Monarchy of the United Kingdom

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(CC) Photo: UK Parliament
The monarch visits Parliament annually in a ceremony to begin parliamentary proceedings.)

The concept of the Monarchy of the United Kingdom is embodied by a person known as its Sovereign who acts as head of state on ceremonial occasions and in its formal relations with other countries. The political power formerly exercised by Sovereigns is now exercised by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, with the exception of a set of residual powers that are mainly exercised by the Prime Minister. The Sovereign retains the constitutional right to be informed and consulted by the Prime Minister, and the constitutional power to act to resolve a grave and otherwise intractable constitutional crisis, but does not exercise any other political function. Sovereigns have been titular heads of the Church of England since the time of Henry VIII, and member countries of the Commonwealth of Nations have recognised each British Sovereign as its titular head since the time of George V, the present Sovereign's grandfather.
Queen Elizabeth II has been the Sovereign of the United Kingdom since 1952 and has regularly performed the ceremonial duties that are traditionally assigned to the Sovereign. She has been supported in her other ceremonial activities by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family. They have made nearly 3,000 royal visits a year to places within the United Kingdom, and they have made royal visits to nearly all of the countries in the Commonwealth.

History

(Links to records of the events referred to in this paragraph are available in the detailed chronology on the timelines subpage, and a list of Kings and Queens is available on the catalogs subpage of the United Kingdom.)

The monarchy as it is now, is the outcome of two historical developments. One was the unification of the local kingships in the various parts of what is now the United Kingdom. The other was the transfer of decision-making power from the monarchy to parliament. The concept of a single ruler unifying different tribes based in England developed in the eighth and ninth centuries in figures such as Offa and Alfred the Great, who began to create centralised systems of government. That process was complete by the time of the Norman Conquest, and it was followed over the following centuries by unification developments involving Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The Norman occupation of Wales was completed in the early 15th century, and its constitutional integration with England was established by the Laws in Wales Act of 1535 and 1542. The unification of Scotland under a single monarch took shape with the establishment of the Stewart dynasty in the 14th century, its monarchy was merged with England's in the early 17th century, and the unification of the two constitutions was completed by the Act of Union of 1707 - with the creation of what has since been known as "Great Britain". Unification with Ireland was completed by the Act of Union of 1801, and the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" lasted thereafter until the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, when it was replaced by the present "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". The transfer of decision-making powers began with the monarch's assent to the Magna Carta of 1215, and was formally completed by the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights of 1688, although monarchs continued to influence government policy until the end of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1901.

The UK rôle of the monarch

Political

The British monarch, as the country's head of state has a limited, but nevertheless important, political rôle. The Sovereign, as the embodiment of the monarchy, has the personal power to resolve an otherwise intractable constitutional crisis - a power that can be crucial on the rare occasions when none of the political parties is able to command a majority in the House of Commons. In all other circumstances, the Sovereign is bound to give way to ministerial advice. In other respects, the Royal Prerogative, which includes the power to declare war without consulting Parliament, is effectively exercised by ministers. The Royal Prerogative also includes the right of the Sovereign to be consulted by Ministers - a right which has traditionally been exercised by a confidential weekly audience with the Prime Minister. (The present Queen has held weekly meetings with each of her eleven prime ministers, or has had telephone conversations with them when meetings have not been feasible. Three past Prime Ministers have spoken of the value to them of those conversations[1].) The monarch is also the titular head of the Church of England with the nominal rôle of "Supreme Governor", and has the power of appointment of bishops - a rôle that in reality is performed by the Prime Minister[2]. The ancient feudal functions of the monarchy continue to be reflected in constitutional and legal terminology and usage. For example, the term "The Crown" is used to denote an impersonal entity representing the state, that can be a party to a legal transaction or a legal action[3].

Ceremonial

Queen Elizabeth as monarch, performs a range of purely ceremonial functions in which her rôle is confined to the performance of traditional rituals. Among them are the annual State Opening of Parliament[4] the Trooping the Colour Ceremony[5], and the Remembrance Day Ceremony[6]. She performs a more personal rôle on other royal occasions including the Royal Garden Parties[7] and the Royal Receptions and Theme Days[8], at which she and other members of the royal family have brief conversations with their guests. She also hosts receptions and State Banquets for visiting Heads of State[9] and makes several overseas State Visits[10] every year.

Social

Queen Elizabeth attaches importance to her ability to make people feel part of a national community, and each year she, and other members of the Royal Family, pay nearly 3,000 visits throughout the United Kingdom. The functions of the visits, include opening new buildings, meeting local dignitaries and visiting businesses, schools, hospitals and other public buildings as well as community schemes, military units and charities. As patrons of over 3,000 charities, members of the Royal Family also visit a large number of charity organisations and projects each year. Queen Elizabeth has, from time to time made speeches[11] marking anniversaries and other national occasions. Her Christmas Day broadcasts[12] and her annual Commonwealth Day messages are expressions of her personal views, composed without advice from Ministers. A survey in May 2012 revealed high levels both of popular support for the institution of the monarchy, and of popular approval of Queen Elizabeth [13].

The Commonwealth rôle

(see also the Commonwealth of Nations )

The Monarch of the United Kingdom is also Head of State to the fifteen other members of the Commonwealth who are also constitutional monarchies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and The Bahamas) - who are known collectively as the "Commonwealth Realm". By general agreement following the precedent set by the London Declaration of 1949, the Monarch of The United Kingdom is also the Head of the Commonwealth (but is not the head of state of any of the remainder of the 54 Commonwealth countries). The Queen has visited every country in the Commonwealth (with the exception of Cameroon, which joined in 1995 and Rwanda which joined in 2009) and has made many repeat visits. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, her son the Prince of Wales and other members of the Royal Family are also regular visitors to the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth keeps in touch with Commonwealth developments through regular contact with the Commonwealth Secretary General and has regular meetings with Heads of Government from Commonwealth countries, but takes no part in the Commonwealth's political activities. She also attends the annual Commonwealth Day celebrations and the associated inter-denominational service in Westminster Abbey.

The Royal Family

(see also the current Royal Family)

The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a Sovereign, as well as their spouses, are deemed to be members of the Royal Family. First cousins of the monarch may also be included. The family name of Windsor was established by Royal decree in 1917, replacing its former name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The Royal succession

The Act of Settlement of 1701[14] established that it is for Parliament to determine the title to the throne. The Act laid down that only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia (the Dowager Electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I) are eligible to succeed, and set out the rules that determine the sequence of members of the Royal Family in the order in which they stand in line to the throne. That act of the English Parliament governed succession to the English throne, but its provisions were reenacted for the British throne by the Acts of Union in 1707. Under those rules the first nine members of the Royal Family in the current line of succession are Charles, Prince of Wales, his sons William and Henry, and his brother Andrew, followed by Andrew's daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and then the Queen's third son Edward and his children, James and Louise. Queen Elizabeth's daughter Anne is below them, at 10th in succession, although she is the second of the Queen's children - under a rule that stipulates that an elder daughter is to be placed lower in the list than a younger son. The Heads of Government of the United Kingdom and of the countries of the Commonwealth Realm have agreed to amend their countries' legislation to remove that anomaly[15].

The Crown

In its official use, the term "The Crown" does not refer exclusively to the monarch. It is formally defined to include parliament, the government, government departments, and bodies upon which parliament has conferred "crown status". It is commonly used synonymously with "the state".

Finances

The Crown Estate

The Crown Estate[16] is a diverse property business valued at more than £8 billion. It includes agricultural land, parkland and forestry, shopping centres, business parks, farms and housing. It was the property of the monarchy until 1760, when George III reached an agreement with the Government under which it would be managed on behalf of the Government and the surplus revenue would go to the Treasury, in return for which the King would receive a fixed annual payment. Thus the Crown Estate is not the personal property of the monarch: it cannot be sold by the monarch and its profits do not go to the monarch.

The Royal income

The Queen's three sources of income are the Sovereign Grant, the Privy Purse and the Queen’s personal income[17]. The Sovereign Grant is provided by Government in support of The Queen’s official duties, including the maintenance of Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Clarence House, Marlborough House Mews, Windsor Castle, and Hampton Court. It is a consolidation of the funding previously provided through the Civil List and the Property Services, Communications and Information and Royal Travel Grants-in-aid. It amounted to £32.1 million for the year end March 2011[18]. Funding for the Sovereign Grant comes from a percentage of the profits of the Crown Estate (provisionally set at 15%). The taxpayer also bears the cost of protecting members of the Royal family, which is believed to exceed the cost of the Sovereign Grant. The Privy Purse is the income from the Duchy of Lancaster, which is a portfolio of land, property and assets that is held in trust for the Sovereign and is administered separately from the Crown Estates. It is used mainly to pay for expenditure incurred by other members of the Royal Family. The Queen’s personal income, derived from her personal investment portfolio and private estates, is used to meet her private expenses.

References