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Supreme Governor of the Church of England

The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a title held by the British Monarchs which signifies their titular leadership over the Church of England. Even though the monarch's authority over the Church of England is not strong, the position is still very relevant to the church and is mostly observed in a symbolic capacity. The Supreme Governor formally appoints high-ranking members of the church on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who is in turn advised by church leaders.

History

The title was created for Elizabeth I. Her father, Henry VIII, was responsible for the English church breaking away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church after the Pope excommunicated Henry in 1533 over his annulment from Catherine of Aragon. By 1536 Henry had broken with Rome, seized the church's assets in England and declared the Church of England as the established church with himself as its head. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 confirmed the King's status as having supremacy over the church and required the nobility to swear an oath recognising Henry's supremacy. Henry's daughter, Queen Mary I, attempted to restore the English Church's allegiance to the Pope and repealed the Act of Supremacy in 1555. Elizabeth took the throne in 1558 and, the next year, Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy of 1559 that restored the original act. However, to placate critics, the Oath of Supremacy nobles were required to swear gave the monarch's title as Supreme Governor of the church rather than Supreme Head. This wording avoided the charge that the monarchy was claiming divinity or usurping Jesus Christ, whom the Bible identifies as head of the church.

Defender of the Faith has been part of the British monarch's title since Henry VIII was originally granted it by Pope Leo X in 1521 in recognition, ironically enough, 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.

Thirty-Nine Articles

This royal 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 King's majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other of his 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 that only 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 change by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoer ... The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England."

Church of Scotland

In the Church of Scotland, (a Presbyterian, national church), the monarch is automatically a member, but holds no leadership position. However, the monarch appoints the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as their personal representative, with a largely ceremonial role.

List of Supreme Governors of the Church of England

Supreme Governor Years Notes
Henry VIII (1536-1547) As Supreme Head only
Edward VI (1547-1553) As Supreme Head only
Elizabeth I (1559-1603)
James I (1603-1625)
Charles I (1625-1649) executed
Oliver Cromwell (1653-1658) .
Richard Cromwell (1658-1659) .
Charles II (1660-1685) Converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.
James II (1685-1688) Roman Catholic, deposed
Mary II (1689-1694) Held jointly with William III
William III (1689-1702) Held jointly with Mary II (1689-1694)
Anne I (1702-1714)
George I (1714-1727)
George II (1727-1760)
George III (1760-1820)
George IV (1820-1830)
William IV (1830-1837)
Victoria (1837-1901)
Edward VII (1901-1910)
George V (1910-1936)
Edward VIII (1936)
George VI (1936-1952)
Elizabeth II (1952-)

References

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