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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The monarchy

In a monarchy, the king or queen is head of state. The UK is a 'constitutional monarchy', meaning that a king or queen reigns, with limits to their power, alongside a governing body, Parliament.

The monarch and government

The monarchy is the oldest institution of government in the United Kingdom. The UK's monarchy is considered the oldest of all modern constitutional monarchies (others exist in countries including Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain and Monaco).

Most of the powers once exercised by the monarch have now been devolved (transferred) to ministers. In certain circumstances, however, the monarch retains the power to exercise personal discretion over issues such as appointing the prime minister and dissolving Parliament, even though these powers may never be used in practice, or may only be exercised symbolically.

As a result of a long process of change during which the monarchy's absolute power has been gradually reduced, custom now dictates that the Queen follows ministerial advice.

The Queen performs a range of important duties, such as summoning and dissolving Parliament and giving royal assent to legislation passed by the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Queen formally appoints important office holders, including the prime minister and other government ministers, judges, officers in the armed forces, governors, diplomats, bishops and some other senior clergy of the Church of England. She also grants peerages, knighthoods and other honours. In instances where people have been wrongly convicted of crimes, she is involved in pardoning them.

In international affairs, the Queen (as head of state) has the power to declare war and make peace, to recognise foreign states, to conclude treaties and to take over or give up territory.

The Privy Council and other work

The Queen holds Privy Council meetings, gives audiences to her ministers and officials in the UK and overseas, receives accounts of Cabinet decisions, reads dispatches and signs state papers.

She is consulted on many aspects of national life, and must show complete impartiality in the advice she gives. The law states that a regent has to be appointed to perform the royal functions if the monarch is totally incapacitated.

The Privy Council was formerly the chief source of executive power in the state, but as the system of Cabinet government developed in the 18th century, the Cabinet took on much of its role.

Today, the Privy Council is the main way in which ministers advise the Queen on the approval of Orders in Council, such as those granting Royal Charters or enacting subordinate legislation, or on the issue of royal proclamations such as the summoning or dissolving of Parliament.

There are about 500 Privy Counsellors, whose appointments are for life. The Privy Council consists of all members of the Cabinet, other senior politicians, senior judges and some individuals from the Commonwealth. Only members of the government of the day, however, play any part in its policy work. The prime minister recommends new members of the Privy Council to the sovereign.

The monarch and the Commonwealth

The United Kingdom’s current monarch is Elizabeth II. She is resident in and most directly involved with the UK (her oldest realm), although she is Queen (separately and equally) of 15 other independent states, their overseas territories and dependencies. For more information, see 'The Commonwealth'.

Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family

Born in 1926 (the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria), Elizabeth became Queen at the age of 25, on the death of her father, King George VI. She is the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror.

Elizabeth II was crowned on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey, despite having acceded to the throne on 6 February 1952 when her father died. British law states that the throne is not left 'vacant' and therefore the new monarch succeeds the old monarch immediately. The official coronation usually takes place months later, as it’s considered a happy occasion and not appropriate for the period of mourning.

The members of the royal family support the Queen in her public duties, nationally and internationally. Official duties are undertaken by members of the Queen’s close family, such as her children and her cousins (the children of her father’s brothers), and their wives or husbands.

The royal family plays an important role in supporting and encouraging the public and charity sectors, and around 3,000 organisations list a member of the royal family as a patron or president. Use the link below to discover the various charities and organisations supported by a member of the royal family.

There is no strict legal or formal definition of who is or isn't a member of the royal family, but those carrying the title His or Her Majesty (HM), His or Her Royal Highness (HRH) or Their Royal Highnesses (TRH) are generally considered members.

You can find out more about the members of the royal family on the monarchy’s official website, linked below.

The Crown

The title to the crown derives partly from statute and partly from common law rules of descent. Despite interruptions in the direct line of succession, inheritance has always been the way royal power has passed down the generations, with sons of the sovereign coming before daughters in succeeding to the throne.

When a daughter does succeed, she becomes Queen Regnant and has the same powers as a king. The 'consort' of a king takes her husband's rank and style, becoming Queen. No special rank or privileges are given to the husband of a Queen Regnant.

Under the Act of Settlement of 1700, only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia, the Electress of Hanover (a granddaughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland) are eligible to succeed. The order of succession to the throne can be altered only by common consent of the countries of the Commonwealth of which the monarch is sovereign.

The sovereign succeeds to the throne as soon as his or her predecessor dies. He or she is at once proclaimed at an Accession Council, to which all members of the Privy Council are called. Members of the House of Lords, the Lord Mayor, Aldermen and other leading citizens of the City of London are also invited.

The coronation follows the accession. The ceremony takes place at Westminster Abbey in London in the presence of representatives of both Houses of Parliament and all the major public organisations in the UK. The prime ministers and leading members of the Commonwealth nations and representatives of other countries also attend.

Additional links

Nominate someone for an honour

More than 2,500 Britons are honoured each year with orders such as the OBE or the MBE - anyone can make a nomination

Diamond Jubilee

Find out what's happening, and how you can take part

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