Queen Elizabeth II is set to assume the title of Defender of the Faith at an event at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday, the British ambassador to the United States announced this week.
The Queen is due to create a “head of each realm,” beginning with the province of Tuvalu, adding to their historical powers of representation in the United Kingdom and applying to each and every country in the Commonwealth of Nations.
These powers are traditionally used to counterbalance the might of British colonial powers, but they’ve mostly been ceremonial and used by diplomats and political figures to help “make a point” about some of the discord in the Commonwealth.
As one example, under the colonial agreement signed in 1877, India got two seats in the Council of the Commonwealth, but for more than a century only one of them was used, and it’s assigned solely to the British monarchy and vice versa.
The Defender of the Faith, by contrast, has long been used as a tool by monarchs to rally together their counterparts across nations of the Commonwealth, which includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK’s overseas territories, the African colonies, and many former colonies of the British Empire. In practical terms, that means these countries can pool resources and share expertise to combat issues like climate change, poverty, crime, and health disparities.
The exact title is nearly as unclear as the definition of what constitutes a realm, so while the Queen is expected to work alongside her fellow realms, it’s not clear who exactly will follow, what agendas they’ll have, or exactly what job they’ll perform.
The previous holder of the Defender of the Faith was Queen Marie Louise of Belgium, who offered her support to her British hosts during the Two Years War of 1769-71, during which Britain joined the colonists in carving out independence from the French and Netherlands.