For centuries, the relationship between a monarch and religion was a vital part of royal life. Dynasties rose and fall thanks to support or abandonment by clerics while kings have been known to change churches and even set up their own in the pursuit of stability for the succession. However, the personal faith of leading royals is often viewed separately from the political associations their religious choices brought about. In the 21st century, the royal relationship with religion isn’t anywhere near as turbulent or traumatic. But it remains vital and often informs the very manner of a reign.
In recent days, we have seen stark evidence of that as both The Queen and the Prince of Wales have made open statements of faith.
The Queen’s deep religious beliefs are firmly held and much spoken about. Her current injury, a back sprain, as well as medical advice to rest meant that she couldn’t attend the opening of the Church of England’s General Synod, a miss she clearly felt.
Her message to the gathering, read by the Earl of Wessex, reflected that ”none of us can stop the passage of time” but Her Majesty also openly drew comfort from Christian teachings. She told the Synod ”…for people of faith, the last few years have been particularly hard, with unprecedented restrictions in accessing the comfort and reassurance of public worship. For many, it has been a time of anxiety, of grief, and of weariness. Yet the Gospel has brought hope, as it has done throughout the ages; and the Church has adapted and continued its ministry, often in new ways – such as digital forms of worship.”
Her personal reflections on how the pandemic limited communal worship along with her statement of finding hope in the teachings of Christianity underlines again how important her faith is to her in her public and private lives. Her Majesty also turned to the words of the hymnal for her message, quoting some of the most famous lines from ‘Come Down, O Love Divine’ as she ended her missive, stating ”O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.”
On the same day, her heir was in Jordan for his first overseas visit since the pandemic. And one of the first things that Prince Charles did was go to the spot on the River Jordan where it is believed that Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. Charles knelt down to touch the waters held holy by many and ran his hand through the edge of the currents. He then stood and touched the water to his heart. It was a subtle but profound gesture of faith.
The Prince of Wales has made no secret of the fact he wants to be known as Defender of Faiths when he becomes Monarch. And his message, during day one of his visit to Jordan, focused on plurality. Speaking to a group of multifaith leaders about the relationship between religion and the environment, he said ‘You are the people, who are the leaders of your communities, you are the people to remind your flocks of living in harmony with nature. There is hope. There are ways we can change.”
The debate about what kind of Supreme Head of the Church of England the Prince of Wales will be has often fallen back on those well worn paths of politics and debate. But what the words of the past few days have shown is how deeply religious beliefs are held by The Queen and her heir. It is rare, in the 21st century, to hear leading figures talk so openly of what they believe in. But their statements have underlined that, going forward, religion remains vital to the Royal Family as its places its faith in the future.