Bishops And Homage

Today, the new Archbishop of York formally did homage for the temporalities of his new see. Because of the pandemic, the ceremony took place via video link. In normal times, it would involve a small ceremony at Buckingham Palace or another royal residence. The bishop would be conducted into the Sovereign’s presence by a Minister of the Crown–in years past, it would have been the Home Secretary, but nowadays the duty usually falls to the Lord Chancellor. The Clerk of the Closet (a diocesan bishop who oversees the College of Chaplains of the Ecclesiastical Household) also attends.

During the ceremony, the Queen sits on a chair of state while the bishop kneels before her and places their hands between hers. The Oath of Homage is then administered by the Minister of the Crown (though if a Minister isn’t available, the Clerk of the Closet will act in their stead). This oath is a unique one:

I A.B. having been elected, confirmed and consecrated Bishop of C. do hereby declare that Your Majesty is the only supreme governor
of this your realm in spiritual and ecclesiastical things
as well as in temporal and that no foreign prelate or potentate
has any jurisdiction within this realm and I acknowledge that I hold the said bishopric as well the spiritualities as the temporalities thereof
only of Your Majesty and for the same temporalities I do my homage
presently to Your Majesty so help me God.
God save Queen Elizabeth.

Once the oath has been administered, the Queen restores the new bishop’s temporalities by Letters Patent—the Crown being the guardian of a bishopric’s temporalities during a vacancy. In the past, the temporalities included revenues from episcopal estates, and monarchs sometimes used their guardianship of the temporalities to top up the royal income (Elizabeth I was notorious for keeping bishoprics vacant so she could help herself to their revenues!). Now that episcopal estates are vested in the Church Commissioners, the only temporalities that the Crown enjoys are the bishopric’s rights of patronage. However, section 2 of the Vacancies in Suffragan Sees and Other Ecclesiastical Offices Measure 2010 provides that the Crown’s sede vacante patronage shall be exercised by a suffragan or assistant bishop on the Queen’s behalf (though section 2(3) allows the Queen to suspend this provision and exercise patronage herself, provided she gives 28-days’ notice to the relevant bishop).

Homage also has a few peculiarities associated with it. First, it can only take place in England, so if the Queen is at Balmoral, a new bishop will have to wait until she returns to England before they can do homage. Second, when Her Majesty is abroad, the Counsellors of State are prohibited from receiving homage on her behalf.  

This warrant for the Great Seal authorizes the issue of Letters Patent for the restitution of temporalities.
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