There may not be much news around in early January, so this story has surfaced again, about the possible unintended consequences of changing the laws of succession. Prince Charles and several leading members of the Church of England are supposed to be worried that the removal of the ban on members of the Royal Family marrying Catholics may lead to a Catholic inheriting the throne and becoming Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
It would indeed be odd if the Supreme Governor of the Church of England were a Catholic, leaving aside, of course, the huge oddity of the Church of England needing a lay Supreme Governor in the first place. But it has happened before now. James II was Supreme Governor and a Catholic for all of his reign. True, his reign was brief, from 6th February 1685 to 11th December 1688, but what led to his overthrow was the birth of a Catholic heir, rather than James’s Catholicism itself, which his Protestant subjects might have put up with for some time yet, hopping that the elderly James would soon be succeeded by his Protestant daughter Mary. And let is not forget that Charles II, James’s predecessor, was also a Catholic, at least on his deathbed, and Supreme Governor too. So it is not impossible for a Catholic to be Supreme Governor, at least not in practice, though it might be difficult in theory. As for Supreme Governors being married to Catholics, both James I and Charles I were married to Catholics, and both were, in their different ways, devoted to the Church of England, taking their duties as Supreme Governor extremely seriously.
It is also worth pointing out that James VI and I was not an Anglican on his accession to the throne, but a Scots Presbyterian; and that George I was a Lutheran. The current sovereign’s husband is supposed by some to be Greek Orthodox. None of these faiths ought to be confused with Anglicanism.
Moreover, just to add to the confusion, there is no law whatever that bans members of the Royal Family from marrying Muslims, Hindus or member of any other religion – or even atheists.
The present law, one could be forgiven for surmising, is quite a mess.
One thing is certain: the Duchess of Cambridge’s child will be brought up an Anglican, and may well reign until, at a guess, the end of this century. So, the Anglican monarchy is safe till then at least – by which time everyone reading this, and the person writing it, will be long dead. In fact the Duchess’s baby may well outlive not just all of us, but the Church of England itself.