British monarchy

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Queen of the United Kingdom
Coat of arms of the British monarch (English version on the left, Scottish version on the right)
Coat of Arms of the Queen
Queen Elizabeth II
Reigning Queen
Elizabeth II
since February 6, 1952
official seat Administrative seat: St James's Palace ( London )

official residence: Buckingham Palace ( London ), Holyrood Palace ( Edinburgh ) and Hillsborough Castle , ( Hillsborough )

tenure for lifetime
creation of the office March 24, 1603 ( personal union )
May 1, 1707 ( real union )
coronation through Archbishop of Canterbury
Last coronation June 2, 1953
salutation Your Majesty
crown prince Charles, Prince of Wales

The British Monarchy is the parliamentary monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland . The current monarch has been Queen Elizabeth II since February 6, 1952. She and her immediate family perform various official, ceremonial and representative functions. Although the queen theoretically has the powers of a constitutional monarch , she no longer exercises her sovereign powers independently due to centuries-old customary law , but exclusively in accordance with the instructions of parliament and government. Because of this, she is a de facto parliamentary monarch . The existence of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands Crown Dependencies does not alter this status either, as they are not legally part of the UK.

By the year 1000, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had developed from several small early medieval kingdoms. Anglo-Saxon rule ended in 1066 during the Norman conquest of England . In the 13th century England absorbed the Principality of Wales , and the Magna Carta began the process of the gradual ouster of the monarch. In 1603, the Scottish King James VI. as James I. the English throne, whereby both kingdoms were ruled in personal union. From 1649 to 1660 there was a brief republican phase with the Commonwealth of England . The Act of Settlement , passed in 1701 and still in force today, excluded Catholics or persons married to Catholics from the line of succession. In 1707 England and Scotland united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain . The merger with the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801 created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland .

The British monarch was the nominal head of the British Empire , which at its greatest extent covered a quarter of the world's land area. In 1922 the Irish Free State split off, in which the monarch remained head of state until 1949. With the end of the British Empire after World War II, the British monarch assumed the ceremonial title of Head of the Commonwealth of Nations , a loose association of the United Kingdom and the former colonies. 15 independent states, known as the Commonwealth Realms , continue to share the same head of state with the United Kingdom. However, each of these states forms a legally independent kingdom.

The office and its meaning

Constitutional and political role

The monarch holds a high symbolic value as a "sign of national unity" and is the head of state according to the unwritten British constitution . Oaths of allegiance are sworn to him and his legitimate descendants, not to Parliament or the nation. God Save the Queen (or God Save the King for a male monarch) is the British national anthem . In addition, the portrait of the monarch appears on postage stamps, coins and banknotes.

The monarch's political powers are, in practice, severely limited by law, custom , and precedent . While the monarch used to be authorized to issue his own decrees , conclude international treaties or declare war without regard to parliament , today he may only exercise these sovereign rights in accordance with the Council and with the consent of the Prime Minister or other ministers. Thus, acts of state on behalf of the crown, even when performed personally by the monarch, are dependent on decisions made by others. This right is often used by the government to pass legislation bypassing Parliament, such as Britain's accession to the European Economic Community or the declaration of war in the Falklands War . How far these rights may extend is controversial - and was the subject of political debates , for example during Brexit .

The independent constitutional powers of the monarch have thus been largely limited to impartial functions such as honors since the 19th century. The constitutional theorist Walter Bagehot , in his 1867 work The English Constitution , described the monarchy as the "dignified part" of the state, while the government and parliament as the "working part". Whether and to what extent the monarch can or should actually exercise his sovereign rights in exceptional circumstances is a matter of debate. Any unsolicited action of this nature has the potential to trigger a constitutional crisis .

Whenever necessary, the monarch is responsible for appointing a new prime minister and all other ministers. The latter happens at the suggestion of the Prime Minister, who thus controls the government. In accordance with unwritten customary constitutional law, the monarch must appoint whoever has the support of the House of Commons , usually the leader of the majority party. The prime minister takes office in a private audience with the monarch; this process is also known as kissing hands .

If no party achieves an outright majority, which is rare in British first -past -the-post system, two or more parties form a coalition, which then agrees on a candidate for prime minister. If no agreement is reached, the options for the monarch theoretically increase. Nonetheless, it is customary to select a member of the largest party. In theory, the monarch can dismiss the prime minister, but in practice the only way to end his term in office is to lose an election, lose a majority in parliament, resign or die.

sovereign rights

The English Bill of Rights of 1689 limited the monarch's powers

The executive power of the Crown is described collectively as Royal Prerogative . Due to the numerous restrictions, the monarch exercises his sovereign rights solely on the advice of ministers who are accountable to Parliament. In most cases it is the Prime Minister or the Privy Council , the latter being controlled by the Cabinet today. The monarch holds weekly meetings with the prime minister. He is entitled to express his opinion, but must ultimately accept the decisions of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet (provided they have a majority in the House of Commons). According to Walter Bagehot, in a constitutional monarchy the monarch has three rights, "the right to be heard, the right to encourage and the right to warn."

While the sovereign powers are far-reaching and do not require parliamentary approval to be exercised, they are limited. Numerous sovereign powers are no longer applied, have in fact been transferred to the Prime Minister or have been permanently transferred to Parliament. For example, the monarch is not permitted to levy and collect new taxes. Such an action requires the approval of Parliament. According to a 2002 parliamentary report, "the Crown cannot introduce new sovereignty" and Parliament can, by passing an act, remove any sovereignty.

It is the sovereign right of the monarch to convene, adjourn and dissolve Parliament. Each parliamentary session begins with the convocation by the monarch. This is followed by the State Opening of Parliament , during which he delivers the Speech from the Throne in the Chamber of the House of Lords , announcing the legislative goals of the government. The adjournment usually occurs one year after the start of the session and formally ends it. Dissolution, which ends a legislative session , is followed by elections for all seats in the House of Commons. The timing of dissolution is influenced by various factors. A legislative period may not last longer than five years; in accordance with the Parliament Act 1911, dissolution in this case will be automatic.

As a rule, however, the Prime Minister chooses the moment that promises the best prospects for his party. Under the Lascelles Principles (named after Alan Lascelles, George VI 's private secretary ), formulated in 1950, the monarch can theoretically refuse to dissolve Parliament, but the conditions under which such action would be justified are unclear. Before any law passed by both Houses of Parliament can come into force, the formal approval of the monarch ( Royal Assent ) is required. In theory, the monarch can give or withhold his consent, but the latter has not happened since 1707, when Queen Anne rejected a law on vigilantes in Scotland.

A similar relationship exists with the regional governments of Scotland , Wales and Northern Ireland . The Monarch appoints the First Minister of Scotland upon nomination by the Scottish Parliament and the First Minister of Wales upon nomination by the Welsh Parliament . In matters affecting Scotland he acts on the advice of the Scottish Government. As autonomy is less extensive in Wales, the monarch acts in Welsh affairs on the advice of the Prime Minister and the UK Cabinet. The monarch can veto any law passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly if the Northern Ireland Secretary deems it unconstitutional.

In theory, the monarch can direct state administration, issue passports, declare war, make peace, command troops, and negotiate and ratify treaties, alliances, and international agreements. However, an agreement must not affect UK law; in this case a parliamentary resolution is required. However, the holder of the throne and heir to the throne is guaranteed the right by the Queen's Consent (translated: consent of the queen ) to be able to inspect draft laws and, in the case of drafts that affect the private interests of the British royal family , to influence the drafting of legislation in advance .

The monarch is the supreme commander of the armed forces , consisting of the British Army , Royal Navy and Royal Air Force . He accredits ambassadors and high commissioners and receives foreign diplomats.

The British monarch awards orders such as the Order of Merit

The monarch is referred to as the " fount of justice ". However, he is not personally present at court cases, instead all legal activities are carried out on his behalf. Common law states that he can do no wrong and therefore cannot be charged in his own name if he commits a crime. The Crown Proceedings Act 1947 allows civil actions against the monarch in his public capacity (i.e. against the government). However, lawsuits against the monarch as a private person cannot be brought in court. The monarch also exercises the " prerogative of mercy " and can grant pardons or reduce sentences.

As a ' fount of honour ' , the monarch bestows all the honors and dignities of the United Kingdom. The Crown creates all titles of nobility , appoints all members of knightly orders , grants all knighthoods and other honors. While peerages and other honors are bestowed on the Prime Minister's advice, some honors are considered personal gifts from the monarch. Accordingly he appoints in sole authority the members of the Order of the Garter , the Order of the Thistle , the Royal Victorian Order and the Order of Merit .

The Great Seal of the Realm is used to authenticate important official documents, including letters patents , proclamations, and writs of elections . The Great Seal of the Empire is in the custody of the Lord Chancellor . For matters relating only to Scotland or Northern Ireland, the Great Seal of Scotland or Great Seal of Northern Ireland will be used respectively.

role in the Commonwealth

  • Today's Commonwealth realms
  • Former Commonwealth realms
  • The British monarch is not only the monarch of the United Kingdom but also of 15 other Commonwealth realms . Although his constitutional rights in each of these countries are virtually identical to those in the United Kingdom, he exercises no political or ceremonial duties as head of state there. Instead, he is represented by a governor-general . In each country, the governor-general acts solely on the advice of the respective prime minister and cabinet. Consequently, the government of the British Kingdom does not exercise any influence on the politics of Commonwealth Realms. Current Commonwealth Realms, besides the United Kingdom, are the following countries: Antigua and Barbuda , Australia , Bahamas , Belize , Grenada , Jamaica , Canada , New Zealand , Papua New Guinea , Solomon Islands , Saint Lucia , Saint Kitts and Nevis , Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Tuvalu .

    Once every member state of the Commonwealth of Nations was also a Commonwealth Realm. However, when India adopted republic as a form of government in 1950, the country remained a member of the Commonwealth despite the fact that the British monarch is no longer the head of state. Since then he has been regarded as the "Head of the Commonwealth" in all member states , whether he is Head of State or not. This position is purely ceremonial in nature and carries no political power.

    The British monarch reports directly to the Crown Dependencies that are not part of the United Kingdom. On the Channel Islands he bears the title Duke of Normandy (Duke of Normandy) and is represented in the bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey by a lieutenant governor (Lieutenant Governor) . On the Isle of Man , he bears the title of Lord of Mann , and a lieutenant governor is also there to represent him.

    religious role

    The British monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England , the official state church of England. As such, he has the power to appoint archbishops and bishops - on the advice of the prime minister, who chooses from a list of names compiled by the church's nominating committee. The role of the monarch is limited to that of the church patron. The most senior cleric, the Archbishop of Canterbury , is the spiritual head of the Church of England and all other Anglican churches . In the Church of Scotland , the monarch is an ordinary member. However, he has the right to appoint the Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly. In the Church in Wales and the Church of Ireland the monarch has no formal role as neither are recognized state churches.


    English monarchy

    The island of Britain had monarchs before the Roman invasion ; these Celtic “reges” (Latin plural for “kings”) allied with or were conquered by the Romans. After the final withdrawal of the Romans at the beginning of the 5th century, the so-called dark centuries followed , the transition from late antiquity to the early Middle Ages . Immigrating Angles , Saxons and Jutes pushed the Celtic tribes to the fringes of the island. The peoples united to form the Anglo-Saxons founded several kingdoms, with the seven most powerful being referred to as the heptarchy . Each kingdom had its own monarch, and at times one of those kings was so powerful that it dominated the others. However, there was no "British monarchy" in the modern sense. Bretwalda was thus more of a prestigious honorary title that was not associated with any actual power.

    The Bayeux Tapestry is about the Norman invasion

    After the Viking raids and subsequent settlement, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex rose to become the dominant English kingdom in the 9th century. Alfred the Great secured Wessex supremacy, seized control of western Mercia and assumed the title of 'King of the English'. His grandson Æthelstan was the first to rule over a unified kingdom, whose borders roughly corresponded to those of present-day England, although the different parts of the country retained a strong regional identity. In the 11th century England became increasingly stable, despite various wars with the Danes, who ruled for a generation. The conquest of England by the Normans in 1066 was a momentous event, both politically and socially. William I continued the centralization begun by the Anglo-Saxons as the feudal system evolved .

    William I was succeeded by two of his sons, William II and Henry I. The latter made a momentous decision by declaring Matilda , his only surviving child, heiress to the throne. After Henry's death in 1135, his nephew Stephen asserted his claim to the throne. He came to power with the support of most of the barons. However, Stephen's rule was weak, allowing Matilda to challenge him. England descended into a period of chaos known as " The Anarchy ". Stephen clung to power but compromised and accepted Matilda's son, later King Henry II , as heir to the throne. In 1154 he became the first ruler of the House of Plantagenet (also called the House of Anjou).

    Richard the Lionheart

    The rule of most Plantagenet kings was marked by unrest and conflict between the monarch and the nobility. Henry II faced rebellions from his own sons, later Kings Richard I "Lionheart" and John . Despite this, Henry managed to expand his empire. Notable is the conquest of Ireland , which had previously consisted of a multitude of competing kingdoms. Henry gave the island to his younger son John, who subsequently ruled as Lord of Ireland . Henry's death was succeeded by his elder son, Richard, who was abroad for most of his reign and involved in the Third Crusade . He was succeeded by his brother John.

    John's rule was marked by disputes with the barons, who pushed him to sign the Magna Carta in 1215 , which guaranteed the rights and freedoms of the nobility. Soon after, further clashes led to a civil war known as the First Barons ' War . The war ended abruptly when John died in 1216 and his nine-year-old son Henry III. succeeded. The barons, led by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester , later rose again against the king's rule, leading to the Second Barons ' War. This conflict ended with a clear royalist victory and the execution of numerous rebels. Earlier, in 1265, the king had agreed to convene the first parliament.

    Edward II

    The next monarch, Edward I , was far more successful in maintaining royal power. He conquered Wales and extended English influence to parts of Scotland . However, his successor , Edward II, was defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 , after which Scots won full independence. Edward II was also involved in conflicts with the nobility. He was deposed by his wife Isabella in 1327 and then murdered. His son Edward III. laid claim to the French throne, triggering the Hundred Years' War .

    Edward III's campaigns were mostly successful and led to the conquest of other French territories. The parliament, which was divided into two chambers, also developed under his rule. In 1377 Richard II , his then ten-year-old grandson, succeeded to the throne. Like many of his predecessors, he was also involved in conflicts with the nobility because he wanted to combine as much power as possible in one hand. When he led a campaign in Ireland in 1399, his cousin Henry Bolingbroke seized power. Richard was captured and murdered the following year.

    Henry Bolingbroke, now King Henry IV, was the grandson of Edward III. and son of John of Gaunt . Because of this, his dynasty is referred to as the House of Lancaster . For most of his reign, Henry was busy uncovering conspiracies and fighting rebellions. His success is largely due to the military skills of his son, later King Henry V. His reign began in 1413 and was largely free of internal conflicts, allowing him to focus his attention on the still ongoing Hundred Years' War. He was militarily successful, but he died unexpectedly in 1422, whereupon his son Henry VI. , who was still a toddler at the time, succeeded to the throne. This gave the French an opportunity to shake off English rule.

    The unpopularity of Henry's regent and his warlike wife , Margaret of Anjou , and later his own ineffective leadership, weakened the House of Lancaster. Richard Plantagenet , head of the House of York and descendant of Edward III, asserted his claim to the throne, triggering the Wars of the Roses . Although Richard died in 1460, his son Edward IV led the House of York to victory in 1461. The Wars of the Roses continued during the reign of Edward and his brother Richard III. further on. Eventually the conflict ended in 1485 with the victory of the House of Tudor, a branch of the House of Lancaster, at the Battle of Bosworth . Richard III was killed in battle; Henry Tudor ascended the throne as King Henry VII and founded the House of Tudor .

    The end of the Wars of the Roses marks an important milestone in the history of the English monarchy. Most of the nobility had either fallen on the battlefield or been executed; many noble possessions were lost to the royal family. In addition, the feudal system disintegrated and the armies controlled by the barons proved redundant. The Tudor monarchs were able to assert their absolute claim to power and the conflicts with the nobility came to an end. The power of the crown reached its zenith under the reign of the second Tudor king, Henry VIII . England went from a weak kingdom to a major European power. Religious tensions led to the break with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church and the formation of the Church of England . Another milestone was the formal union of Wales with England in 1535–42.

    Henry's son, young Edward VI. , continued the Reformation . His early death in 1553 triggered a succession crisis. He had wanted to prevent his Catholic half-sister Mary I from taking power and had named Jane Gray as his heir in his will, although no woman had ever ruled the country before. Her reign lasted only nine days. Mary, with the support of public opinion, deposed Jane Gray, revoked the proclamation as queen, had her rival executed and declared herself the rightful heir to the throne. Mary wanted to reintroduce the Catholic faith with all her might and had countless Protestants executed. After her death in 1558, Elizabeth I took the throne and restored England to Protestantism. Under her rule, England rose to become a world power thanks to victory in the Anglo-Spanish War, the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the colonization of North America .

    Scottish monarchy

    Scottish royal flag

    When the Romans withdrew from the island of Britain, there were three main tribes in Scotland : the Picts in the north-east, the Britons in the south (including in the kingdom of Strathclyde ), and the Gaels or Scots in the western kingdom of Dalriada . In 843, the Scotian king Kenneth MacAlpin assumed the Pictish crown. He is credited with founding united Scotland and the House of Alpin . Over time the Scottish Empire expanded as other territories such as Strathclyde were subdued.

    The early Scottish monarchs were elected according to the Tanistry custom, with different lines of the House of MacAlpin succeeding one another in power. As a result, violent clashes often broke out between the rival lines of the dynasty. From 942 to 1005 there were no fewer than seven kings who were either assassinated or died on the battlefield. Malcolm II abolished the Tanistry system in 1005, eliminated numerous opponents and thus consolidated his position of power. His grandson Duncan I was the first hereditary monarch of Scotland in 1034. In 1040 Duncan was killed in battle by Macbeth , who in turn was killed in 1057 by Duncan's son Malcolm Canmore . After the assassination of Macbeth's stepson, Lulach , Malcolm ascended Canmore as Malcolm III. the Scottish throne and founded the House of Dunkeld .

    David I (left) and Malcolm IV

    Malcolm had enlisted English help to facilitate his victory, marking the beginning of a long era of English influence in Scottish politics. After his death in 1093, a series of wars of succession broke out between Malcolm's sons and Malcolm's brother Donald III. on the other hand. From 1107 onward, Scotland was briefly divided in two, in accordance with King Edgar 's will . He had divided the empire between his elder son Alexander I and his younger son David I. After Alexander's death in 1124, David inherited the northern half of the kingdom and Scotland was reunited. David was succeeded by Malcolm IV in 1142 , who was in turn succeeded by William the Lion .

    William reigned for 49 years from 1165, making him the longest reigning of all Scottish monarchs. He took part in the rebellion against King Henry II of England. However, the rebellion failed and William was taken prisoner by the English. In order to obtain his release, he had to recognize the English king as supreme liege lord . Richard I agreed to dissolve the agreement in 1189, demanding in return a large sum of money to fund the Crusades . William died in 1214. His son Alexander II and grandson Alexander III. attempted to conquer the Outer Hebrides , which were still under the rule of Norway . During the reign of Alexander III. failed in 1263 under Håkon IV a Norwegian campaign to western Scotland . The Peace of Perth of 1266 confirmed Scottish rule over the Outer Hebrides and other disputed areas.

    Alexander's unexpected death in 1286 triggered a far-reaching succession crisis. The English King Edward I, who had been installed as arbitrator, chose Alexander's three-year-old Norwegian granddaughter Margarete . When she died en route to Scotland in 1290, 13 pretenders asserted their claim to the throne. A court led by Edward I appointed John Balliol as his successor. However, the English king treated him as a vassal and interfered in internal Scottish affairs. When Balliol broke his oath of allegiance to England in 1295, Edward's troops conquered much of Scotland. For the first few years of the War of Scottish Independence that followed , Scotland had no monarch until Robert the Bruce proclaimed himself king in 1306.

    James IV

    The Scots proclaimed their independence in 1320 with the Declaration of Arbroath , which England confirmed in 1328 with the Agreement of Edinburgh and Northampton . However, just a year later Robert died and the English invaded Scotland again in 1332 to install Edward Balliol , John Balliol's supposed 'rightful' heir, as monarch. After further hostilities, Scotland was able to regain its independence in 1336 under David II , son of Robert the Bruce.

    David II was followed in 1371 by Robert II of the House of Stewart (later Stuart). Under his rule and that of his son Robert III. royal power steadily declined. When Robert III Died in 1406, the country had to be ruled by regents as his son James I had been captured by the English.

    Mary Stuart

    After paying a large ransom, James I returned to Scotland in 1424. In order to restore his authority, he used violence and executed many of his opponents. James II continued his father's purge policy. James III died in battle against rebellious dukes in 1488, after which James IV ascended the throne.

    In 1513 James IV wanted to take advantage of the absence of the English king Henry VIII and conquer England. However, his troops suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Flodden Field . The king and many high-ranking nobles perished. Since the successor James V was still an infant, regents ruled over the country. James V again waged a devastating war against England in 1542 and died the same year. Heir to the throne was his six-day-old daughter Mary Stuart , again regents administered the country.

    Catholic Mary reigned supreme during a time of religious tension. After the efforts of the reformers around John Knox , Parliament determined that only a Protestant could lay claim to the Scottish throne. Mary married her Catholic cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley , in 1565 . After his assassination in 1566, she formed an even more controversial association with James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell , who was widely believed to be Lord Darnley's assassin. The nobility rebelled against the queen and forced her to abdicate. She fled to England, Elizabeth I had her captured and later executed. The Scottish crown went to Mary's son James VI. , who was still a toddler and raised Protestant.

    Personal union and republican phase

    James VI (resp. James I.) was the first monarch to rule over England, Scotland and Ireland

    With the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, the rule of the House of Tudor ended as she had no descendants. She was succeeded by the Scottish monarch James VI. , who now also ruled over England as James I. Although England and Scotland were united in personal union (James I referred to himself as "King of Great Britain" from 1604), they remained separate kingdoms. James' son Charles I regularly had conflicts with the English Parliament. It was about the distribution of power between the Crown and Parliament and, above all, the right to levy taxes. From 1629 to 1640 he ruled alone without ever convening Parliament. Charles self-levied taxes and enacted controversial laws, many of which were directed against Scottish Presbyterians and English Puritans . The conflict between royalty and Parliament reached its climax in 1642 when the English Civil War broke out.

    The war ended in 1649 with the execution of the king, the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a republic known as the Commonwealth of England . In 1653 Oliver Cromwell , the most important military and political leader, seized power, proclaimed himself Lord Protector and ruled as a kind of military dictator. He remained in power until his death in 1658, when he was succeeded by his son Richard Cromwell . The new Lord Protector showed little interest in governing and resigned after a short time. The lack of a clear rulership led to unrest and the desire for the reintroduction of the monarchy spread among the people. The Restoration came in 1660 when Charles II , son of the executed Charles I, was proclaimed king.

    James II

    Under Charles' rule, the forerunners of modern political parties emerged. The king had no legitimate children, so his Roman Catholic brother James, Duke of York was heir to the throne. There were moves in Parliament to exclude James from the line of succession. The "abhorrers" (abhorrers) opposed the expulsion and formed the Tories , while the "petitioners" (petitioners) who favored the expulsion formed the Whigs . However , the Exclusion Bill did not receive a majority. Charles dissolved Parliament several times because he feared that the law might still be passed. After the dissolution of parliament in 1681, he reigned as an absolutist monarch until his death in 1685. The Catholic James II pursued a policy of religious tolerance, angering many of his Protestant subjects. Opposition grew to his decisions to create a standing army, promote Catholics to high political and military posts, and arrest Church of England clergy who opposed his policies. Then invited a group of Protestant nobles James' daughter Mary II and her husband William III. of Orange-Nassau to depose the king. William arrived in England on November 5, 1688, while James, faced with the infidelities of numerous Protestant officials, fled. Parliament excluded James' Catholic son, James Francis Edward Stuart , from the line of succession. William and Mary were proclaimed joint heads of state of England, Scotland and Ireland.

    The removal of James has become known as the Glorious Revolution and was one of the most important milestones in the expansion of parliamentary power. The Bill of Rights , passed in 1689, affirmed the primacy of Parliament and established that the English people had certain rights, notably freedom from taxes levied without Parliament's consent. The law also required future monarchs to be Protestant. It was also determined that only the children of William and Mary or Mary's sister Anne could claim the throne. Mary died childless in 1694, leaving William sole monarch. In 1700 there was another crisis after all of Princess Anne's children had died and she was now the only person in line for the throne. Fearing that James II or one of his Catholic relatives would reclaim their claim, Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in 1701 . A distant Protestant aunt of Williams, Sophie von der Pfalz , was designated heiress to the throne. Shortly after the law was passed, William died, leaving his sister-in-law, Anne, as queen.

    After the union of kingdoms

    Queen Anne

    After Anne's accession to the throne, succession soon became a political issue again. The Scottish Parliament was upset that the English Parliament had unilaterally declared Sophie von der Pfalz heiress to the throne. It enacted the Act of Security and threatened to dissolve the personal union of Scotland and England. The English Parliament, in turn, reacted with the Alien Act in 1705 , threatening to collapse the Scottish economy by excluding it from free trade . As a result, the Scottish Parliament was forced to adopt the Act of Union 1707 . With this law, England and Scotland were united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain , with the rules laid down in the Act of Settlement continuing to apply to the succession to the throne.

    George III

    Anne, who died in 1714, was succeeded by George I , founder of the House of Hanover and son of Sophie von der Pfalz, who also died a few weeks earlier. George consolidated his position of power by crushing two Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1719. The new monarch was far less active in government affairs than most of his predecessors, preferring instead to devote himself to the administration of his German holdings. This resulted in a shift of power to ministers, particularly Robert Walpole , who is considered Britain 's first prime minister . The rise in power of the Prime Minister and his cabinet continued under the reign of George II . In 1746 the Catholic Stuarts were finally defeated. Under George III. American colonies were lost, but British influence increased in the rest of the world. The Act of Union 1800 created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland .

    From 1811 to 1820 George III. insane, his son, later King George IV , ruled in his place as Prince Regent. During the regency and later during his own reign, the king's power steadily declined. His successor , William IV , was no longer able to effectively limit Parliament's powers. In 1834, after political differences, he dismissed William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne , the prime minister of the Whig party, appointing Robert Peel of the Tory party instead. The King was left with no choice but to reinstate Lord Melbourne as the Whigs won the ensuing election. Since then, no monarch has appointed or dismissed a prime minister against the will of the democratically elected parliament. In addition, the Reform Act 1832 was passed, with which the many rotten boroughs disappeared. Further legislation gradually increased the number of voters and gave the House of Commons greater legitimacy as the more important part of Parliament.

    Queen Victoria

    The final step towards a constitutional monarchy was made during the long reign of Queen Victoria . According to the Lex Salica , she was not allowed to rule over the Kingdom of Hanover as a woman , which ended the United Kingdom's personal union with Hanover. The Victorian era was characterized by rapid technological advances and Britain's rise to become the leading world power, the British Empire . As a sign of British rule over India, she was given the title of Empress of India in 1876. Republican movements gained momentum, partly in response to Victoria's continued mourning and prolonged retreat after the death of her husband Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1861.

    Victoria's son Edward VII became the first monarch of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1901 . However, his son George V changed the family name to Windsor in 1917 because of popular anti-German sentiment during the First World War . 1922 saw the separation of Ireland into Northern Ireland (which remained part of the United Kingdom) and the independent Irish Free State . Five years later, the state name was changed to United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    From empire to community of nations

    Until 1926 the Dominions and Crown Colonies were subordinate to the United Kingdom. The Balfour Declaration gave the Dominions full self-government. This gave the dominions equal status with the mother country, effectively creating multiple kingdoms with the same monarch. The Statute of Westminster of 1931 confirmed this concept. Subsequently, George V was king of the United Kingdom, Canada , Australia , New Zealand and other states.

    Edward VIII

    Edward VIII caused a scandal in 1936 when he wanted to marry a divorced American , Wallis Simpson , despite the Church of England discouraging divorced people from remarrying. He renounced the crown and abdicated. The parliaments of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth countries acceded to his request . Edward VIII and any children of his new wife were excluded from the line of succession and the crown passed to his brother George VI. over. This stayed at home during the Second World War and did not seek refuge in Canada from the events of the war, which led to a surge in popularity. George VI was also the last monarch to hold the title of Emperor of India when India gained independence in 1947.

    On George VI followed in 1952 by his daughter Elizabeth II , who still reigns today. During her rule, support for the republican movement rose at times, particularly because of the poor image of the British royal family , brought on by negative events such as Princess Diana 's death. However, recent opinion polls show that large sections of the population remain loyal to the monarchy. According to the succession to the throne on April 24, 2018, Elizabeth II was followed by Prince Charles , then Prince William , his son George , then Charlotte and Louis Arthur Charles , who was newborn on that day . Prince Harry slipped to sixth in line to the throne that day.


    Succession is governed by various acts including the Bill of Rights 1689, the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707 . The rules for succession can only be changed by an act of Parliament, and the Parliaments of all Commonwealth realms must give their consent. An individual is not permitted to relinquish their rights of succession.

    The monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey, like Charles II here.

    At the time of the monarch's death, the heir or heir succeeds immediately and automatically, without the need for confirmation or any other ceremony. Thus, the meaning of the saying "The king is dead, long live the king!" is clarified. The succession is publicly announced by the Accession Council , meeting at St James's Palace . After a suitable period of mourning, the new monarch is crowned at Westminster Abbey , usually by the Archbishop of Canterbury . However, a coronation is not absolutely necessary for ruling, the ceremony usually takes place several months after the accession to the throne.

    After ascending the throne, the monarch reigns until his death. Monarchs are not permitted to abdicate unilaterally. The only one who voluntarily renounced the crown was Edward VIII in 1936. However, this required Parliament to pass a special act called His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 . The last monarch to cede power against his will was James II , who fled into exile in 1688 during the Glorious Revolution .


    Sophia of the Palatinate

    The succession to the throne followed the principle of primogeniture until 2013 . Male blood relatives took precedence over females: sons inherited before daughters, the firstborn before younger siblings of the same sex. Daughters have been treated equally since 2013 . The Act of Settlement limits the succession to the natural and legitimate descendants of Sophie von der Pfalz (1630–1714), Electress of Brunswick-Lüneburg and granddaughter of James I.

    The Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement also contain restrictions of a religious nature, introduced because of English and Scots distrust of the Roman Catholic Church . Only persons who are of the Protestant denomination have a claim to the throne. People who are Roman Catholic or who marry a Catholic have been excluded from the line of succession. A person barred from the line of succession is considered “legally dead” in this sense and the restrictions do not apply to their legitimate descendants. In 2011 it was decided that future monarchs would no longer lose their right to the throne by marrying a Roman Catholic. This change came into effect in March 2015 when all affected Commonwealth kingdoms had ratified the change. Since the king is the head of the Anglican state church, the restriction on the monarch remained in place.


    Before his accession to the throne, King George IV was Prince Regent

    According to the Regency Acts 1937 and 1953, power is exercised by a Regent when the monarch is either under the age of 18 or is physically or mentally incapable. A physical or mental disability must be determined by at least three of the following people; the monarch's spouse, the Lord Chancellor , the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the Master of the Rolls . The confirmation of three or more of the above is also necessary to end the regency and thereby allow the monarch's return to power.

    If a Regency is necessary, the next eligible person in the line of succession automatically becomes Regent, unless he is himself a minor or unable to do so. The Regent must be at least 21 years old (or 18 in the case of the direct heir to the throne) and be a British citizen resident in the United Kingdom. So far the last regent was the future King George IV . took over.

    In the event of a temporary illness or a stay abroad, the monarch can transfer his duties to the Council of State at short notice , consisting of the four following suitable persons in the line of succession. The current Councilors of State are the Prince of Wales , the Duke of Cambridge , the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of York .


    Once upon a time, the monarch covered all official expenses from the proceeds of his inheritance, including income from the Crown Estate (royal lands). In 1760 George III. ceded the Crown Estate to HM Treasury in exchange for an annual payment, the civil list . In addition to the civil list, Parliament funded the monarch's expenses with public money known as grants-in-aid . The civil list agreed in 1760 was abolished on April 1, 2012, along with the grants for royal travel services and the upkeep of royal residences. The Sovereign Grants Act 2011 replaced these payments with a single one. The monarch will in future receive a share of the proceeds from the Crown Estate determined by HM Treasury (currently 25%).

    In addition to the Crown Estate, the lands and assets of the Duchy of Lancaster are held in trust. The income from the Duchy of Lancaster does not go into the treasury but is used for expenses not covered by the civil list. The Duchy of Cornwall is a similar estate, administered on behalf of the monarch's eldest son. The monarch is obliged to pay indirect taxes such as VAT , but since 1993 the Queen has voluntarily paid income taxes and capital gains taxes on her personal income.

    Estimates of the monarch's wealth vary depending on whether assets owned by her personally or held in trust are included. For example, the Royal Collection , the art collection of the royal family, is not part of the monarch's private wealth but is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. Forbes Magazine estimated the Queen 's net worth at $650 million in 2008, although no official figures are available. In 1993 David Ogilvy, 8th Earl of Airlie , then Lord Chamberlain , called estimates of £100m "madly exaggerated".


    Buckingham Palace is the monarch's main residence
    Holyrood Palace is the official residence in Scotland

    The official principal residence of the British monarch is Buckingham Palace in the City of Westminster , a borough of London . This is where most state banquets, inaugurations, royal baptisms and other ceremonies take place. Windsor Castle , the largest inhabited castle in the world, is located in Windsor , Berkshire and serves as a residence at weekends, over Easter and during Ascot races . The monarch's official residence in Scotland is the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh , better known as Holyrood Palace . The monarch stays there for at least a week each year and when attending state events in Scotland. The official residence in Northern Ireland is Hillsborough Castle in Hillsborough west of Belfast .

    The Palace of Westminster and the Tower of London were the principal residences of the English monarch up until 1530 , when King Henry VIII 'acquired' the Palace of Whitehall , gifting it to him from Cardinal Wolsey. Whitehall was destroyed by fire in 1698, after which the court moved to St James's Palace . Although Buckingham Palace has served as London's residence since 1837, St James's remained of paramount importance and is today the ceremonial and administrative center of the court. For example, foreign ambassadors are accredited to the Court of St. James's . St James's Palace also serves as the residence of members of the Royal Family and is the meeting place of the Accession Council .

    Other residences of the royal family include Clarence House and Kensington Palace . The palaces are owned by the Crown, are held in trust for future rulers and cannot be sold by the monarch. Two palaces belong to the monarch's personal possessions: Sandringham House , a country residence in the English county of Norfolk , is usually occupied from Christmas to the end of January. During August and September, the monarch resides at Balmoral Castle , a castle in Aberdeenshire , Scotland .

    title of ruler

    The full sovereign title of the reigning monarch reads:

    "Elizabeth the Second, Queen by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other lands and kingdoms, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith"
    (Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith) .

    The title "Head of Commonwealth" is the Queen's personal choice and not an integral part of the ruler's title. Pope Leo X bestowed the title of Fidei defensor ('Defender of the Faith') on King Henry VIII in 1521 for his support of the papacy in the early years of the Reformation . However, Henry VIII later seceded from the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Church of England . Pope Paul III revoked this title again, but Parliament passed a law that allowed it to continue to be used.

    The monarch is addressed as His Majesty or Her Majesty . The form Britannic Majesty appears on international treaties and on passports to distinguish the British monarch from foreign heads of state. King's wives ( Queen consort ) and king 's widows (Queen dowager) are also referred to as majesty , but not the spouses of female monarchs ( Prince consort : Prince consort). For this reason, the husband of the reigning Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh , was simply referred to as "Royal Highness " .

    The ordinals of monarchs only consider rulers since the Norman invasion of 1066. If only one monarch has used a particular name, no ordinal is added. For example, Queen Victoria is never referred to as Victoria I. Since the union of England and Scotland in 1707, the ordinal numbers have been based exclusively on the previous English kings, not on the Scottish ones. In 1953 Scottish nationalists challenged the new Queen's right to call herself Elizabeth II on the grounds that there had never been an Elizabeth I in Scotland. However , in MacCormick v. Lord Advocate , the Court of Session , Scotland's highest civil court, dismissed the case. The court ruled that the choice of name was the Queen's private affair and also corresponded to her sovereign rights. However, Prime Minister Winston Churchill noted that this rule was not binding and that the higher ordinal number should be used in the future.

    Traditionally, the monarch's signature consists of his own royal name (without an ordinal number) followed by an R. This letter stands for rex or regina (king and queen in Latin ). Consequently, the reigning Queen signs “Elizabeth R”. From 1877 to 1948, monarchs added the letter I for imperator or imperatrix , respectively , due to their status as emperor or empress of India . So Victoria signed “Victoria RI”.

    badges and flags

    The coat of arms of the United Kingdom , which is both the coat of arms of the royal house and the coat of arms of the state, has existed in its present form since Queen Victoria's accession to the throne in 1837. It shows three striding golden lions on a red background (England) in the first and fourth squares, in the second Square a red lion standing upright on a gold background (Scotland) and in the third square a gold harp on a blue background (Ireland or Northern Ireland). The bearers of the coat of arms are the lion and the unicorn. The motto is: Dieu et mon droit ( French for "God and my rights"). In Scotland, the monarch uses a slightly modified coat of arms , with the first and fourth squares representing Scotland, the second square England, and the third square Northern Ireland. The motto is: Nemo me impune lacessit ( Latin for "no one angers me with impunity"). The bearers of the coat of arms are the unicorn and the lion.

    The official flag of the monarch in the United Kingdom is the Royal Standard , showing the coats of arms of the constituent states. The Royal Standard used in Scotland represents the Scottish version of the royal coat of arms. The flag is flown only on buildings and vehicles in which the monarch resides; otherwise the Union Flag flies . The Royal Standard never flies at half-staff because there is always a monarch; in the event of death, his successor automatically assumes office.

    See also


    • Mike Ashley : The Mammoth Book of British Kings and Queens . Robinson Publishing, London 1998, ISBN 1-84119-096-9 (list of all British monarchs including the predecessor states).
    • John Cannon, Ralph Griffiths: The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy . Oxford University Press, Oxford 2000, ISBN 0-19-289328-9 (Illustrated History of the British Monarchy).
    • Antonia Fraser (ed.): The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England . Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1975, ISBN 0-297-76911-1 (biographies of the English and British monarchs).
    • Alison Weir: Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy . Pimlico, London 1996, ISBN 0-7126-7448-9 (British Monarchs Genealogy).
    • VCRAC Crabbe: Understanding Statutes . Routledge Cavendish, London 1994, ISBN 1-85941-138-X .
    • Rodney Brazier: Ministers of the Crown . Clarendon Press, London 1997, ISBN 0-19-825988-3 .

    web links


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    1. A similar situation arose in Canada in 1926 when Governor-General Lord Byng refused to dissolve Parliament on the advice of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King , sparking the King Byng Affair .