A Lion for a Queen
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” — Helen Keller
The life and times of Queen Elizabeth I may be turbulent and uncertain but one thing that is birthed during the worst of times is the seed of a hopeful future. Her reign was a pivotal era that brought England to an unprecedented time of peace and wealth. But more than the ushering in of a new era of hope, what can be credited to Elizabeth I is the formation of an English ethos with strength of character at its core.
But what exactly does “ethos” mean?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ethos as:
“the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution.”
Ethos simply is you and your community’s defining culture. It answers the questions, “Who are you?” and “What sets you apart?”
In 2 Corinthians 6:17, the Bible reminds us to “come out from them and be separate.” We are reminded that our ethos must be such that we must be easily distinguished from the world that we live in – that we are not to adjust to the world around us but, on the contrary, by the fire burning within us, shine brightly that the world around will have no other choice but to adjust to us. We are not called to be thermometers but rather be thermostats. A thermometer simply determines temperature while a thermostat regulates and controls temperature. The former is merely a passive indicator while the latter is an active influencer.
After the reign of Elizabeth’s older half-sister Queen Mary I, England was a demoralized kingdom overran by bankruptcy and religious division. Queen Elizabeth I, who was largely viewed as an illegitimate heiress to the Tudor throne was installed as England’s first Protestant queen in a time when the English throne was newly divorced from the Vatican. England, during this turbulent time, was a kingdom at the cusp of war – a civil war among English Catholics and Protestants, and a war against Europe’s Catholic kingdoms that were hell-bent in reconciling England back to the Holy See.
The pivotal event that led to the divorce of England from the Vatican was in fact caused by Elizabeth’s father King Henry VIII’s desire to marry Anne Boleyn, a spirited young lady at Court and a sympathizer with the evangelical reformation which was then spreading like wildfire across Europe. King Henry VIII’s only problem was that the pope denied him the annulment of his marriage with his first wife, the Catholic Catherine of Aragon. The beginning of England’s journey towards her Golden Age can perhaps be summed up by a marital divorce that led to a divorce of kingdoms. The separation of England from the rest of Europe – as England was the first kingdom to break from papal jurisdiction – propelled England to a position without precedent. By coming out from among the other kingdoms of her time, England was able to define herself differently and, in doing so, a people that was once demoralized and looked down upon became a people with a great sense of destiny.
The Golden Age of England did not come into fruition until the reign of Elizabeth I. King Henry VIII may have caused the divorce from Roman Catholicism but it was Elizabeth I who blazed a new trail for her kingdom. She was an unlikely queen being viewed by her own people as an illegitimate daughter of her father, a Protestant in a time when being Protestant meant being a rebel and a heretic, a woman in an era ruled by men, and an unmarried virgin queen in a time when crucial alliances among kingdoms were sealed by marriage. Elizabeth I was the queen that led England to defeat the Spanish Armada, the “invincible” fleet of Spain and Parma that brought with it the Inquisition. Elizabeth I was a woman who did not look at the misfortunes of her past and her present circumstances but rather looked at her own past with an understanding of the hand of God at work through her life. By trusting God as a child and a teenager, she was able to weather the storm of losing her own mother by the command of her own father. By trusting God as queen, she was able to unite a people plagued by religious division as well as defeat the greatest armies of Europe. By trusting God, Elizabeth I did not become a bystander in world history but became an influencer and a mover. By trusting God, Elizabeth I lived a life of legacy. By trusting God, her people that was once without hope was given an ethos of faith, fortitude, and strength of character. By trusting God, she became a woman who never compromised her DNA as a queen with the nature of lion. She held on to her heavenly identity and did not trade her character for the fleeting pleasures that the world could offer.
It is important to fix our eyes on Jesus regardless of the circumstances that surround us. It is easy forget our DNA as adopted sons and daughters of God once we lose focus on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. By setting our eyes on Him, we understand that history is HIS story and He qualifies those He called for his purposes. What is beautiful about the life of Elizabeth I was the fact that her journey was an impossible one but because she journeyed in faith, what was impossible in the eyes of the world was made possible by God. In Hebrews 11:27, we are reminded of Moses’ own faith journey, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” In fact, we will never discover the life that God prepared for us until we journey in faith with Him. We can only set ourselves apart if we first know whose we are and who we are journeying with.
“I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.” ― C.S. Lewis on Aslan, The Last Battle