is both romantic and heroic, completely in the spirit of this era of confidence in technical progress, with the Christian touch that is needed to sanctify everything: “To accomplish this, we must give nothing less than the totality of who we are. There is a motto that was worn by many of my ancestors, a noble motto: “I serve.” These words inspired many heirs to the throne in the past, when they solemnly pledged themselves to the knighthood upon coming of age. I can’t do exactly like them. But thanks to scientific innovations, I can do what was not possible for any of them. I can do my solemn act of consecration while an entire empire listens to me. I want to do this act of consecration now. It is very simple. I declare before you all that my whole life, whether long or short, will be devoted to your service and to the service of our great family of the Empire, to which we all belong. But I will only have the strength to keep this resolution if you join me there, as I invite you to do now. I know that your support will be given to me without fail. May God help me honor this wish and bless all of you who are willing to share it! »

Quasi-religious vows

This speech was for Elizabeth the first of a very long series of “political” speeches: texts that she does not write herself, but that she assumes in “I”, as the constitutional game across the Channel requires. since the Glorious Revolution of 1689, which saw the birth of the constitutional monarchy. Each year, in particular, the sovereign declaims the program of the government in front of the parliamentarians of Westminster.

Written by Dermot Morrah, the pen who wrote the speeches of King George VI, this text of April 21, 1947 made Winston Churchill cry, but also tens of thousands of Britons, who heard the echoes of fioretti sovereigns who came to power very young. Like Victoria’s profession of faith, which affirmed “I will be good” understanding, at 11, that she would be queen one day. Or the sentence of Elizabeth IDpreparing to challenge the Invincible Armada in 1588: “I only have the body of a weak woman, but I have the heart and the stomach of a king, and what is more of a king of England. »

On June 2, 1953, during her coronation, the oath that Elizabeth II made before her subjects was not far removed, in spirit, from those quasi-religious vows of 1947, which are a symbolic anticipation of it. Seventy-five years later, we can say that the challenge has been met. Even if the queen may have made mistakes (notably in the management of her family), we can hardly deny her a total priesthood, against a backdrop of immutable and fascinating rites, which she was undoubtedly the last to embody here below. .

A vow renewed by Charles III

Charles III during his speech to the nation, September 9, at Buckingham.


In his first televised speech, Friday, September 9, the new King Charles III made direct reference to his mother’s “act of consecration” 75 years earlier. A wish that he declared to renew personally: “Throughout her life, Her Majesty the Queen – my beloved mother – has been an inspiration and an example for me and for all my family (…). In 1947, the day of his 21e anniversary, she pledged, during a program broadcast from Cape Town to the Commonwealth, to dedicate her life, whether short or long, to the service of its peoples. It was more than a promise: it was a deep personal commitment that defined his entire life. As the Queen herself has done with unwavering devotion, I too solemnly undertake, for as long as God grants me,
to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our nation. And wherever you live in the UK, or in the kingdoms and territories around the world, and whatever your origins or beliefs, I will strive to serve you with loyalty, respect and love, as I have done throughout my life. And to my darling mum, as you begin your last great journey to join my dear late dad, I just want to say this: thank you. Thank you for your love and devotion to our family and the family of nations you have served so diligently all these years. May flights of angels sing to you for your rest. »

Note to readers
Readers familiar with Life will recognize in these pages the signature of Jean Mercier. Our colleague and friend, who died in 2018, devoted many articles during his career to Elizabeth II, of whom he was a connoisseur and affectionately kept a portrait hanging in his office. Her biography of the queen – taken up and completed for a special issue devoted to the queen (Elizabeth II, the last Christian queen, to order here) – is even one of the last articles he signed for the weekly, before succumbing to the cancer that took him away. Aymeric Christensen

We would like to say thanks to the writer of this write-up for this remarkable content

Elizabeth II: 70 years of reign, 75 years of “priesthood”

Take a look at our social media accounts as well as other related pageshttps://nimblespirit.com/related-pages/