Lord Spiritual

From Academic Kids

The Lords Spiritual of the United Kingdom, also called Spiritual Peers, consist of the twenty-six clergymen of the established Church of England who serve in the House of Lords along with the Lords Temporal. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, is not represented by spiritual peers. The Anglican Churches in Wales and Northern Ireland are no longer established churches and are therefore not represented either.


Ranks and Titles

The Church of England is comprised of 44 dioceses, which include the two archdioceses of Canterbury and York; each archdiocese is led by an Archbishop, and each diocese by a Bishop. Two dioceses—the Diocese of Sodor and Man (the Isle of Man) and the Diocese of Gibraltar (Continental Europe)—lie outside the United Kingdom.

The occupants of the five great sees — Canterbury, York, London, Durham and Winchester — are always spiritual peers and Lords of Parliament. Of the remaining 37 bishops, the 21 most senior bishops may also sit in the House of Lords. Since their dioceses lie outside the United Kingdom, however, the Bishop of Sodor and Man and the Bishop of Gibraltar may not sit in the House of Lords regardless of seniority; the former, though, sits on the Isle of Man's Legislative Council ex officio.

Theoretically, the power to elect Archbishops and Bishops is vested in the diocesan Cathedral's College of Canons. Practically, however, the choice of the Bishop or Archbishop is made prior to the election. The Prime Minister chooses from amongst a set of nominees proposed by the Crown Nominations Commission; the Sovereign then instructs the College of Canons to elect the nominated individual as a Bishop or Archbishop.

The Bishop then takes office after being confirmed in an ecclesiastical ceremony. Seniority, however, is determined not by the date of confirmation, but rather by the date of consecration as a Bishop. Bishops are consecrated only upon first being appointed; further consecrations do not occur upon translation to another see.

Lords Spiritual as Peers

Authorities differ on whether or not the Lords Spiritual are peers. Some contend that archbishops and diocesan bishops are peers during their tenures in the House of Lords, while others argue that only the Lords Temporal are peers. Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage, for example, unequivocally states, "Diocesan Bishops of England in the Lords are — peers of the kingdom." On the other hand, the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911 suggests, "the spiritual lords are not now regarded as peers."

Even during the early years of the Peerage, the position of bishops was unclear. During the reign of King Richard II, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared, "of right and by the custom of the realm of England it belongeth to the Archbishop of Canterbury for the time being as well as others his suffragans, brethren and fellow Bishops, Abbots and Priors and other prelates whatsoever, — to be present in person in all the King's Parliaments whatsoever as Peers of the Realm." The claim was neither agreed nor disagreed to, however, by Parliament.

The Lords Spiritual at first declared themselves entirely outside the jurisdiction of secular authorities; the question of trial in the House of Lords did not arise. When papal authority was great, the King could do little but admit a lack of jurisdiction over the prelates. Later, however, when the power of the Pope in England was reduced, the Lords Spiritual came under the authority of the secular courts. The jurisdiction of the common courts was clearly established by the time of Henry VIII.

Despite their failure to be tried as temporal peers in the House of Lords, it remained unclear whether or not the Lords Spiritual were indeed peers. In 1688, the issue arose during the trial of the Seven Bishops—William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury; Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Baronet, Bishop of Winchester; Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells; John Lake, Bishop of Chester; William Lloyd, Bishop of Worcester; Francis Turner, Bishop of Ely and Thomas White, Bishop of Peterborough—by a common jury. The charge was that a petition sent by the Bishops constituted seditious libel; the Bishops argued that they had the right to petition the Sovereign at any time, while the prosecution charged that such a right was only permissible when Parliament was in session (which, at the time of the delivery of the petition, it was not). If the Bishops were only Lords of Parliament, and not peers, their right to petition would be visciated while Parliament was dissolved. Peers, however, were and still are counsellors of the Sovereign whether Parliament is in session or not; therefore, if the Bishops were indeed peers, they would be free to send petitions. Since there was no doubt that the petition was actually sent, while the Court still ruled the Bishops not guilty, it appears that it was taken for granted that the Bishops were counsellors of the Crown.

Nevertheless, the Standing Orders of the House of Lords provide, "Bishops to whom a writ of summons has been issued are not Peers but are Lords of Parliament."

The number of Lords Spiritual

Early in England's history, Lords Spiritual—including lesser clergymen such as abbots—outnumbered Lords Temporal. Between 1536 and 1540, however, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, thereby removing the seats of the abbots. For the first time, Lords Spiritual formed a minority in the House of Lords.

The number of Spiritual peers has not increased significantly since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Originally, all bishops could sit in the House of Lords, but following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, no new bishoprics were created for three centuries. There were just twenty-one Lords Spiritual in 1836 when the bishopric of Ripon was created. The number of bishoprics continued to rise, but the Bishopric of Manchester Act of 1844 and other acts limited the number of Lords Spiritual to twenty-six. For a time, they were supplemented by four Bishops of the Church of Ireland sitting as representative peers on the part of Ireland. Prior to the disestablishment of the Church in Wales, the four Welsh bishops were also eligible for inclusion (if sufficiently senior).

Nowadays, of the 44 Bishops of the Church, only 26 are members of the House of Lords. They comprise just under four percent of the total membership of the House.

See also



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