At his coronation, Charles III will swear an oath to uphold the Protestant religion in a ceremony overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury. However, while many European monarchs retain a link to their national church, the UK is alone in continuing to have a coronation ceremony. Frank Cranmer discusses how monarchies throughout Europe have attempted to reconcile their historical religious traditions with the reality of modern multi-faith societies.
In addition to the United Kingdom, there are 11 other monarchies across Europe, with varying constitutional arrangements when it comes to religion: Andorra, Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden – and, of course, Vatican City, where the Pope is head of state. In Andorra, the Bishop of Urgell and the President of France are co-Princes and its constitution gives special recognition to the Roman Catholic Church. Under the constitution of Liechtenstein, the Roman Catholic Church is the ‘National Church’, while the constitution of Monaco declares Roman Catholicism ‘the religion of the state’.
Under the terms of the Act of Settlement 1700, the monarch of the United Kingdom may not be a Roman Catholic, and the relationship between church and state means, in effect, that he or she must be a member of the Church of England as established by law. Uniquely in Europe, the British monarch is also the Supreme Governor of the Church: a title that goes back to the Act of Supremacy 1559, when the Protestant Elizabeth I succeeded the Catholic Mary. Henry VIII had declared himself the ‘Supreme Head in earth’ of the Church, but Elizabeth chose a less confrontational title.
The monarch also has a unique association with the Church of Scotland, appointing a Lord High Commissioner to the annual General Assembly of the Church who makes opening and closing addresses to the Assembly as the monarch’s representative and carries out a number of official functions while the Assembly is sitting. In 2002, Queen Elizabeth II attended in person rather than appointing a commissioner.
Scandinavia also preserves a Protestant succession. The Church of Sweden was disestablished on 1 January 2000. Furthermore, ties between church and state in Norway were somewhat loosened by an amendment to the constitution which came into effect on 1 January 2017, which removed the previous reference to an ‘official religion of the State’. However, both countries still require their monarch to be Lutheran. In Sweden, for example, under Article 4 of the Act of Succession 1810, ‘The King shall always profess the pure evangelical faith, as adopted and explained in the unaltered Confession of Augsburg and in the Resolution of the Uppsala Meeting of the year 1593’. Likewise in Denmark, Article 4 of the Constitution maintains the establishment of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Article 6 requires that the monarch shall be a member of the Church.Continue reading