Queen Elizabeth II’s Role in the Church of England

Dear Sir,

     Archbishop Rowan warns against self-deception regarding the supreme government of the Church of England, seemingly unaware himself that there are no ecclesiastical, political or constitutional grounds for assuming Elizabeth II to be that church’s Supreme Governor.

     At the Elizabethan Settlement, Cox, Sandys, Grindal etc. persuaded Elizabeth I to drop the title of Supreme Head formerly held by her father and half-sister. Instead, she was advised to adopt the title of Supreme Governor of the Realm. This title was later confirmed, not by the Queen herself, nor by Convocation, which was not consulted, but by Parliament who in April, 1559 decreed that Elizabeth was the, “only Supreme Governor of this realm and of all other her highness’ dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal.” This Act of Supremacy was decreed, “An act to restore to the Crown the ancient jurisdiction over the estate ecclesiastical and abolishing all foreign powers repugnant to the same.”

     Both Queen and Parliament related the Act merely to the protection of English legal rights against papal claims but some Church dignitaries gave Elizabeth more scope than the Act intended. Thus, in 1569 Elizabeth proclaimed she had, “no right to define articles of faith, to change ancient ceremonies formerly adopted by the Catholic and Apostolic Church, or to minister the word or sacraments of God, but she conceived it her duty to take care that all estates under her rule should live in the faith and obedience of the Christian religion, to see all laws ordained for that end duly observed and to provide that the Church be governed by Archbishops, Bishops and Ministers.” Elizabeth insisted that church worship and discipline were not a matter for herself or Parliament but for the church herself whom she would then protect.

    These royal rights became obsolete at the Great Rebellion when Parliament appropriated them. The Westminster Assembly, for instance, was called neither by King nor Church but by Parliament. At the Restitution, Parliament refused to give up such sovereign powers and when Charles II proclaimed his Act of Tolerance for Dissenters, Parliament ignored it and persecuted ‘heretics’, using the same laws that had caused them to persecute Anglicans in Commonwealth times.

     Constitutionally, Queen Elizabeth II may still be Governor of the Realm but she has no inherited legal powers, either civic or ecclesiastic, to rule as Governor of the Church of England over internal church matters.