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Church-State Ties on Full Display at Royal Wedding

c. 2011 Religion News Service

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) When Prince William and Kate Middleton walk down the aisle at Westminster Abbey on Friday (April 29), Britain’s unique and historic ties between church and state will be on full display.

Some here think — even hope — it could also be the last powerful stroll for church and state in this increasingly secular country.

As the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev. John Hall, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams prepare to conduct and solemnize the wedding of the century, both Christians and prominent and powerful nonbelievers are raising their voices and demanding the disestablishment the Church of England that has dominated religious life here for 400 years.


In a special message issued for the royal nuptials, Williams underscored the historic ties between the church and state in England.

“Since about 1300,” he said, “the archbishops of Canterbury have had their London residence here in Lambeth Palace. The view from Lambeth Palace is straight across to the House of Parliament, Big Ben and, of course, Westminster Abbey.”

In a powerful measure of Britain’s unique marriage of church and state, the parliament’s House of Lords contains 26 Lords Spiritual, all of them unelected men who also serve as bishops in the Church of England.

The assembled royals and bishops inside Westminster Abbey will reflect the close ties on both sides. Williams was appointed by Elizabeth in 2003 — her fifth appointment to Canterbury in nearly 60 years — on the recommendation of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.


He, in turn, or his successor will one day crown the next monarch.

The queen became “Supreme Governor” and “Defender of the Faith” of the Church of England when she ascended the throne in 1952 — a title established in 1562 after King Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534.

“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 the Unity of true Religion, and in the Bond of Peace,” the preface to the church’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion states.

Assuming he one day assumes the throne, William, too, will hold the same power to appoint bishops and archbishops.

By law, the monarch must be an Anglican and confirmed member of the Church of England. Middleton was confirmed in the Church of England on March 10 at a private ceremony held at a London palace.


Current Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed support “in principle” for scrapping the 1701 Law of Settlement restricting access to the throne by non-Catholics — a move Anglican leaders strongly oppose.

The 1701 law also forbids heirs to the throne from marrying Catholics, on the idea that their royal offspring who are raised as Catholics would be forced to choose between loyalty to Rome and loyalty to the Church of England.

The presumed heir to the throne, Charles, Prince of Wales, is the longest serving heir apparent in history. He is married to the Camilla Parker Bowles, a Roman Catholic. Opinion polls suggest most Britons want to see William succeed his grandmother as sovereign.

For his part, William has expressed little concern about or commitment to either the Church of England or Christianity. Those close to the couple say they are, like their peers, quietly indifferent about religion.


A theologian who did not want to have his name used publicly quipped at a recent reception at Lambeth Palace: “Ever since Saul, David and Solomon, the Church of England’s ideal of a monarch is a man or woman with one eye on their subjects, the other on heaven.”

For the most part, the queen leaves church operations to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops, who have struggled in recent years to keep the Church of England intact despite deep differences over a move to allow female bishops.

Williams, too, has wrestled with an independent-minded American flock in the Episcopal Church over the election of gay bishops. In former British colonies, Williams has wrestled for control with conservative archbishops who see themselves as leaders of the so-called “Global South” church.


When Elizabeth, 85, dies, many observers expect calls for the disestablishment of the church to grow, and perhaps succeed. Williams, the former archbishop of Wales, has indicated he’s not scared by the idea.

“I spent 10 years working in a disestablished Church (the Church of Wales) and I can see that it’s by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears,” he told the left-leaning New Statesman magazine in 2008.

More on the Royal Wedding

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    I would like to see Prince Charles be King before William. He has all the attributes for being King.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Since Charles is married to a RC, how then can he become King if she isn’t a member of the C of E? The 1701 law “forbids ” it, however, Charles and Camilla won’t be having children—since Charles has had his. Guess then he can become King, even though married to a RC?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    I want to know what’s the status of antidisestablishmentariasm. And if they disestablish the AC then is antidisestablishmentariasm still going to be an honest word? And if they do it, will those trying to undo it be reestablishmentarians? And alas, even antireestablishmentarianism is shorter than antidisestablishmentariasm.

    But in fact, of course, they should go ahead and cut the cord. Both the church and the state would be better off for it.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Indeed,nnmns, the country of England would most certainly be better off cutting the cord!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JimO

    The “C of E” is not really a church at all, but a sect of the true Church. It’s ongoing unraveling has fostered many to swim the Tiber, coming home to their ancestral roots of faith, legitimacy, and doctrine. What is happening to anglicanism is a natural process of decay caused by the toxicity of its birth. Harsh but true! May Catholics of good will express their Easter love in helping all those suffering from a lack of faith to remove the stone in their hearts (like the stone that was rolled away from the tomb!) so that they may experience the joy of Christ expressed in his Church and Eucharist.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie Angel

    I would think that Charles is disqualified to be King on two counts: he is married to a Roman Catholic AND a divorcee. His great-uncle was forced to abdicate for just one of these. And, if I remember correctly, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury stated that he would not crown Charles for that very reason.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    I truly doubt the disestablishment of the Church of ENGLAND (not God, Jehovah, Christ, or Jesus) will happen as the 500th anniversary of the big separation is looming. And even William knows he would have a tough time breaking down the walls between palace and cathedral.

    By the way, I read that the title “Defender of the Faith” was granted Henry 8 by the pope-du-jour when Henry offered to fund a “hit team” to take care of “the German Problem” shortly after Marty Luther vandalized the church in Wittenberg. Though Henry & Pope broke up, H8 kept the title as a momento. It simply gets passed along from one generation to the next, like mutant genes.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment james jones

    Don’t you just love living in a country with such a Medieval mind-set?

    All my life (and I am 69) I have been patiently waiting through successive governments, to see an end to the anachronism that is the House of Lords, or at least to see the bishops kicked out.

    Waiting, too, for the complete separation of church and State. It makes me very uneasy to have my government in any way influenced by strange men in frocks, who purport to believe in some all-powerful, imaginary being.

    There is not a shred of evidence for the existence of a god, of any kind. In fact, all reason and rationality weighs against such nonsense. And yet we are constantly insulted by deluded clergy – and certain MPs – who try to assert that those who don’t believe are somehow lacking in humanity, when the opposite is more often the truth.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment elainep

    Today is wedding day. I got up late, found a radio station that has no news on, nothing about Royals, Thank goodness.
    I am sure if my ancestors were murderers and put people in the Tower of London for torture then I would not be suitable to marry Royals, and would not be proud of the fact.
    I thought Church of England was a made up religion.I read they have 52 billion pounds in the Bank, 20,000 children die a day.
    Lets thinkmore of the unfortunate and less of the fortunate.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    I enjoyed the exuberance of the British people yesterday celebrating the happiness of the Prince and Princess that they love. It was a lovely change from wars, and arguements usually found on the net and newspapers and TV. Most of those celebrators were members of the Anglican Church of England so were of oneness. I wish they would consider the Gays as acceptable to marry as they, but in time they will. Some of the comments about the wedding on the net were sad, very disrespectful, but those people have a right to what they believe. Thankfully there seemed to be more who enjoyed the differences of themselves and the Royalty. They are a well-matched couple and will have a great life together. How can I be so sure? Kate and I have almost the same birthday, and my husband almost Williams. Astrology is amazing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    I got up and watched the wedding—and enjoyed every bit of it. Westminster is HUGE and beautiful. And I agree, H22, it was a wonderful change from all the horror overseas and the storms in the south.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Alan Rogers

    Trevor, Sorry to be pedantic but it is the Church in Wales not, as stated in your final paragraph, the Church of Wales. This is important because the Anglican church in Wales become dis-established and disendowed in 1920 following the passing of the Welsh Church Act of 1914.
    Wales is a secular nation and responses to a questionnaire sent to candidates for the National Assembly of Wales elections on the 5th May which posed the question – Do you agree that the governance and the public services of Wales should be secular? showed 80%=YES 5%=NO 15%=Don’t Know, Refused to Answer or Evasive.
    As law-making powers are transferred to Wales the problem of the Church/State link becomes increasingly one for England. The best of luck with that to you all.
    Alan Rogers

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Thanks for explanation Alan Rogers, it clarifys the whole picture by using the right preposition. Interested in this part of world because my husbands ancestors came from Wales, and Scotland.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Alan Rogers

    Glad you were able to understand it in spite of the “typo”.
    I have some more up-to-date figures for you… There has been a recent surge in support for secularism…
    the figures are now 88% For, 5% Against, 7% What the hell are you talking about?
    Incidentally the figures for community schools as against sectarian (aka faith) schools are 68% For 13% Against 19% “Don’t ask me difficult questions”.

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