Supreme governor

Supreme Governor of the
Church of England
Church of England
Her Majesty
Residence Buckingham Palace
Inaugural holder Henry VIII
Formation 1536
Anglicanism portal

The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a title held by the British monarch that signifies titular leadership over the Church of England.[1] Although the monarch's authority over the Church of England is largely ceremonial, 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.[1]


By 1536, Henry VIII 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 1534 confirmed the King's status as having supremacy over the church and required the nobility to swear an oath recognising Henry's supremacy.[2] Henry's daughter, Queen Mary I, attempted to restore the English Church's allegiance to the Pope and repealed the Act of Supremacy in 1555.[3] Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558 and the next year Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy 1559 that restored the original act.[4] To placate critics, the Oath of Supremacy which nobles 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.[5]

"Defender of the Faith" (Fidei Defensor) has been part of the 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.[2] 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 charge 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 British monarch is automatically a member, but holds no leadership position. Nevertheless, the monarch appoints the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland as his or her personal representative, with a largely ceremonial role. The Queen on occasion has filled the role personally, as when she opened the General Assembly in 1977 and 2002 (her Silver and Golden Jubilee years).[7]

List of Supreme Governors

Name Years Notes
Henry VIII 1536–1547 As Supreme Head
Edward VI 1547–1553 As Supreme Head
Mary I 1553–1555 As Supreme Head (from 1554 the Queen omitted the title, without statutory authority until authorised by Parliament in 1555)
Elizabeth I 1559–1603
James I 1603–1625
Charles I 1625–1649
Interregnum 1649–1660 Church of England disestablished by the Commonwealth Government
Charles II 1649–1685 Became a Roman Catholic on his deathbed.[8]
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 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–present


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