In the United Kingdom, The Queen’s title includes the words ‘Defender of the Faith’.This means Her Majesty has a specific role in both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. As established Churches, they are recognised by law as the official Churches of England and Scotland, respectively. In both England and Scotland, the established Churches are subject to the regulation of law. The principle of religious toleration is fully recognised both for those of other creeds and for those without any religious beliefs.There are no established Churches in Northern Ireland nor in Wales. They were disestablished in 1869 in Northern Ireland and 1920 in Wales. There is no established Church in any Commonwealth country of which The Queen is Monarch (i.e. a realm). In addition to playing a role in the Churches of England and Scotland, The Queen recognises and supports the various other faiths practised in the UK and Commonwealth.

Though Her Majesty is “Defender of the Faith” and Supreme Head of the “Church of England”, it is the Archbishop of Canterbury who sets out the direction of the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior primate and chief religious figure of the Church of England as well as the spiritual leader of the Anglican communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and principal leader of the Church of England, the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury. The current archbishop is Justin Welby. He is the 105th in a line which goes back more than 1400 years to Augustine of Canterbury, the “Apostle to the English”, in the year 597. On 9 November 2012 it was officially announced that Welby, then the Bishop of Durham, had been appointed to succeed Rowan Williams as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury. His enthronement took place in Canterbury Cathedral on 21 March 2013. From the time of Augustine until the 16th century, the Archbishops of Canterbury were in full communion with the See of Rome and thus usually received the pallium. During the English Reformation the Church of England broke away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, at first temporarily under Henry VIII and Edward VI and later permanently during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Today the Archbishop fills four main roles:

  • He is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, which covers the eastern parts of the County of Kent. Founded in 597, it is the oldest see in the English church.
  • He is the metropolitan archbishop of the Province of Canterbury, which covers the southern two-thirds of England.
  • He is the senior primate and chief religious figure of the Church of England (the British sovereign is the supreme governor of the church). Along with his colleague the Archbishop of York he chairs the General Synod and sits or chairs many of the church’s important boards and committees; power in the church is not highly centralised, however, so the two archbishops can often lead only through persuasion. The Archbishop of Canterbury plays a central part in national ceremonies such as coronations; due to his high public profile, his opinions are often in demand by the news media.
  • As spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, the archbishop, although without legal authority outside England, is recognised by convention as primus inter pares (first among equals) of all Anglican primates worldwide. Since 1867 he has convened more or less decennial meetings of worldwide Anglican bishops, the Lambeth Conferences.

In the last two of these functions he has an important ecumenical and interfaith role, speaking on behalf of Anglicans in England and worldwide. The archbishop’s main residence is Lambeth Palace in the London Borough of Lambeth. He also has lodgings in the Old Palace, Canterbury, located beside Canterbury Cathedral, where the Chair of St. Augustine sits. As holder of one of the “five great sees” (the others being York, London, Durham and Winchester), the Archbishop of Canterbury is ex officio one of the Lords Spiritual of the House of Lords. He is one of the highest-ranking men in England and the highest ranking non-royal in the United Kingdom’s order of precedence. Since Henry VIII broke with Rome, the Archbishops of Canterbury have been selected by the English (British since the Act of Union in 1707) monarch. Today the choice is made in the name of the monarch by the prime minister, from a shortlist of two selected by an ad-hoc committee called the Crown Nominations Commission. Since the 20th century, the appointment of Archbishops of Canterbury conventionally alternates between more moderate Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals.

A Royal Peculiar?

stained glassAlthough the Archbishop of Canterbury may outline the direction of the Church of England and have control over , he is not in control of every cathedral or place of worship in the United Kingdom. It is ultimately the Sovereign who prevails over the Archbishop and therefore in the right order of fashion maintains his or her own places of worship to which the Archbishop of Canterbury has no power over. Such places of worship can be chapels, churches, abbeys and large cathedrals and are known as Royal Peculiars. A Royal Peculiar (or Royal Peculier) is a place of worship that falls directly under the jurisdiction of the British monarch, rather than under a bishop. The concept dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when a church could ally itself with the monarch and therefore not be subject to the bishop of the area. Later it reflected the relationship between the Norman and Plantagenet kings and the English church. Unlike many of the ecclesiastical foundations of the medieval period the Royal Peculiars were not abolished in the English Reformation effected under the Tudors.

Some of the most famous Royal Peculiars:

Westminster AbbeyWestminster Abbey (The Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster) commonly known as Westminster Abbey, and containing Henry VII’s chapel which is the chapel of the Order of the Bath. The chapels associated with the Chapel Royal, which refers not to a building but to an establishment in the Royal Household; a body of priests and singers to explicitly serve the spiritual needs of the Sovereign.


chapel royal st jamesThe Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace -This chapel has been used regularly since 1702 and is the most commonly used facility today. Located in the main block of St. James’s Palace it was built circa 1540 and altered since, most notably by Sir Robert Smirke in 1837. The large window to the right of the palace gatehouse is in the north wall of this chapel which is laid out on a north-south rather than the usual east-west axis. Its ceiling richly decorated with royal initials and coats of arms is said to have painted by Holbein.

Queens ChapelThe Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace – The Chapel once also part of the St. James’s Palace compound, was built between 1623 and 1625 as a Roman Catholic chapel, at a time when the construction of Catholic churches was prohibited in England, for Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I. From the 1690s it was used by Continental Protestant courtiers and became known as the German chapel. After the adjacent apartments burnt down in 1809 they were not replaced, and in 1856-57 Marlborough Road was built between the palace and the chapel.

8573967.jpgThe Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace – On the 13th of October 1537 (the feast of the Translation of Saint Edward the Confessor) the longed-for son was born to Queen Jane Seymour in the Palace, and on the 15th he was baptized and confirmed in the Chapel Royal by Archbishop Cranmer, who was also his godfather (his godmother was his eldest sister The Princess Mary). The Queen died soon after that, and lay in state in the Chapel Royal for three weeks ; her viscera were buried by order of the King beneath the altar of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, and her body was buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. King Henry VIII was to be buried in the same grave at Windsor ten years later ; and a hundred years after that, in 1649, the body and head of the Martyr King Charles I were interred in the same place.

St John Chapel TowerThe Chapel of St John the Evangelist in the Tower of London – Part of the original construction of the White Tower begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror. The chapel was at the heart of the king’s royal and ceremonial apartments and would probably originally have been brightly painted.The Chapel of St. John’s is not only the best-preserved interior in the White Tower, but also one of the best examples of Anglo-Norman church architecture in England. Although it was probably orginally brightly painted, Henry III (1216-72) embellished it with stained glass windows representing the Virgin and Child and St. John the Evangelist, a painting of Edward the Confessor, and a figure of Christ. For much of its later history, it was used to store state records. By tradition, it was here that King Henry VII’s wife, Elizabeth of York, was laid in state after dying at the Tower in childbirth. It was also here that Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary, was betrothed by proxy to Philip of Spain. St. John’s is still a royal chapel and the Queen’s Chaplain performs a series of services throughout the year.

tower st peter chapelThe Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula – Tower of London – St Peter ad Vincula has, arguably, one of the richest and most important histories of all the Chapels Royal, although this is not immediately apparent at present. Historical documents refer to St Peter’s as a Royal Chapel as early as the 12th Century. Today it is a Chapel Royal and it is a ‘Royal Peculiar’ directly under the jurisdiction of The Queen. It is the parish church to HM Tower of London, the most visited heritage site in the country.Building started on the current site of the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the early 1500s but the presence of a religious building predates even the White Tower, built for William the Conqueror in 1078.In common with many other castle-chapels around England, St Peter ad Vincula was a Saxon building which was “taken-into” a nearby Norman castle. We don’t know if the Normans rebuilt the original building they found, but in 1240, Henry III undertook several repairs and improvements. Clearly this work was not to the taste of his son, Edward I, as in 1286 he demolished the old chapel and built a new one on the site. No images of either of these chapels survive, but some of the bricks of Edward’s chapel do survive in the north wall. Edward’s chapel burnt down in 1512 and was replaced with the present structure.

Queens Chapel SavoyThe Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, exempt from any bishop’s jurisdiction and a private chapel of the sovereign in right of the Duchy of Lancaster. It is the chapel of The Royal Victorian Order. The number of members of the order in recent years has outgrown the available space in the Savoy Chapel so the service for those who have received awards is now held in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle every four years. A palace was built on the Savoy estate in the fourteenth century by John of Gaunt (1340-1399), a younger son of King Edward III. Its lifetime was short. It was plundered and burned in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt. Contrary to a persistent belief, nothing of the palace survives above ground. It remained semi-derelict until what was left of it was cleared away in the early sixteenth century by command of King Henry VII to construct a foundation known as ‘Hospital of Henry late King of England of the Savoy’. The hospital was begun towards the end of the king’s reign and completed by 1515. On 11 May 1937 King George VI commanded that it should be the Chapel of the Royal Victorian Order.

Margaret CoffinThe Chapel of St Mary Undercroft – the crypt of the former St Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster is also a Royal Peculiar. The building is administered through the Lord Great Chamberlain and Black Rod and it has no dedicated clergy: by convention services were conducted by the Rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster, a member of the Chapter of Westminster Abbey. In 2010 the Speaker of the House of Commons used his right of appointment to nominate an outsider, Revd. Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Royal FoundationThe Royal Foundation of St Katharine – Founded in 1147 by Queen Matilda as a religious community and medieval hospital for poor infirm people next to the Tower of London. The Royal Foundation of St Katharine has a long and rich history dating back to 1147. Enjoying Royal patronage, the Foundation has established itself as a facility for both practical and pastoral care in the East End of London. The Foundation enjoys the title of ‘Royal Peculiar, a site of worship which is under the jurisdiction of the British Monarch rather than a Bishop’. This rare honour allows for a symbiotic relationship between the church and lay people, encouraging altruistic action in the heart of the community.

Chapel Royal HolyroodChapel Royal, Holyrood Palace – Holyrood Abbey is a ruined abbey of the Canons Regular in Edinburgh, Scotland. The abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I. During the 15th century, the abbey guesthouse was developed into a royal residence, and after the Scottish Reformation the Palace of Holyrood House was expanded further. The abbey church was used as a parish church until the 17th century, and has been ruined since the 18th century. The remaining walls of the abbey lie adjacent to the palace, at the eastern end of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.

Cambridge The Church of St. Edward, King and Martyr, Cambridge – There was almost certainly a Saxon church on this site, though the present church dates back to the thirteenth century. The pointed arch at the base of the tower is one of the oldest parts of the building. The church was rebuilt around 1400, and the lofty chancel arch and the tall pointed arches in the nave date from this period. Most of the windows were added later, including the East window, which dates from the middle of the nineteenth century and was designed by G. G. Scott. In 1445 King Henry VI started his great work of building King’s College. The Church of St John Zachery, that was used by both Trinity Hall and Clare Hall (now Clare College), was on the site of the new College, and was demolished. In recompense, the King made over the living of the Church of St Edward to the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall in perpetuity, and they still appoint its Chaplain. By 1446 the North and South chapels had been built, the former used by Trinity Hall and the latter by Clare Hall. They contribute much to the spacious appearance of the present building.

St George's ASt George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, the chapel of the Order of the Garter – In 1348, King Edward III founded two new religious colleges: St Stephen’s at Westminster and St George’s at Windsor. The new college at Windsor was attached to the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor which had been constructed by Henry III in the early thirteenth century. The chapel was then rededicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, St Edward the Confessor and St George the Martyr. Edward III also built the Aerary Porch in 1353-1354. It was used as the entrance to the new college. St George’s Chapel became the Mother Church of the Order of the Garter, and a special service is still held in the chapel every June and is attended by the members of the order. Their heraldic banners hang above the upper stalls of the choir where they have a seat for life. The Chapel suffered a great deal of destruction during the English Civil War. Parliamentary forces broke into and plundered the chapel and treasury on 23 October 1642. Further pillaging occurred in 1643 when the fifteenth-century chapter house was destroyed, lead was stripped off the chapel roofs, and elements of Henry VIII’s unfinished funeral monument were stolen. Following his execution in 1649, Charles I was buried in a small vault in the centre of the choir at St George’s Chapel which also contained the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. A programme of repair was undertaken at St George’s Chapel following the Restoration of the monarchy. The reign of Queen Victoria saw further changes made to the architecture of the chapel. The east end of the choir was reworked in devotion to Prince Albert; the Lady Chapel, which had been abandoned by Henry VII, was completed; a royal mausoleum was completed underneath the Lady Chapel; and a set of steps were built at the west end of the chapel to create a ceremonial entrance to the building.

Royal Chapel of All Saints (in the grounds of the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park) – The chapel is the successor to the chapels built at Royal Lodge and Cumberland Lodge for the use of their royal occupants and their staff. By the mid 1820s, George IV frequently resided at Royal Lodge during his refurbishment of Windsor Castle, and a larger chapel was required for the worship of his household and staff. The chapel was built by Jeffry Wyatville, the architect of the King’s works at Windsor Castle, and first used on Palm Sunday in 1825. The Treasury was informed of the chapel’s construction by Wyatville two weeks after it was inaugurated. It had been built without the permission of the Treasury, and as a “matter of unavoidable necessity”. Wyatville described the chapel has having been built “within an old building”, the older building has been described as a Porter’s Lodge, which had been previously described at the location of the chapel.

Repairs were carried out to the chapel in September 1825, and a few months later more repairs were required when the King tripped after leaving his pew. £200 was allocated by the Treasury for further repairs in December 1825. With the advent of William IV, the greater part of Royal Lodge was demolished, but the chapel survived, and held services for the “benefit of servants of the Park Establishment.” Queen Victoria occasionally attended services in the chapel, and recorded a visit in March 1842, remarking “Everyone joined in the singing, which I so much like. Afterwards we walked to the Royal Lodge, and in the garden which is very pretty…” Francis Seymour gave the chapel a new organ upon his ascension as Marquess of Hertford, having previously been the Deputy Ranger of the park. A window dedicated to Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein, the son of Prince Christian and Princess Helena was dedicated in 1905. Prince and Princess Christian lived at Cumberland Lodge. The Duke and Duchess of York lived at Royal Lodge from 1931 and became regular worshipers at the chapel. They continued to visit after they became King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. George VI refurbished the chapel, installing a new ceiling designed by Edward Maufe, renewing the pews, and adding a cover to the organ, designed by Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel.