These excerpts are from the February 17, 1952 edition of The Living Church. A belated correction: Elizabeth II was never Queen of Ireland (except for Northern Ireland), although her father was King of Ireland until 1949, when Ireland became a republic.
The Church’s Leading Layman
George VI, King of England and the leading layman of the Anglican Communion, died peacefully in his sleep early in the morning of February 6th. Upon his death, his older daughter, Elizabeth, succeeded him as queen of Great Britain, Ireland, and all the British dominions beyond the seas.
Elizabeth’s coronation will take place in about six months. She will be crowned then in Westminster Abbey, by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Elizabeth first became heir presumptive to the throne when her uncle, Edward VIII, decided to abdicate so that he could marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, and his brother, George, became King. The marriage, accounted not permissible by the Church of England since Mrs. Simpson had been married twice before, was incompatible with Edward’s retention of the throne. This reaffirmation of its stand on divorce by the Church of England gave impetus to widespread discussions among Churchpeople on marriage and divorce in both England and the United States.
It is said that George VI will go down in history as the man who saved the British monarchy from the shock it received from the marriage of Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson.
During George’s reign, England’s royal family has been regarded as presenting an excellent example of Christian family life. The dignified and yet down-to-earth manner in which he and his family have conducted their public and private lives has won good will for themselves, for the monarchy, and for Great Britain.
Death came to the King at York Cottage, Sandringham, the same house in which he had been born 56 years ago, on December 14, 1895. It was at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Sandringham that the King was baptized when he was two months old. He was confirmed in that church at the age of 16, on April 18, 1912. Eleven years later he married Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite in Westminster Abbey.
King George and Queen Elizabeth visited the United States and Canada in 1939. Princess Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited Canada, and the United States briefly, last year. Wherever the royal couple was on Sunday, Churchpeople in the community got to see them in church, and often heard the Duke read the lesson. Both of them are communicants of the Church of England, although the Duke was a Greek Orthodox before his marriage.
Technically, as Queen of England, Elizabeth will be a Presbyterian in Scotland, because the established Church of Scotland is Presbyterian. Her mother, who now replaces Queen Mary as queen mother of England, was raised in Scotland, but as a communicant of the Episcopal Church of Scotland.
It was expected that Elizabeth’s first official act, upon her return with her husband from East Africa, where they learned of the King’s death, would be to declare a period of mourning for her father. All over the world people were already observing mourning, some of it official, much of it spontaneous and unofficial. And in the American Episcopal Churches and by thousands of American Churchpeople prayers were being said, for the King George VI and for the new Queen.
George VI was the foremost layman of the Church of England — not head of the Church in any dogmatic manner, but its first lay communicant by virtue of his high office. Beyond that, however, he was by virtue of his own life and example, a living witness to the highest traditions of Anglican personal religion and moral integrity. In the never-failing example of self-sacrifice that he set during the war, in his bond of sympathy with the victims of bombing and the bereaved, in his courage in carrying on quietly and efficiently in the face of his own increasing pain and illness, and above all in the example of a serene family life set by the King and Queen, he has been an inspiration to men and women far beyond any official or legal status. As he lays down his crown at the feet of a greater King, surely he has earned the commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We are confident that the new Queen will carry on the same high tradition, and exemplify the same qualities of spiritual leadership. She bears the name of one of the greatest monarchs in English history, under whose wise and skillful leadership both the realm and the Church of England began to assume their modern form. The Anglican Church especially owes its shape and its comprehensive character, under God, to the first Queen Elizabeth. The new Queen is no less a faithful daughter of the Church, and we are confident that she, too, will give wise counsel in matters of religion as well as sounder leadership in secular matters of state. On her recent visit to this country, she endeared herself to Americans of every race, creed, and national background. May her reign be a peaceful one, and may Almighty God bless her as she takes up the heavy burdens of state in times that are grave, not only for Britain but for the world.