Queen Victoria gives Cosmo Lang her views on preaching and the sacraments

Posted in Blog, Queen Victoria

Last month I said that our present Queen was confirmed by Cosmo Gordon Lang in 1942 in one of his last acts as Archbishop of Canterbury. I went on to describe his first encounter with Queen Victoria, aged 80, at Osborne House, in 1898, and her observation, with a twinkle in her eye, that he had a very ‘poor idea of matrimony’. Their conversation went on until eleven in the evening at which time the Queen rose, and, in Lang’s words, ‘gave an arm to the Indian servant, and with a stick in the other hand passed out of the room’.

‘The Queen will now spend perhaps two hours writing letters,’ the Master of the Household told Lang.

His first meeting with the Queen had not been as alarming as Lang had feared it might be. Although Victoria had the reputation of being a very formidable person, Lang had evidently made a good impression, On January 30th, 1898, the Queen wrote in her journal: ‘Spoke to Mr. Lang sometime after dinner. He is a very interesting and clever man, a Scotsman, and was at Oxford. He has a very hard time at Portsea, having 40,000 parishioners, and the population is not very pleasant, particularly the artisans, who are very difficult, sceptical, and full of prejudices. The sailors are true and warm-hearted, but, as well as the soldiers, somewhat difficult to manage. Mr. Lang has thirteen curates to assist him, and they all live together.’

Lang’s next summons was in August. He was on holiday at Largie and by some mistake the command didn’t reach him until the Wednesday before the Sunday on which he was to preach. This time he was asked to stay from Saturday till Monday, and hurrying south found a large party at Osborne — several members of the royal family, the Prime Minister (Lord Salisbury), and other members of his family. On Saturday Lang was unwell and didn’t sleep at all. What made things worse, he had omitted to prepare a sermon, hoping for two quiet hours on the Sunday morning. When the day came he felt too stale and to put anything on paper. In the end, he gave up the attempt and preached extempore on ‘The Name of Jesus’. In the afternoon he walked and talked with the guests, and preached once more before attending the Royal dinner-party in the evening.

At dinner a conversation Lang was having with Princess Beatrice, the Duchess of Connaught, and the Prime Minister was interrupted by a summons for Lang to join the Queen. ‘I have been reading a sermon by Principal John Caird,’ Lang said to the Queen, ‘which he delivered before your Majesty in Crathie Church.’ With great daring, he added: ‘The sermon must have lasted at least three-quarters of an hour whereas I have been told that sermons delivered before your Majesty must not exceed twenty minutes!’

The Queen took this with good humour and replied drily, ‘When English dignitaries and clergy can preach as well as the Scottish ministers I will let them go on as long as they like!’ Lang and the Queen agreed that John Caird was probably the most powerful preacher whom they had ever heard. The Queen remarked that she preferred the ‘broad human sympathy’ of her favourite preacher Norman Macleod (1812–1872 Moderator of the Church of Scotland 1869-70).

On the differences between English and Scottish religion, the Queen told Lang, ‘I like the solemnity of the Scottish Communion. In England people seem to treat the Sacrament too easily. Why, I am told that many receive it as often as once a week. This seems to me a very mechanical view of the Sacraments. I wonder how much preparation they can give. For myself, three months seems not too long to prepare.’

Lang tried to give the other side of the argument but noted in his journal that ‘I did not think it necessary to say that in my Church there was a daily Celebration! Yet was there not something worth pondering in those no doubt very one-sided words?’ Queen Victoria was surely right that we should prepare ourselves before receiving Communion.