Yesterday, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II completed 70 years since her accession to the British throne, the longest reign of any monarch in British history. Only two European rulers have reigned longer: Louis XIV of France (1638-1715), who became king in 1643 and reigned for 72 years and 110 days, and Prince Johann II of Liechtenstein (1840 -1929), who became Reigning Prince of Liechtenstein in 1858 and ruled for 70 years and 91 days.
The formal "Platinum Jubilee" celebrations will take place in June, but it was February 6, 1952, when King George VI's sudden and early death transformed the 25-year of Princess Elizabeth, at that time caught unawares in Kenya, where she was ailing in for her ailing father on a Commonwealth Tour. (The drama of that event is well portrayed in episode 2 of season 1 of The Crown.)
Longevity, of course, isn't everything - or even the most important thing. The fact that Queen Elizabeth has had to work with 14 British Prime Ministers since 1952 (from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson), not to mention the numerous Prime Ministers of her Commonwealth realms and the countless other politicians and statesmen she has met with these past 70 years, together with her extensive travels throughout the Commonwealth and around the world, make her undoubtedly the most experienced and knowledgeable world leader on the planet at present and perhaps ever. Length of service and the special aura of the office she holds have combined to make her the outstanding figure she is in today's world, but what make her and her reign so special and so symbolically important are the duty and devotion she has personally brought to her role, qualities quite out of sync with the spirit of the present age but so sorely needed by it. In the words of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby: "Today we mark the 70th anniversary of The Queen's accession to the throne. As we do so, we give thanks for Her Majesty’s dedication to us all - and her faithful witness to Jesus Christ."
The archbishop also described her role as Queen in terms of lifelong religious vocation (ritualized in the coronation ceremony). "The coronation service is a form of ordination, in a liturgical sense, and she lives that out without a grumble," Welby said, comparing the coronation rite's language and structure "to an ordination of a priest or a bishop."
In an era in which faith, family, duty, loyalty have all been derided and diminished by our ruling ethos of psychologized libertarianism, the witness of a lifelong commitment to a sacred vocation is a breathtaking counter-witness to our prevailing political, cultural, and social structures and values.