Supreme Governor of the Church of England

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The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a title held by the British Monarchs that signifies their titular leadership over the Church of England.

The monarch's authority and prerogative of this office is of little practical relevance today, and is mostly observed in a symbolic capacity. The Supreme Governor's prerogative to appoint high-ranking members of the church remains in the hands of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who makes the appointments based on church leaders' advice. The monarch still performs the formal ratification.

The title was invented for Elizabeth I. Her father, Henry VIII was responsible for the English church breaking away from the Catholic Church after the Vatican excommunicated Henry in 1533 over his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. By 1536, Henry had broken with Rome, seized the church's assets in England and founded 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 Henry's daughter, Queen Mary attempted to restore the Catholic Church and repealed the Act of Supremacy in 1555.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 which had been her father's title, as Supreme Governor sounded less powerful as it implied she was acting as a proxy rather than as head in her own right.

The title 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.

See also: separation of church and state

List of Supreme Governors of the Church of England

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