Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Pope granting the title of Defender of the Faith to King Henry VIII, and it is still claimed by British monarchs to this day.
Although granted in 1507 to King James IV of Scotland, the most famous occurrence was on 11th October 1521 when Pope Leo X granted the title to King Henry VIII in recognition of the English monarch’s book Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (Defense of the Seven Sacraments), which defended the sacramental nature of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope in opposition to the Protestant heresy.
Well, that worked out well didn’t it.
Although the King remained pretty much a Catholic and still opposed to Protestantism, his breaking from Rome was too much for the Pope and the title was revoked in 1530, but in 1543, the English Parliament restored the title for the supreme governor of the Church of England, basically the King or Queen.
Since then, every English and later British monarch has kept the title of Defender of the Faith although during the protectorate, Oliver Cromwell and his son didn’t use the title, and it was restored to use when the monarchy was restored.
So, on and off, the title has been in use for the past 500 years.
While this might sound like just an anachronistic bit of old history, every time you use coins to buy things, you’re using coins with that title on them. That’s because the original Latin phrase Fidei Defensor appears on all current British coins by the abbreviations, F D or FID DEF.
This notation was first added to British coins in 1714, during the reign of King George I. The decision of the Royal Mint to omit this and certain other parts of the monarch’s style from the “Godless Florin” in 1849 caused such a scandal that the coins had to be replaced.
As for the future, the title might finally fall out of use when the current Prince of Wales ascends to the throne, as he has indicated that he might prefer to be known as Defender of Faith, not the Faith”, and clarified in 2015 that “while at the same time being Defender of the Faith you can also be protector of faiths”