Not only is Queen Elizabeth the head of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but she also is the Supreme Governor and Defender of the Faith of the Church of England, the state church of England that broke with Roman Catholicism in the 16th century.
According to the , these titles date back to King Henry VIII’s reign when he was given the title “Defender of the Faith” by Pope Leo X in 1521. However, when the pope refused to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, after she failed to produce a male heir to the throne, the king renounced the Papacy’s authority in 1534 and divorced her.
After this historical break with Rome, Henry VIII established himself as the "the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia,” .
While Mary I tried to restore Roman Catholicism in England, her sister Elizabeth I declared herself the “Supreme Governor” of the Church of England when she took over the crown in 1558. And since then, the royal family has practiced Anglicanism, a form of Christianity.
Even though the Queen is acknowledged as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England still today, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the head cleric of the church.
At the Queen’s 1953 coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury anointed her and she to "maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England.”
As the Church of England spread throughout the world, it took on different names in different countries. This group of separate churches are known as the Anglican Communion, but the mother church is still the Church of England with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the united head of the communion.
In America, the Anglican church is known as the Episcopal church. This is why the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, will preach at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and his American fiancée Meghan Markle on Saturday, May 19. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will officiate the wedding service.
Meghan Markle was officially baptized into the Church of England by Archbishop Welby in March in a private ceremony at St. James’s Palace in London.
Archbishop Welby it was "very moving” and a “great privilege” to baptism Markle.
"At the heart of it is two people who have fallen in love with each other, who have committed their lives to each other with the most beautiful words and profound thoughts, who do it in the presence of God.”