|Supreme Governor of the|
Church of England
King Charles III
since 8 September 2022
|Church of England|
|Constituting instrument||Act of Supremacy 1558|
|Precursor||Supreme Head of the Church of England|
|First holder||Elizabeth I|
The supreme governor of the Church of England is the titular head of the Church of England, a position which is vested in the British monarch. Although the monarch's authority over the Church of England is largely ceremonial and is mostly observed in a symbolic capacity, the position is still very relevant to the church. As the supreme governor, the monarch formally appoints high-ranking members of the church on the advice of the prime minister of the United Kingdom, who in turn acts on the advice of the Crown Nominations Commission. Historically, the Supreme Governors have been members of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.
By 1536, King Henry VIII of England had broken with the Holy See, seized assets of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and declared the Church of England as the established church with himself as its supreme head. The Act of Supremacy 1534 confirmed the king's status as having supremacy over the church and required the peers to swear an oath recognising Henry's supremacy. Henry's daughter Mary I attempted to restore the English Church's allegiance to the pope and repealed the Act of Supremacy in 1555. Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558 and the Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy 1558 which restored the original act. To placate critics, the Oath of Supremacy which peers were required to swear, gave the monarch's title as supreme governor rather than supreme head of the church. This wording avoided the charge that the monarchy was claiming divinity or usurping Christ, whom the Bible explicitly identifies as head of the Church.
"Defender of the Faith" (Fidei Defensor) has been part of the English (and since the Union of Scotland and England, British) monarch's title since Henry VIII was granted it by Pope Leo X in 1521 in recognition of Henry's role in opposing the Protestant Reformation. The pope withdrew the title, but it was later reconferred by Parliament in the reign of Edward VI.
The position of the monarch role is acknowledged in the preface to the Thirty-Nine Articles of 1562. It states that:
Being by God's Ordinance, according to Our just Title, Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church, within these Our Dominions, We hold it most agreeable to this Our Kingly Office, and Our own religious zeal, to conserve and maintain the Church committed to Our Charge, in Unity of true Religion, and in the Bond of Peace ... We have therefore, upon mature Deliberation, and with the Advice of so many of Our Bishops as might conveniently be called together, thought fit to make this Declaration following ... That We are Supreme Governor of the Church of England ...
Article 37 makes this claim to royal supremacy more explicit:
The Queen's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction. ... [We] give not to our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments ... but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers. The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.
The British monarch vows to uphold the constitution of the Church of Scotland (a Presbyterian national church), but does not hold a leadership position in it. Nevertheless, the monarch appoints the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as their personal representative, with a ceremonial role. Queen Elizabeth II on occasion filled the role personally, as when she opened the General Assembly in 1977 and 2002 (her Silver and Golden Jubilee years).
|Henry VIII of England||1531–1547||As supreme head.|
|Edward VI of England||1547–1553||As supreme head. With Thomas Cranmer, authorised the Book of Common Prayer.|
|Lady Jane Grey||1553||As supreme head.|
|Mary I of England and Philip||1553–1555||As supreme head (from 1554 the couple omitted the title, without statutory authority until authorised by Parliament in 1555). Promoted the Catholic Reformation in England and Wales.|
|Elizabeth I of England||1558–1603||See Thirty-Nine Articles.|
|James I of England||1603–1625||Authorized the King James Version of the Bible.|
|Charles I of England||1625–1649||Canonised martyr of the Church of England.|
|Charles II of England||1660–1685||Converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.|
|James II of England||1685–1688||Last Catholic to hold the position; he only held it as statutory authority.|
|Mary II of England||1689–1694||Reigned jointly with her husband (and cousin) William III.|
|William III of England||1689–1702||At first reigned jointly with Mary II, 1689–1694. Calvinist.|
|Anne of Great Britain||1702–1714||Married to the Lutheran Prince George of Denmark.|
|George I||1714–1727||Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. First Protestant in the line set forth by the Succession to the Crown Act 1707. Lutheran.|
|George II||1727–1760||Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. Lutheran.|
|George III||1760–1820||Head of the Lutheran Church in Hanover.|
|George IV||1820–1830||Catholic emancipation enacted by the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829.|
|Victoria||1837–1901||The Church of Ireland was disestablished by the Irish Church Act 1869.|
|George V||1910–1936||The Church in Wales was disestablished by the Welsh Church Act 1914.|
|Edward VIII||1936||Pressured to abdicate, formalised by the His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936.|
|Elizabeth II||1952–2022||Longest-serving, at 70 years.|