On the 11th October 1521, Pope Leo X granted the title “Defender of the Faith” to King Henry VIII of England. To be accurate he actually granted the Latin title ‘Fidei defensor’ but the message was the same: Henry was being rewarded for upholding the Catholic faith in the face of the developing Protestant Reformation and the ideas of Martin Luther.

The Pope granted the title after Henry published a book – Assertio Septem Sacramentorum – in which he defended Catholic doctrine against the criticisms levelled at it by Luther. Known in English as the ‘Defence of the Seven Sacraments’, and dedicated to Pope Leo X, Martin Luther even wrote his own book in response known as Against Henry, King of the English. Two of the key points raised by Henry related to the sanctity of marriage and the supremacy of the Pope. It is notable, therefore, that Henry was later stripped of the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ in 1530 by Pope Paul III after he broke from Rome and established himself as the head of the new Church of England.

Although he was excommunicated, Henry was later re-awarded the title “Defender of the Faith” by the English Parliament in relation to defending the Anglican faith. All of Henry’s successors – except for his Catholic daughter Mary – have therefore held the title, which makes them the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and therefore superior even to the Archbishop of Canterbury. To this day, British coins are inscribed with the abbreviations F D or FID DEF in reference to the original Latin phrase – Fidei Defensor.

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