Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Today on the Christian History Almanac podcast, we remember Queen Victoria and the church during her reign.
It is the 24th of May, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org, I’m Dan van Voorhis.
With the ascension of Charles III as the King of England, there has been an uptick in all things pertaining to the Royals- of course, the Death of Elizabeth, the Crown on Netflix, the constant obsession over the British Monarchs is a staple across Western culture- even for those not under the King (and those who fought wars to become independent). And, as you may have seen, Charles's coronation included quite a bit of religious sentiment- in fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated that it was “first and foremost an act of Christian worship”.
And, it turns out that today is the anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria- perhaps the first “modern monarch” and one presiding over religious change. On today’s episode, let’s take a glance at the queen, her own faith, and the church in that eponymous “Victorian” age.
Victoria was born Alexandrina Victoria on this the 24th of May in 1819. She was born to be queen- with legitimate heirs to the throne, she was the product of a marriage between Edward Duke of Kent (the son of George III) and Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg Saalfeld. She was their only child.
She ascended the throne in 1837 and, at her coronation, took the oath to defend the Church of England as a Protestant institution. She was married in 1840 to the Lutheran Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. This would make her the last Hanoverian on the throne, and her son would be the first of the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the same family on the throne today (they changed their name to Windsor during WWI).
Her reign was long and complicated- from the spread of the empire and the growth of the navy and railways, the 19th century was a head-spinning time as the world got faster and closer and dirtier, more scientific, arguably less religious, and the list could go on.
Victoria came to the throne when the Monarchy was unpopular, and this century saw the end of many monarchies with revolutions. She would oversee political reforms that made England more of a republic with a monarch as a figurehead.
It was in these democratic days that England also saw religious reform first for Catholics and dissenters. And with the broad church and evangelical movements, we see the Tractarians agitate for a closer relationship to Catholic practices. We see the birth of the Salvation Army and the spread of Christian Missionaries with the spread of ships and colonies.
The first modern religious census in England was taken in 1851, with half the population of the Kingdom attending church on Sundays- about half in the Church of England and half in other churches (today, that number hovers around 13%).
The question of what Queen Victoria believed was a much-asked question- she had relationships with various Popes but did not personally care for the Anglo-Catholic developments. She spent a lot of time at her Balmoral Castle and Estate in Aberdeenshire. She was taken by the simplicity of the Presbyterian services.
She would write to her Prime Minister William Gladstone, “you know, I am not that much of an Episcopalian.” It was reported that she would not let ministers preach before her in anything other than a plain black robe. She was close to Norman McLeod, the Scottish Presbyterian, but she did not care for the Sabbath observances writing, “I am not at all an admirer or approver of our very dull Sunday.”
After a concerning sermon preached in her presence about eternal security, she was asked directly in a letter if she believed she was secure in her salvation. She responded, “Your letter of recent date received, and in reply, would state that I have carefully and prayerfully read the portions of Scripture referred to. I believe in the finished work of Christ for me and trust by God’s grace to meet you in that Home of which He said, “I go to prepare a place for you.”
This would become a favorite of the evangelicals and became the subject of many an evangelism tract.
She would approve of the 1874 Public Worship Act that sought to curb “romish practices” in the Anglican Church but also assented to freedoms for those who would practice Roman Catholicism- but more than that, it was under her that Jews and Atheists were given public liberties- a major step forward in religious tolerance in the west.
At Victoria’s death, she would rule over some 450 million people or 1/4 of the world’s population- the merits of the Victorian age can be debated but with regards to the church, we see it allowing for freedom of expression as the kingdom moved into the modern age. Victoria died in 1901. Born on this day in 1819, she was 81 years old.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary- we’ve got some royal imagery in Psalm 99:
The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy.
The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.
Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 24th of May 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite coronation tradition is when they use the scepter to break a piñata filled with baked beans back at the palace. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who once read that Queen Victoria had the power to kill a yak from 200 yards away with mind bullets. He is Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.
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