Archbishop of Canterbury
Coat of arms of the
Arms of the Diocese of Canterbury: Azure, an episcopal staff in pale or surmounted by a pall proper edged and fringed of the second charged with four crosses pattée fitchée sable
Justin Welby
since 4 February 2013
StyleThe Most Reverend and Right Honourable (otherwise His Grace)
Ecclesiastical provinceCanterbury
First holderAugustine of Canterbury
Established597 (597)
CathedralCanterbury Cathedral
Website Edit this at Wikidata

The archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and a principal leader of the Church of England, the ceremonial head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby, who was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. Welby is the 105th person to hold the position, as part of a line of succession going back to the "Apostle to the English" Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent to the island by the church in Rome in 597. Welby succeeded Rowan Williams.[1]

From the time of Augustine until the 16th century, the archbishops of Canterbury were in full communion with the See of Rome, and usually received the pallium from the Pope. The various prerogatives of Henry VIII—emerging parallel with the spread of Protestantism on the continent—culminated in the English Reformation, wherein the Crown broke communion with Rome and seized leadership of the church, and with it the right to appoint bishops. Henry appointed Thomas Cranmer as the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, who would ultimately become one of the most important figures in the development of Anglicanism. The ascent of Henry's daughter Mary to the throne would bring with it a brief restoration of Catholic rule in England, with Cranmer replaced by Reginald Pole as archbishop in 1556. For his role in the Reformation, Cranmer was tried for heresy, and ultimately burned at the stake. Pole would be the final Roman Catholic to hold the office.

Before the modern era, there was a considerable variety in who appointed church offices, depending on era and political happenstance. Before the dissolution of the monasteries that occurred as part of the Reformation, the choice had often been made by the monks living in Canterbury Cathedral. At other times, the pope in Rome or the reigning monarch would fill the office. Today, the British prime minister is expected to advise the monarch regarding the appointment of the archbishop of Canterbury, with the prime minister in turn receiving a shortlist of two recommendations for the position from an ad hoc committee known as the Crown Nominations Commission.

Present roles and status

Today the archbishop fills four main roles:[2]

  1. He is the bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, which covers the eastern parts of the County of Kent. Founded in 597, it is the oldest see in the English church.
  2. He is the metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, which covers the southern two-thirds of England.
  3. He is the senior primate and chief religious figure of the Church of England (the British sovereign is the supreme governor of the church). Along with his colleague the archbishop of York he chairs the General Synod and sits on or chairs many of the church's important boards and committees; power in the church is not highly centralised, however, so the two archbishops can often lead only through persuasion. The archbishop of Canterbury plays a central part in national ceremonies such as coronations; due to his high public profile, his opinions are often in demand by the news media.
  4. As spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop, although without legal authority outside England, is recognised by convention as primus inter pares ("first among equals") of all Anglican primates worldwide. Since 1867 he has convened more or less decennial meetings of worldwide Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conferences.

In the last two of these functions, he has an important ecumenical and interfaith role, speaking on behalf of Anglicans in England and worldwide.

The archbishop's main residence is Lambeth Palace in the London Borough of Lambeth. He also has lodgings in the Old Palace, Canterbury, located beside Canterbury Cathedral, where the Chair of St Augustine sits.

As holder of one of the "five great sees" (the others being York, London, Durham and Winchester), the archbishop of Canterbury is ex officio one of the Lords Spiritual of the House of Lords. He is one of the highest-ranking men in England and the highest ranking non-royal in the United Kingdom's order of precedence.

Since Henry VIII broke with Rome, the archbishops of Canterbury have been selected by the English (British since the Act of Union in 1707) monarch. Since the 20th century, the appointment of archbishops of Canterbury conventionally alternates between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.[3]

The current archbishop, Justin Welby, the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 4 February 2013. As archbishop he signs himself as + Justin Cantuar. His predecessor, Rowan Williams, 104th archbishop of Canterbury, was enthroned at Canterbury Cathedral on 27 February 2003. Immediately prior to his appointment to Canterbury, Williams was the bishop of Monmouth and archbishop of Wales. On 18 March 2012, Williams announced he would be stepping down as archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012 to become master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.[4]

Additional roles

In addition to his office, the archbishop holds a number of other positions; for example, he is joint president of the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. Some positions he formally holds ex officio and others virtually so (the incumbent of the day, although appointed personally, is appointed because of his office). Amongst these are:[5]

Ecumenical and interfaith

The archbishop is also a president of Churches Together in England (an ecumenical organisation).[8] Geoffrey Fisher, 99th archbishop of Canterbury, was the first since 1397 to visit Rome, where he held private talks with Pope John XXIII in 1960. In 2005, Rowan Williams became the first archbishop of Canterbury to attend a papal funeral since the Reformation. He also attended the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI. The 101st archbishop, Donald Coggan, was the first to attend a papal inauguration, that of Pope John Paul II in 1978.[9]

Since 2002, the archbishop has co-sponsored the Alexandria Middle East Peace process with the Grand Mufti of Egypt. In July 2008, the archbishop attended a conference of Christians, Jews and Muslims convened by the king of Saudi Arabia at which the notion of the "clash of civilizations" was rejected. Delegates agreed "on international guidelines for dialogue among the followers of religions and cultures."[10] Delegates said that "the deepening of moral values and ethical principles, which are common denominators among such followers, would help strengthen stability and achieve prosperity for all humans."[11]


Arms of the see of Canterbury. Nearly 500 years after the Reformation, the arms still depict the pallium, a symbol of the authority of the Pope and metropolitan archbishops.

It has been suggested that the Roman province of Britannia had four archbishops, seated at Londinium (London), Eboracum (York), Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) and Corinium Dobunnorum (Cirencester).[12] However, in the 5th and 6th centuries Britannia began to be overrun by pagan, Germanic peoples who came to be known collectively as the Anglo-Saxons. Of the kingdoms they created, Kent arguably had the closest links with European politics, trade and culture, because it was conveniently situated for communication with continental Europe. In the late 6th century, King Æthelberht of Kent married a Christian Frankish princess named Bertha, possibly before becoming king, and certainly a number of years before the arrival of the first Christian mission to England.[13] He permitted the preaching of Christianity.[14]

The first archbishop of Canterbury was Saint Augustine of Canterbury (not to be confused with Saint Augustine of Hippo), who arrived in Kent in 597 AD, having been sent by Pope Gregory I on a mission to the English. He was accepted by King Æthelbert, on his conversion to Christianity, about the year 598. It seems that Pope Gregory, ignorant of recent developments in the former Roman province, including the spread of the Pelagian heresy, had intended the new archiepiscopal sees for England to be established in London and York.[15] In the event, Canterbury was chosen instead of London, owing to political circumstances.[16] Since then the archbishops of Canterbury have been referred to as occupying the Chair of St. Augustine. Univ A gospel book believed to be directly associated with St Augustine's mission survives in the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge, England. Catalogued as Cambridge Manuscript 286, it has been positively dated to 6th-century Italy and this bound book, the St Augustine Gospels, is still used during the swearing-in ceremony of new archbishops of Canterbury.

Before the break with papal authority in the 16th century, the Church of England was an integral part of the Western European church. Since the break the Church of England, an established national church, still considers itself part of the broader Western Catholic tradition (although this is not accepted by the Roman Catholic Church which regards Anglicanism as schismatic[17] and does not accept Anglican holy orders as valid) as well as being the "mother church" of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Report of the Commissioners appointed by his Majesty to inquire into the Ecclesiastical Revenues of England and Wales (1835) noted the net annual revenue for the Canterbury see was £19,182.[18]

Province and Diocese of Canterbury

View of Canterbury Cathedral from the north west c. 1890–1900

The archbishop of Canterbury exercises metropolitical (or supervisory) jurisdiction over the Province of Canterbury, which encompasses thirty of the forty-two dioceses of the Church of England, with the rest falling within the Province of York. The four Welsh dioceses were also under the province of Canterbury until 1920 when they were transferred from the established church of England to the disestablished Church in Wales.

The archbishop of Canterbury has a ceremonial provincial curia, or court, consisting of some of the senior bishops of his province.[19] The bishop of London—the most senior cleric of the church with the exception of the two archbishops—serves as Canterbury's provincial dean, the bishop of Winchester as chancellor, the bishop of Lincoln as vice-chancellor, the bishop of Salisbury as precentor, the bishop of Worcester as chaplain and the bishop of Rochester as cross-bearer.

Along with primacy over the archbishop of York, the archbishop of Canterbury also has a precedence of honour over the other bishops of the Anglican Communion. He is recognised as primus inter pares, or first amongst equals. He does not, however, exercise any direct authority in the provinces outside England, except in certain minor roles dictated by Canon in those provinces (for example, he is the judge in the event of an ecclesiastical prosecution against the archbishop of Wales). He does hold metropolitical authority over several extra-provincial Anglican churches, and he serves as ex officio bishop of the Falkland Islands.

At present the archbishop has four suffragan bishops:

Styles and privileges

"Primate of All England" redirects here.

The archbishop of Canterbury and the archbishop of York are both styled as "The Most Reverend"; retired archbishops are styled as "The Right Reverend". Archbishops are, by convention, appointed to the Privy Council and may, therefore, also use the style of "The Right Honourable" for life (unless they are later removed from the council). In formal documents, the archbishop of Canterbury is referred to as "The Most Reverend Forenames, by Divine Providence Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan". In debates in the House of Lords, the archbishop is referred to as "The Most Reverend Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury". "The Right Honourable" is not used in either instance. He may also be formally addressed as "Your Grace"—or, more often these days, simply as "Archbishop", or "Father".

The surname of the archbishop of Canterbury is not always used in formal documents; often only the first name and see are mentioned. The archbishop is legally entitled to sign his name as "Cantuar" (from the Latin for Canterbury). The right to use a title as a legal signature is only permitted to bishops, peers of the Realm and peers by courtesy.[citation needed] The current archbishop of Canterbury usually signs as "+Justin Cantuar:".

In the English and Welsh order of precedence, the archbishop of Canterbury is ranked above all individuals in the realm, with the exception of the sovereign and members of the royal family.[22] Immediately below him is the lord chancellor and then the archbishop of York.

Lambeth degrees

The archbishop of Canterbury awards academic degrees, commonly called "Lambeth degrees".


The Archbishop of Canterbury's official London residence and office is Lambeth Palace, photographed looking east across the River Thames

The archbishop of Canterbury's official residence and office in London is Lambeth Palace. He also has an apartment within the Old Palace, next to Canterbury Cathedral which incorporates some 13th century fabric of the medieval Archbishop's Palace.

Former seats of the Archbishops include:

List of recent archbishops

See also: Assistant Bishop of Canterbury

Since 1900, the following have served as archbishop of Canterbury:[23]

Archbishops who became peers

From 1660 to 1902, all the archbishops of Canterbury died in office. In 1928, two years before his death, Randall Davidson became the first voluntarily to resign his office. All his successors except William Temple (who died in office in 1944) have also resigned their office before death.

All those who retired have been given peerages: initially hereditary baronies (although both recipients of such titles died without male heirs and so their titles became extinct on their deaths), and life peerages after the enactment of the Life Peerages Act 1958. Such titles have allowed retired archbishops to retain the seats in the House of Lords which they held ex officio before their retirement.

Archbishop Title Notes
Randall Davidson Baron Davidson of Lambeth in 1928 Extinct in 1930
Cosmo Gordon Lang Baron Lang of Lambeth in 1942 Extinct in 1945
Geoffrey Fisher Baron Fisher of Lambeth for life in 1961 Extinct in 1972
Michael Ramsey Baron Ramsey of Canterbury for life in 1974 Extinct in 1988
Donald Coggan Baron Coggan for life in 1980 Extinct in 2000
Robert Runcie Baron Runcie for life in 1991 Extinct in 2000
George Carey Baron Carey of Clifton for life in 2002 Extant
Rowan Williams Baron Williams of Oystermouth for life in 2013 Extant (retired from the House in 2020[24])

See also


  1. ^ "Announcement of the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury". Archbishop of Canterbury Website. 9 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  2. ^ Archbishop's Roles and Responsibilities Archived 14 February 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Archbishop of Canterbury website. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  3. ^ The Archbishop of Canterbury Archived 22 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine, website of the Archbishop of York. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  4. ^ Thornton, Ed (16 March 2012). "Dr Williams resigns". Church Times.
  5. ^ "Register of Lords' interests". House of Lords. Archived from the original on 7 August 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2007.
  6. ^ "Archbishop installed as first Chancellor". Canterbury Christ Church University. 12 December 2005. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2008.
  7. ^ "Justin Welby becomes patron of mental health charity". Premier. Christian News. 14 September 2021. Archived from the original on 22 September 2021. Retrieved 15 October 2021.
  8. ^ "The Presidents of Churches Together in England". Churches Together in England. Archived from the original on 26 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  9. ^ Hickman, Baden (19 May 2000). "Lord Coggan of Canterbury". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 February 2014.
  10. ^ "Madrid Interfaith Dialogue Conference: Beginning of a Process". Saudi-US Relations Information Service. Archived from the original on 15 May 2010. Retrieved 6 May 2014.
  11. ^ Niles, D. Preman (1989). Resisting the threats to life: covenanting for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. Geneva: WCC Publications. ISBN 9782825409640.
  12. ^ Wacher, J., The Towns of Roman Britain, Batsford, 1974, especially pp. 84–86.
  13. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia: Bertha.
  14. ^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History, i, 25.
  15. ^ Bede, Ecclesiastical History, i, 29.
  16. ^ Brooks, N., The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, Leicester University Press, 1984, pp. 3–14.
  17. ^ Cavanaugh, Stephen E. (2011). Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments. Ignatius Press. ISBN 978-1-58617-499-6.
  18. ^ The National Enclopaedia of Useful Knowledge, Vol.III, Charles Knight, London, 1847, p. 362
  19. ^ "Order of Service from the Enthronement of the 104th Archbishop in 2003" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2007.
  20. ^ "Articles".
  21. ^ "Canterbury Diocese – Synod News". Archived from the original on 15 June 2011.
  22. ^ Whitaker's Almanack, 2008, p43 – (Precedence, England and Wales)
  23. ^ Johnson, Ben. "Archbishops of Canturbury". Historic UK. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  24. ^ "Retirements of Members – Hansard – UK Parliament".