Much will be written about her historic reign, and the extraordinary — epic, really — life she lived, during a time of monumental change around the world.

But this day, it’s also worth remembering that she committed herself always to a life of service — and declared so most famously in what has been called “one of the most frequently quoted speeches of the 20th century.” 

Young Elizabeth said on her 21st birthday:

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

The short video below tells the story behind that speech and how it came to be:

You can find the entire speech here:

The sense of service never flagged. Neither did her commitment to the “imperial family.”

Shortly after the Queen’s death, Cardinal Arthur Roche of England praised Elizabeth’s devotion to her people: 

As the world learned of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, English-born Cardinal Arthur Roche released a statement to express the “immense sadness” of all those who work in the Holy See but hail from Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the countries of the Commonwealth.

The Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was born in Batley Carr, West Riding of Yorkshire, England.

In his statement, the Cardinal said the late Queen dedicated herself “unstintingly to serve her people, but also entrusted this to God’s protection.”

“Her Christian faith, expressed so often in her annual Christmas messages and elsewhere, were moments of outstanding witness to her faith, the Gospel and the values of the common good, family life, peace and concord among peoples.”

Cardinal Roche recalled that, in her first radio broadcast at the age of 21 in 1947, Queen Elizabeth promised to dedicate her entire life to the service of her people.

He prayed that God might rest her “great soul” in peace.

“Her graciousness and common touch, her statesmanship and love for her people in the many countries, cultures and religions of the Commonwealth have witnessed an unbroken and unique bond of dedication to the service of others. She has been greatly loved by all.”

Queen Elizabeth’s commitment to religion was a significant part of her life and her reign. Last spring, a book by Catherine Pepinster, former editor of The Tablet in England, looked at the faith of the British monarchy. As the Tablet noted at the time:

Speaking at a special Tablet webinar on the eve of the celebration of her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee about her new book, Defenders of the Faith: The British Monarchy, Religion and the Next Coronation, Pepinster said that it was when she was researching a previous book, The Keys and the Kingdom: The British and the Papacy from John Paul II to Francis, she realized what a significant figure Elizabeth II was in terms of religion in Britain.

Her new book looks at the Queen’s personal faith and also her public role as the supreme governor of the Church of England, with a special focus on the coronation and the future of the monarchy.

The author and commentator stressed that while the Queen is Defender of the Faith, she was also a defender of other faiths in a religiously diverse Britain.

Recalling how Prince Charles in 1994 said in an interview that he would like to be known as defender of faith, Catherine Pepinster said: “There were headlines everywhere about what Charles was saying, but his mother had quietly been getting on with defending other faiths and had shown great interest and tolerance of them.

“Even in 1952, when she gave her first Christmas message of her reign, between her accession in February 1952, and her coronation in June 1953, in that Christmas broadcast she asked people to pray for her as she prepared for her coronation. And she asked the people of different faiths to pray for her. So you could say she was she was quite progressive and advanced in her thinking.”

… She described the Queen’s personal faith as “quite a straightforward Christian faith” which had been influenced by her parents, her grandfather and others like the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, whose book of prayers to help the Queen with her spiritual preparation for her coronation was amongst the monarch’s most prized possessions.

Speaking about the relationship between the British Monarchy and the Catholic Church, the former editor of the Tablet recalled a Vatican official describing the Queen as “the last Christian monarch”.

Today there is “a friendliness” between the Catholic Church and the Monarchy and between the papacy and the Queen, which considering all the historical tensions since Henry VIII first broke from Rome, she said, was “quite remarkable”. Most of that change and warmth had come during the Queen’s reign.

Read more. 

History is being made here and now. For sheer longevity, endurance, spirit and steadfast presence on the world stage — with a reign straddling two centuries! —I doubt that we will see anyone quite like her again.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her …