Last month we named our newborn daughter Adelaide. And this is why…
In 1831 King William IV became the oldest monarch to ascend the throne of the United Kingdom and Ireland, at the ripe royal age of sixty-four. His nickname was “The Sailor King,” a sobriquet he earned through years of maritime service in the Royal Navy, but retained his reputation by ongoing effort. He drank like a sailor, swore like a sailor, and fathered ten children out of wedlock by the time he became king. He was also such a prodigal spender, and was unable to live within the financial bounds drawn for him by Parliament.
Staring down the barrel of life as a broke bachelor, William resigned himself to the idea of a marriage of convenience. In vain he scoured the fertile European social landscape for a princesses who would wed a geriatric alcoholic philanderer and to raise his children.
Several proposals were declined, but eventually, as providence would have it, there was a single German princess, twenty-seven years his junior, who was willing to try her hand at reforming the king. She would become the neck to direct Britain’s head.
Her name was Adelaide.
Well, actually her name was Adelaide Amelia Louise Theresa Caroline, her Serene Highness, the Duchess of Saxony and Princess of Saxe-Meiningen. (Incidentally, the state of Saxe-Meiningen was the first with a free press who allowed criticism of rulers; Adelaide came from assertive stock, which would prove useful being married to William.)
The couple met once—a week before the wedding. William was surprised at how amiable and positive his new queen was. Unlike her fiancé, Adelaide was known widely for being deeply religious, kind, pure, sensible with money, and most dignified.
William wrote to his eldest son, “She is doomed, poor dear young innocent creature, to be my wife.”
Adelaide soon endeared herself to her husband and her new subjects, becoming one of the most beloved and respected queens in British history. She was loved for her kindness to the poor, her modesty, and irrepressible commitment to Christ. Not only was she able to put up with William, but slowly people began to notice her sanctifying influence on the old sailor.
The couple moved to Hanover because the cost of living was cheaper than London. The queen systematically sanded the rough edges off William’s abrasive manners. She slowed his spending, decreased his drinking, and curtailed his cussing.
Sadly, the queen suffered multiple miscarriages and thus never produced an heir for the throne. But her grace, dignity, and faith in God’s providence through the serial tragedies was remarked on by many. She was a paragon of perseverance.
Even in her death, Adelaide set an example of Christian piety. She wrote in her will:
I die in all humility…we are alike before the throne of God, and I request therefore that my mortal remains be conveyed to the grave without pomp or state…to have as private and quiet a funeral as possible. I particularly desire not to be laid out in state…I die in peace and wish to be carried to the fount in peace, and free from the vanities and pomp of this world.
Queen Adelaide’s legacy is etched in history by the countless mementosnamed for her: most notably, the capital of South Australia, as well as various roads, parks, rivers, towns, and forts, as have some newborn girls precious to their dads
But this exemplary woman was not the first queen to experience an arranged marriage to a licentious man, only to exert godly influence over him for the sake of a nation.
Enter Queen Esther.
The book of Esther chronicles one of the most beloved Disney-esque rags to riches sagas. The little orphan girl, Hadassah, and in cognito Jewess, grows up in exile, and ends up winning the first Miss World pageant. Her prize: marriage to a difficult man. King Ahasuerus (or known to video gamers and graphic novel enthusiasts by his Greek name, Xerxes) was a violent and unpredictable man suffering from an incurable god-complex. After a six month drunken orgy, he summons his wife Queen Vashti to parade before his sloshed companions. Vashti responds with a word Xerxes had only heard once before—uttered by 300 Spartans at Thermopile—she said “No.”
This little protest ignites a chain reaction in the chauvinistic bureaucracy of Medo-Persia, ending with the retrenched queen replaced by a new hire chosen for her charm and curves. Esther finds herself as the most influential woman in the world.
When the Jews are about to be exterminated by a fuming Agagite (still smarting from his great-great-grandpa, King Agag, being butchered as Samuel’s object lesson for the semi-obedient King Saul), Esther is faced with a choice to make. She can remain ensconced in her comfort zone, like a turtle in a shell. Or she can stick her neck out by outting herself as one of the doomed Jews. She is their only hope of intercession, as cousin Mordecai reminds her with his rousing “such a time as this” pep-talk.
Esther then reveals her true grit and declares, “If I perish, I perish.”
History if full of cowards and lemmings, dutifully marching in step with whatever is most expedient and convenient. But that sedentary sludge of apathy is punctuated occasionally by women and men willing to stand up and be counted (forgive the rhetoric, we had elections last week here in South Africa). Some of these take the helm as leaders and captains. But others will never ascend to the forefront of leadership, and yet with quiet courage they can influence the influencers and direct the directors.
Praise God for the examples of Luther—“Here I stand, I can do no other”; and the other Luther—“I have a dream.” These leaders changed history. But so did countless other influencers. William Farrell talked Calvin into staying in Geneva to fight for Reform; Susanna Wesley shaped the characters of a godly brood of boys who would reshape church history; time to fail to list all the Esthers and Adelaides of history.
My hope is that my daughter will learn to stand up for what’s right, to voice God’s views, to risk her comfort and even her life for others, and to influence influencers for the good of society and the glory of God.
Who is your favorite historical hero or heroine?