Archbishop: Not everyone appreciates how funny Queen is

Dr Rowan Williams: "Not everybody appreciates how funny she can be"

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has issued a video tribute to the Queen, in which he gives a rare insight into her personality.

Dr Williams has regularly met the Queen in private during the past 10 years in his role as Church of England leader.

As Supreme Governor of the Church - a position occupied by Kings and Queens since Henry VIII's 16th Century break with the Pope - the Queen is his boss.

He described how the Queen could be "extremely funny in private".

The archbishop said he had not had any contact with royalty before taking up his post and, as such, had not known what to expect. He discovered the Queen had "real personality".

"I have found in the Queen someone who can be friendly, who can be informal, who can be extremely funny in private - and not everybody appreciates how funny she can be," he said in the video issued by Lambeth Palace.

The archbishop described informal moments with a Queen who is "quite prepared to tease and to be teased and who, while retaining her dignity always, doesn't stand on her dignity in a conversation".

'Unfailingly kind'

"I think we've been enormously fortunate in this country to have as our head of state a person who has a real personality - a personality that comes through more and more, I think, in her public utterances," he said.

Dr Williams also paid a heartfelt tribute to the Queen for her support of him personally at "trying" times.

The archbishop has repeatedly found himself at the centre of national controversy as a result of his stewardship of the Church or public statements about current affairs.

Start Quote

(She has) genuinely helped us as a society to keep our heads collectively, not to be panicked by change”

End Quote Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury

Remarks he made about the place of Sharia in the British legal system led to strong and sustained criticism.

Dr Williams said that in 60 years the Queen had seen many archbishops come and go and knew something of the pressures of the job.

"Purely personally, I've felt very strongly supported there," he said.

"I have felt she's understood the difficulties when there have been quite trying events and episodes in my own life as archbishop. She has been unfailingly kind, understanding and supportive, and I value that enormously."

The message goes beyond the strict requirements of protocol in its warmth, and seems to indicate a real friendship between archbishop and Queen.

Dr Williams clearly feels he has an ally in the Queen, who far from being an isolated governor in name only, is a devout Anglican who understands the Church they lead.

During the almost 10 years of his leadership, the Church - and the wider Anglican Communion - has been riven by disputes over sexuality and gender, exposing deep fault lines and threatening its future integrity.

'Defender of the Faith'

Referring to the one or two private one-to-one meetings he has with the Queen each year, Dr Williams praises her understanding of the issues affecting it.

"I have really valued those meetings because she is always extremely well informed about issues concerning the Church - extremely supportive and full of perception," he said.

Dr Williams traces that close relationship between the Queen and the Church of England back to the Coronation of June 1953.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh with members of the Royal Family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after her Coronation at Westminster Abbey on 2 June 1953 The Queen has not panicked during change, the Archbishop said

He recalled the service itself, with the Coronation set in the context of an Anglican service of Holy Communion, and how the Queen was anointed by consecrated oil just as Old Testament Kings had been, and bishops and clergy still are at their ordination.

The then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, wrote a book of prayers for the young Queen to use as she approached her coronation, which Dr Williams said he had seen at Windsor Castle.

"I know she treasures it… And I think it does make it very clear that she approached this with great seriousness, with a lot of prayer, a lot of reflection - really seeing it as a call, a gift from God," says Dr Williams.

The Queen also inherited the title "Defender of the Faith" swearing an oath to uphold the Protestant Reformed Religion in the United Kingdom.

'Quite fresh'

Dr Williams praised the way in which she has embraced the task.

"I think the Queen has made something quite fresh of it. She has, in effect, said that by being the guardian of the Christian faith as held by the Church of England, she establishes a real place for faith in public life," he said.

Dr Williams also refers obliquely to the debate about whether the monarch should defend the faith, or simply faith in general.

He said: "The Queen has been amazingly affirming in recent years of the presence of other religions as part of the tapestry of British life. So I think we've seen a transformation in the meaning of that term in the last few decades, and a transformation that has done nothing but good to our society."

The archbishop's message ends with a tribute the Queen's role in helping the country to negotiate enormous social change during the last six decades, and to the "immense stamina and depth of commitment" she has shown in the process.

"In living that out as our head of state, she has, I think, genuinely helped us as a society to keep our heads collectively, not to be panicked by change," he said.

"She has very gently steered that cultural process in her own way, and I think we owe a very great debt to her for that and for many other things."

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