As an incredible force to be reckoned with, Her Majesty's reach has known no bounds historically, politically, and culturally — but there is another title that she has held that has had the most significance, “The Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”
The Queen, 96, died peacefully at Balmoral on September 8, 2022, as the UK’s longest-serving monarch.
There are few of us who can remember life without Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen has been the head of her household, the Crown, the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth since her coronation ceremony on June 2, 1953. For the majority of us, all we’ve ever known is her as Sovereign.
The Queen is also unmatched in her cultural significance and impact. Phil Dampier, a royal author and journalist, said the Queen is an “impossible act to follow.”
As an incredible force to be reckoned with, Her Majesty’s reach has known no bounds historically, politically, and culturally — but there is another title that she has held that has had the most significance, “The Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.”
The Defender of the Faith
The throne of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was thrust upon Queen Elizabeth at a very young age. As Britain’s longest-ruling monarch, Elizabeth II was sworn in as Sovereign at the age of 25 after the sudden death of her father, King George VI.
Her 70-year reign, which surpassed Queen Victoria’s 63-year reign in 2015, has included 15 prime ministers, beginning with Winston Churchill and ending with Liz Truss. She has lived through 13 sitting U.S. Presidents beginning with Harry Truman to current President Joe Biden.
In the course of her lifetime, Elizabeth has had many titles, including Princess, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Sovereign, the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England — daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt, friend. We don’t know which, or all, she valued most, but we do know that she meant so much to so many.
“Defender of the Faith” dates back to Henry VIII, who was first given the title by Pope Leo X. It was Henry VIII that called himself the Head of the Church of England as he broke from the Roman Catholic Church in order to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn.
It was his daughter by Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, who knew it is only Christ who is the Head of the Church, and therefore took the title “Supreme Governor” for herself, and in which all British monarchs have taken since.
The role, according to Catherine Pepinster, English editor, historian, commentator, and writer, “is not, despite the title, about day–to–day governance — the monarch leaves that to the bishops. Instead it involves the Queen in a role regarding Archbishops of Canterbury that is rather like her relationship with Prime Ministers: listening, sometimes guiding and warning.”
Christianity has been steeped in British history since its inception, one that has carried deep-seated spiritual and political turmoil. In turn, this title, this institution of monarchy, could be easily overlooked and cast aside, but the Queen has taken this title very seriously during her long reign.
The Queen’s Personal Faith
Queen Elizabeth has been well-known for her deep faith in God in both her public statements, including her eloquent Christmas messages, and actions.
Although no one can ever know someone’s true faith that resides within their hearts, the Queen has given the world a glimpse of her faith in Christ:
“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves — from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive... It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord” (Christmas message, 2011).
"For me, as a Christian, one of the most important of these teachings is contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan, when Jesus answers the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' It is a timeless story of a victim of a mugging who was ignored by his own countrymen but helped by a foreigner – and a despised foreigner at that. The implication drawn by Jesus is clear. Everyone is our neighbour, no matter what race, creed or colour. The need to look after a fellow human being is far more important than any cultural or religious differences" (Christmas message, 2004).
"It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it'... Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ's unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another" (Christmas message, 2015).
"To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example" (Christmas message, 2000).
Not only has the Queen revealed her faith through her words, but she has also displayed them through her actions. As James 2:14-17 tells us:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
As governments and world powers evolved, Britain’s monarchy realized that its role had to be in duty and service to its people. Elizabeth encapsulated this long before she became queen.
Elizabeth swore her allegiance to her people in a 1947 world broadcast from South Africa on her 21st birthday, "I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do: I know that your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.."
With over 600 patronages accepted by the Queen, according to the BBC, "there is no doubt that royals drive millions and millions of pounds to the charity sector every year.” Throughout her entire reign, everyone witnessed the Queen’s heart for people — as the titled Defender of the Faith.
Farewell to the Most Beloved Queen
Her obituary in The Telegraph reads: “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Defender of the Faith, who has died aged 96, was the longest-serving monarch of the United Kingdom. During a period of remarkable change throughout her realms and the world at large, she proved herself one of the most effective and best-loved sovereigns the nation has known.”
In her own words, Queen Elizabeth said, “I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God.”
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Molly Law is the Editor of Christianity.com. She has a Master of Arts in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling, UK, where she studied and lived for a year in Scotland. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Professional Writing and a minor in Biblical Studies from Gardner-Webb University. Her editorial career includes Senior Editor of a bimonthly magazine for the nonprofit ACA and Editorial Assistant at Luath Press in Edinburgh, UK. She enjoys reading 18th-century British Literature, creative writing, and traveling.