How Religious Was Queen Elizabeth II?

With her death at 96 (via the BBC), Queen Elizabeth II leaves behind an extraordinary political and religious legacy (per Christianity Today). Shortly after the news of her death came to light, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, released a statement praising the queen for keeping her faith throughout her seven-decade reign. He stated, "Her trust in God and profound love for God was foundational in how she led her life — hour by hour, day by day." As Good Housekeeping explains, the queen was entrusted with both ruling her country and with the role of Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith of the Church of England.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the first monarch who held this title was Henry VIII. He received the honor of being known as the "defender of the faith" from the pope for his refusal to accept Martin Luther's doctrine (per Religion News Service). However, Henry eventually turned away from Catholicism and founded the Church of England. Despite this, he kept the title, and every monarch since has continued with this tradition.

The queen had limited religious authority over the church. Nevertheless, she played an important role in the Church of England and fulfilled her religious tasks dutifully.

She had religious duties

At her 1953 coronation, Good Housekeeping reports, the queen vowed to "maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England." According to Religion News Service, the queen may have technically been the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but she left much of the power to the bishops. Christianity Today states that she appointed religious leaders for the Church of England, including archbishops, bishops, and deans. The queen counseled the Archbishop of Canterbury when needed. She also took an oath to protect the Church of Scotland.

At one point, she was involved in the church's General Synod (via Christianity Today). Per Religion News Service, the queen attended church and was known to read the Bible. Although she was strong in her faith, Christianity Today notes, she took the time to learn about other religions and their teachings. In a 2012 speech she stated, "The Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country" (per The Royal family). The queen added, "Faith plays a key role in the identity of millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging." 

She spoke openly about her own faith

According to Christianity UK, the queen consistently expressed religious statements throughout her long reign. Religion News Service writes that on each Christmas, she provided a recorded message to the country. Her first Christmas broadcast occurred before her coronation. She addressed the nation by asking them "to pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you, all the days of my life" (via Christianity Today). Year after year, the queen spoke fondly about her faith during her Christmas messages.

In her Christmas message in 2000, she explained how important religion was to her. The queen noted, "For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example" (per The Royal Family).

Per Christianity Today, a majority of her Christmas messages after that expressed the same sentiment. With the queen's death, Religion News Service reports, various religious leaders are offering their condolences. This includes Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church, who said, "Her resilience, her dignity, and her model of quiet faith and piety have been — and will continue to be — an example for so many."