Protestantism and the Church of England: All religions in Britain are equal. It’s just that some are more equal than others
Divorced, beheaded, died: divorced, beheaded, survived . . . a poem for children about the fate of the wives of Henry V111. On the right of the founder of the Church of England is the new Supreme Governor of the Established Church in England, King Charles 111.
“If, as seems possible, the next coronation takes place without a House of Lords, a Commonwealth, or an Established Church, the role of the ceremonial is creating the comforting picture of stability, tradition and continuity will only be further enhanced. The dynamic dialogue between ritual and society, between text and context, will continue.” That was written in 1979 by David Cannadine in The Invention of Tradition edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge University Press, 1983)
By Trevor Grundy
The Coronation of King Charles 111 and his wife Camilla is around the corner (May 6, 2023).
For the last twenty or so years, we’ve all been told that the new man on the throne wants to be known as Defender of Faiths and not just Defender of the Faith which was a title (Fid Def) given to Henry V111 by a grateful Pope Leo X for the Tudor monarch’s defence of Roman Catholicism before his divorce and break from Rome, which led to the creation of the Church of England in 1534.
It is as the protector of Protestantism that the monarch’s title has traditionally been interpreted.
But if you believe the forthcoming crowning of Charles and his wife represents some sort of goodbye to the past and hello to the future, think again.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with the then Prince of Wales and now King Charles 111.
An article in The Times of April 15, 2023 by Ian Bradley, emeritus professor of cultural and spiritual history at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, explains what will and what will not happen before and after the crowning of Charles.
Bradley writes: “In the absence of a written constitution, the oaths taken at the beginning of the coronation service are the nearest we have to a statement of the principle on which the United Kingdom in governed.”
On accession, the new sovereign has to make three statutory oaths: the Scottish oath, to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland: the Accession Declaration , to be a true and faithful Protestant: and the coronation oath, which includes promising to uphold the rights and privileges of the Church of England.
“The first two oaths that King Charles 111 will take before his crowning on May 6 are very similar to those in the earliest surviving coronation order, drawn up by St Dunstan as Archbishop of Canterbury for the Anglo Saxon King Edgar in 973 CE. They embody a commitment to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld and the country is ruled according to the principles of justice and mercy.”
The third will be of huge interest to members of fast growing religions outside of Christianity.
To those who hoped for significant change in a country of such cultural, ethnic and religious diversity the wording of the third oath is the most interesting.
Bradley tells us that over the centuries its wording has been significantly changed.
- In the Middle Ages kings and queens swore to ‘preserve intact the peace of the church of God for the clergy and people.’
- After the Reformation, they were required to maintain ‘the true profession of the Gospel.’
- An act passed in the aftermath of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 bound William 111 and his successors to swear to maintain ‘the Protestant Reformed Religion Established by Law – a commitment that has remained in the third coronation oath ever since.and in the aftermath of the so-called Glorious revolution of 1688.
The crowning of King Edgar took place at Bath in 973 AD. It was the first recorded coronation. Edgar’s wife, Aelfthryth, was the consort and was crowned queen of England.
Another law passed in 1688 required all new monarch solemnly to abjure the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the adoration of the Virgin Mary and ‘the sacrifice of the Mass.’
Monarchs made this declaration throughout the 18th and 19th centuries without demur, says Bradey.
But both Edward V11 and George V objected to what they called ‘its crude language’ which they felt was offensive to their Roman Catholic subjects and it was dropped in 1910.
When the late Queen Elizabeth11 swore the third oath at her coronation seventy years ago, it included a commitment to ‘uphold the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel, maintain the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law and preserve inviably the settlement of the Church of England and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established.’
Bradley writes, “There have been calls over recent years from a number of quarters to change this wording and remove the specific reference to Protestantism in favour of a more inclusive commitment by the new monarch in keeping with the multi-faith and secular nature of our society.”
Charles in 1993: ‘For that which binds our two world together is so much more powerful than that which divides us. Muslims, Christians -and Jews – are all ‘ peoples of the book.’ Charles often appeared in Saudi Arabia dressed as a desert warrior.
Charles and his loyal followers insist that change will come.
But not yet, so don’t hold your breath,
Any amendment to the coronation oaths needs to be ratified by an act of Parliament.
Says Bradley (in his article which is ironically titled ‘Despite coronation oath, the King will protect all religions’) that as no such legislation has been brought forward “it is safe to assume that there will, in fact, be no change of wording in the third oath and that the monarch’s role as protector of Protestantism will remain, as does the King’s position as supreme governor of the Church of England.’’
There are 777 sitting members of the House of Lords . That includes 26 out of the 42 diocesan bishops, all of them are (unelected to the Upper House) members of the Church of England.
No Established Church, no Commonwealth, no House of Lords at the next coronation?
Roll over David Cannadine.