British Monarchy: Overview
The Monarchy of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth can trace its origins to very early Kings of the British Isles – from the early King of Scots to the Wessex Kings.
King William I, or more commonly known as King William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy conquered the throne of England and was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1066 – he is regarded as the maker of the ‘modern medieval’ Monarchy.
The Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland both existed as separate Kingdoms for most the medieval period, often fighting each other in many wars.
It was not until 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I died without an heir, that the Union of Crowns of England and Scotland took place with King James VI of Scotland inheriting the throne of England to become King James I of England – the two Kingdoms remained independent from each other until the Act of Union was introduced by Queen Anne in 1801 which paved the way for the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The British Monarchy has evolved over the centuries, from being an Absolute Monarchy under Tudors and all the way to the Stuart Kings, to a Constitutional Monarchy as seen today.
The modern Monarchy and its protocols, and constitutional conventions are assumed to begun under Queen Victoria – though most of the ceremonial seen today is accredited to King Edward VII who was known for his interest in pageant and ceremony.
Today, the Monarchy of the United Kingdom the realms of the Commonwealth have Queen Elizabeth II as Sovereign, and acts as Head of State across all 16 nations.
As a Constitutional Monarch, the Sovereign is limited to non-partisan functions within government, that is to say the Sovereign never undertakes a role whereby her political neutrality could be damaged. As such, the Queen refrains from taking an active role in the running of Her Government.
Unlike all other Constitutional Monarchies in Europe – the Sovereign of the United Kingdom is not bound to adhere to limitations written down in a Constitution, given to the fact that the British Constitution remains largely unwritten – all the workings of Monarchy are therefore carried out according to traditions and constitutional conventions.
It is the Monarch who appoints Prime Ministers, Ambassadors and most other public appointments, and has the authority to dismiss such appointments too. It is the Sovereign who grants Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament for these to become law. Contrary to popular belief the Sovereign continues to have the power to reject Royal Assent (Royal Veto).
The Sovereign remains in touch with the workings of government by holding daily audiences with government ministers, ambassadors and the community.
In the Commonwealth Realms, the Sovereign continues to hold important meetings and is kept informed of the workings of Her Governments and is too at times charged with appointing public officials, though this role has now largely been delegated to her Governor-Generals.
In addition to being Sovereign and Head of State of 16 independent countries, the British Monarch also holds the title Head of the Commonwealth and acts as a unifying symbol for the organization.
In matters pertaining to religion, the Monarchy plays a very important role, the Sovereign holding the title of Supreme Governor of the Church of England – and as such is styled ‘Majesty by the Grace of God’ in every realm except in Papua New Guinea where her title omits this reference altogether.
Members of the British Royal Family have at their disposal several official residences across the world – their main base of operations is Buckingham Palace, which is the official residence of the Sovereign in London, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Scotland.
Other official residences of the Monarch are the Government Houses across all the Commonwealth Realms, although rarely occupied by the Sovereign these are still considered Royal Residences, one example is Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Canada.
Several other private residences are also used; these include Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle, and Sandringham House in Norfolk.
Reports on the annual running cost suggest it is funded to the sum of around £40 million per year – this includes the upkeep of the royal residences, staff salaries and transportation. It is fair to point out however that the profits of the Crown Estates exceed the £200 million per year mark, all of which was kept by the government. The cost to the taxpayer for running the Monarchy is therefore up for debate.
Succession to the Crown is government by the Bill of Rights 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Acts of Union 1707. Only the Parliaments of the Realms can change the way the succession is governed, it is therefore not possible for individuals to renounce their rights to the Crown, unless an instrument of Abdication is signed and approved, or if a member of the Royal Family marries without the consent of the Sovereign.
Catholics are excluded from the succession, and marriage to people from other faiths is discouraged. Anyone marrying into the Monarchy is required to convert to the Church of England.
The current line of succession includes over 4,000 individuals, from members of the British Royal Family, to European Royal and Noble families, for example the King of Norway is currently 68th in line to the throne. The top ten in line are the following:
- H.R.H. The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
- H.R.H. Prince William of Wales
- H.R.H. Prince Henry of Wales
- H.R.H. The Prince Andrew, Duke of York
- H.R.H. Princess Beatrice of York
- H.R.H. Princess Eugenie of York
- H.R.H. The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
- H.R.H. Prince James of Wessex
- H.R.H. Princess Louise of Wessex
- H.R.H. The Princess Anne, Princess Royal
[Please do note, that although the children of The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex were not to be granted the style and titles of Princes of the United Kingdom, by law these titles apply and as such they have been listed with their full titles according to Law from Letters Patent 1917.]