He will step down as principal leader of the Church of England – a post he has held since 2002 – and take on the position of Master of Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge.

Rowan Williams has made for a revered archbishop, but his 10 years in the role have also brought controversy – especially over the issue of homosexuality and female bishops. He also caused a storm in 2008 when he claimed that the partial adoption of sharia law in the United Kingdom was “unavoidable”.

The 61-year-old said in a statement that serving as Archbishop of Canterbury had been “an immense privilege”.

Prime minister David Cameron praised Williams for guiding the Church “through times of challenge and change”.

Rumoured successors include Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who would become the first black Archbishop of Canterbury if selected; and Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London.

Picture: Getty