The British Monarchy: The Power of the Crown

Long, long ago, before Prince William and the future Princess Kate were to be wed, there was another seemingly happy occasion that became a disaster for the Crown. And no, it’s not Princess Diana’s 1981 wedding to Charles. In the late 17th century, the Catholic English Monarch King James II had nearly everything a ruler could want: money, influence and near absolute power. Then his queen became pregnant with a son. Religious tensions were high between the Catholic Church and the Protestants of the Church of England. The prospect of a son for the Catholic King was too much for the Protestant parliamentarians to bear, so they began what would become the “Glorious Revolution” or the Revolution of 1688. Fearing for his life, James II fled the country, resulting in a declaration from the English Parliament that the king had abdicated or abandoned the throne. James’ oldest Protestant daughter Mary was asked to take the throne, and interestingly enough, Mary accepted on condition that she could rule jointly with her husband, Prince William of Orange who was not English, but Dutch. William was invited to England and declared king (along with his English bride, who would become Queen Mary) in order to rid England of the scourge of Roman Catholic influence. The result of this change has been monumental in importance to the power of today’s British monarchy.

A number of documents have been established which increase the power of Parliament at the expense of the power of the Crown. The following year after James II’s abdication, in 1689, legislation titled The Bill of Rights was passed, which dealt more with new rights for Parliament than the American and other versions which primarily gave rights directly to individuals. This bill was enacted to a) limit the power of the monarchy, b) ensure free speech in the Parliamentary chamber c) the illegality of tax increases without the consent of Parliament and also to delineate the order of succession of the Crown upon passing of the throne (although the succession order would later be altered just over a decade later in the Act of Settlement of 1700). The Act of Settlement was principally created in 1700 to eliminate the possibility of another Roman Catholic on the throne.  Anyone who even married a Catholic was barred from the line of succession. Previous documents had also increased Parliament’s powers such as The Magna Carta of 1215 which ended absolute control of the monarchy by establishing a Parliament which would advise the king as well as the Petition of Right (1627) which required Parliamentary consent for any additional taxes and also barred arbitrary imprisonment.

So what powers does the monarchy have? The Queen currently rules a surprising number of otherwise sovereign nations: the United Kingdom, of course, along with, Canada, Australia, Papua New Guinea, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, the Solomon Islands, St. Christopher and Nevis, St. Lucia, Tuvalu and finally, the island Reagan invaded in the 1980s, Grenada. These powers officially include the command of government in all the realms of the Commonwealth. Unofficially, the powers appear to be largely ceremonial today.

Over time, Parliament has taken most of the traditional powers of the Monarch, using crises effectively to pass legislation which increases the power of the legislators relative to the Crown. In practice, Parliament must submit their choice for Prime Minister and changes of government to the Monarch for the Crown’s approval, though so far, the change has always been accepted. As the years have passed, people worldwide have demanded more rights and the British are no exception. The fact that there has been no denial of a change in government may reflect the perception that the Crown no longer has any credible powers of enforcement. This would make the monarchy nothing more than a curious tourist attraction and a daydream for young Kate Middleton hopefuls who hope to marry their own prince. That may be overstating the case, however. As a female monarch has reigned for 123 of the past 174 years, some have pointed out that the monarch has lost the “historic male functions of god and governor and general” and replaced them with more motherly attributes such as “giving comfort and nurturing good causes” (Engel, 2011, p. 2). Would the return of a male monarch be the commencement of a more traditionally involved Crown?

Regardless of whether the succession of the Crown skips a generation (which would take Charles, who is also called the Prince of Wales, out of immediate succession) or not, a King is in the near future. Following Charles in line for the throne is the soon-to-be-wed Prince William who is just ahead of Prince Henry (Harry). See the top ten in the line of succession below. The official website of the House of Windsor (also below) lists the full succession of royals who could possibly take the throne, ordered from number 1 to number 38. One of the men previously mentioned will likely be King. What will a modern England be like with a male monarch? As Elizabeth has reigned for over seventy years, she may be likely to pass the crown sooner rather than later, and a popular wedding would provide the Queen a convenient reason to pass the baton to Prince William in the near future. This new popularity and a potential change of the royal head of state could be a new challenge to the legitimacy of the Crown. How William and Kate respond may well determine whether there is a future for the monarchy.

Top 10 in The Line of Succession (from the official royal website – site lists succession #1-38) http://www.royal.gov.uk/ThecurrentRoyalFamily/Successionandprecedence/Succession/Overview.aspx

1. The Prince of Wales
2. Prince William of Wales
3. Prince Henry of Wales
4. The Duke of York
5. Princess Beatrice of York
6. Princess Eugenie of York
7. The Earl of Wessex
8. Viscount Severn
9. The Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor
10. The Princess Royal

Further Readings:

Engel, M. (2011, April 23-24). Kate expectations. Financial Times – Weekend Edition , pp. Life & Arts 1-2.

The Bill of Rights (1689): http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-00293.pdf

Royal Family Succession: http://www.royal.gov.uk/ThecurrentRoyalFamily/Successionandprecedence/Succession/Overview.aspx

Royal Family’s Responsibilities within the Commonwealth Territories: http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchAndCommonwealth/QueenandCommonwealth/QueenandCommonwealth.aspx

Magna Carta: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/originsofparliament/birthofparliament/keydates/1215to1399/

English Civil War leading to the Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/parliamentaryauthority/civilwar/overview/great-rebellion/

Act of Settlement: (Royal Website) http://www.royal.gov.uk/HistoryoftheMonarchy/KingsandQueensoftheUnitedKingdom/TheStuarts/MaryIIWilliamIIIandTheActofSettlement/TheActofSettlement.aspx

Act of Settlement: (Parliamentary Website) http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-00683.pdf

Petition of Right: http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/parliamentaryauthority/civilwar/collections/petition-of-right/

About Barry Saturday

The author is a Lexington, Ky-based financial advisor and formerly taught high school social studies for Fayette County Public Schools. Along with a M.A. in Education, his educational background consists of a B.A. in Foreign Languages and International Economics and an M.A. in Diplomacy with a concentration in Global Commerce. In 2012, he finished a two-month stint student teaching in Xi'an, China, and recently (2018) ran for City Council in Lexington, KY (District 4: Tates Creek / Nicholasville Rd area). Today's news outlets profit most from incendiary, surface-level appeals to emotion, which is poisoning much of our political discourse nationwide. Barry created this site in order to learn more about our world and share that knowledge with others. He hopes this site, aimed at an educated audience, will provide objective information for those seeking greater clarity and understanding than is often available in the current news environment. If you like what you see, feel free to comment and share with your network.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: