The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and is the mother branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury is Dr. Rowan Douglas Williams.

Although Christians were present in England since the 4th century or earlier, the Church of England traces its roots to Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, in the 7th century.

The Church of England retains a form of worship closer to the Roman Catholic form than other Protestant churches. For example, the church has a hierarchical organization. Traditionally too, the orgainsation has been divided into High Church and Low Church factions that reflect the historical controversy over the forms of worship and expression.

Today the Church of England contains those of both Evangelical and Liberal persuasions as well as a flourishing Charismatic wing. These two groups however have been deeply divided on moral issues such as gay marriages indeed such was the rift over Canon Gene Robinson's appointment in America (in 2003) that some considered a split had only been narrowly avoided.

The head of the Church of England is officially the reigning monarch who is the Supreme Governor, but its effective chief cleric remains the Archbishop of Canterbury. It has its own court system known as the Ecclesiastical courts.

In addition to England proper, the jurisdiction of the Church of England extends to the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and many congregations on the continent of Europe known as the Diocese of Europe.

Table of contents
1 Recent Developments
2 History
3 Supreme Governors of the Church of England
4 Related Churches
5 See also

Recent Developments

On March 12, 1994 the Church of England ordained its first female priests.


Schism with Rome

The English Church was in union with Rome until the reign of
Henry VIII. The break with Rome came when Pope Clement VII refused, over a period of years, to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon, not as a matter of principle, but because he was living in fear of Catherine's nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

Henry first asked for an annulment in 1527. After various failed initiatives he stepped up the pressure on Rome, in the summer of 1529, by compiling a manuscript from ancient sources proving in law that spiritual supremacy rested with the monarch, and that Papal authority was illegal. In 1531 Henry first challenged the Pope when he demanded 100,000 poundss from the clergy in exchange for a royal pardon for their illegal jurisdiction, and that he should be recognised as their sole protector and supreme head. Henry VIII was recognized by the clergy as supreme head of the Church of England on February 11, 1531, however in 1532 he was still attempting to seek a compromise with the Pope.

In May 1532 the Church of England agreed to surrender their legislative independence and canon law to the authority of the monarch. In 1533 the Statute of Appeals removed the right of the English clergy and laity to appeal to Rome on matters of matrimony, tithes and oblations, and gave authority over such matters to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. This finally allowed Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, to issue Henry's annulment; and upon procuring it, Henry married Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII was excommunicated by Pope Clement VII in 1533.

In 1534 the Act of Submission of the Clergy removed the right of all appeals to Rome, effectively ending the Pope's influence. Henry was confirmed by statute as Supreme Head of the Church of England by the first Act of Supremacy in 1536.

Becoming the head of the church not only made it possible for Henry to divorce but also gave him access to the considerable wealth that the Church had amassed, and Thomas Cromwell launched a commission of enquiry into the nature and value of all ecclesiastical property in 1535, which was followed by the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


At the time of the original schism with Rome, the Church of England was not protestant in nature. Indeed, Henry himself had been awarded the title of fidei defensor (defender of the faith) by Pope Leo X partly for attacking such views. Consequently only minor changes in liturgy were made during Henry's reign.

This was however at a time of major religious upheaval in Western Europe called the Reformation and once the schism had occurred, some protestant reform was probably inevitable.

Under Henry's son, Edward VI, the first major changes to the church were made, including thoroughgoing revision of the liturgy along Protestant lines. The resulting Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1549 and revised in 1552, and was issued by authority of Parliament.

Re-establishment of union with Rome

Following the death of Edward, the Catholic Mary came to the throne. She renounced the Henrician and Edwardian changes, and re-established unity with Rome.

The second schism

Upon Mary's death in 1558, her sister Elizabeth came to power. Elizabeth became a determined Protestant, but despite reintroducing Protestant ideas, Elizabeth was not excommunicated from the catholic church until February 25, 1570, when Pope Pius V intervened. The Church of England officially broke with Rome again in 1559, when Parliament recognized Elizabeth as having supreme power, with a new Act of Supremacy that also repealed the remaining anti-Protestant legislation. In the same year a new Book of Common Prayer was issued. Elizabeth presided over the "Elizabethan Settlement", an attempt to harmonize the Puritan and Catholic forces in England.

During the Commonwealth of England and The Protectorate, the ascendant Puritans replaced the Episcopalian government of the Church with a Presbyterian form, but retained the principle of ultimate state control of religious matters. When Charles II came to power, the Episcopalian government was re-established, and the Book of Common Prayer was issued in a new revision in 1662.

Supreme Governors of the Church of England

Related Churches

Scotland, the established Church of Scotland is Presbyterian, but there is a smaller Anglican church known as the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The Church in Wales was disestablished in 1920 and Wales is now an independent province of the Anglican communion.

The Church of Ireland was the estabished church in Ireland until 1871, although Ireland remained mostly Roman Catholic.

See also

List of Church of England dioceses, British monarchy, History of England, Anglicanism, Book of Common Prayer, Anglican Communion, General Synod, antidisestablishmentarianism, UK topics