Monday, November 1, 2021

Who are the Counsellors of State

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The position and responsibilities of the Counsellors of State have been defined by several acts of legislation, including the 1937 and 1953 Regency Acts.  

Here are several passages from the 1937 act regarding the role of Counsellors of State.

Power to delegate royal functions to Counsellors of State.

(1)In the event of illness not amounting to such infirmity of mind or body as is mentioned in section two of this Act, or of absence or intended absence from the United Kingdom, the Sovereign may, in order to prevent delay or difficulty in the despatch of public business, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal, delegate, for the period of that illness or absence, to Counsellors of State such of the royal functions as may be specified in the Letters Patent, and may in like manner revoke or vary any such delegation:

Provided that no power to dissolve Parliament otherwise than on- the express instructions of the Sovereign (which may be conveyed by telegraph), or to grant any rank, title or dignity of the peerage may be delegated.

(2)The Counsellors of State shall be the wife or husband of the Sovereign (if the Sovereign is married), and the four persons who, excluding any persons disqualified under this Act from becoming Regent, are next in the line of succession to the Crown, or if the number of such persons next in the line of succession is less than four, then all such persons.

(3)Any functions delegated under this section shall be exercised jointly by the Counsellors of State, or by such number of them as may be specified in the Letters Patent, and subject to such conditions, if any, as may be therein prescribed.

(4)The provisions of this section shall apply in relation to a Regent with the substitution for references to the Sovereign of references to the Regent, so, however, that in relation to a Regent subsection (2) of this section shall have effect as if after the word " next, " where that word first occurs therein, there were inserted the words " after the Regent ".

(5)Any delegation under this section shall cease on the demise of the Crown or on the occurrence of any events necessitating a Regency or a change of Regent.

Several points.  The Counsellors of State are the first four adults in the line of succession.   The heir to the throne becomes a Counsellor of State at age 18. The other three are eligible at age 21.   They must be British subjects and domiciled in the United Kingdom.  Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother ceased to be a Counsellor of state when her husband, King George VI died in 1952.  The 1953 Regency Act restored the Queen Mother to her position as Counsellor.   

Vernon Bogdanor, the author of the seminal book, Monarchy and the Constitution, recently spoke to the Express about the role of Counsellors of State.  He said:  “A Counsellor not domiciled in the UK cannot act, so that excludes Harry.”   He added: “The next in line and over the required age of 21 would be Princess Beatrice.”   

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 The first Counsellors of State, established by the 1937 Regency Act were  queen Elizabeth (spouse), the Duke of Gloucester, Duke of Kent,  the Princess Royal (siblings of George VI), and Princess Arthur of Connaught (elder daughter of the late Princess Louise, Princess Royal.) 

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 Following the death of the Duke of Kent in an air crash in August 1942,  the next adult in line to the throne was Princess Arthur's son, Alistair, 2nd Duke of Connaught and Strathearn.  He was not royal, having lost the style and title HH Prince in George VI's 1917 Letters Patent.

Less than a year later, in April 1943,  the young Duke of Connaught died in Ottawa Canada, where he had been an aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of Canada, the Earl of Athlone.  He was replaced by The Countess of Southesk,  Princess Arthur's younger sister.

In February 1944, the Princess Royal's elder son, George, Viscount Lascelles, reached his majority, which meant that he replaced the Countess of Southesk as a Counsellor of State.  Two months later, Princess Elizabeth turned eighteen thus reaching her majority as heiress presumptive to the throne.  This meant that Elizabeth became a Counsellor of State, replacing the Countess of Southesk.

No further changes would be made until the succession of Queen Elizabeth II in 1952.  The Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Margaret, who turned 21, in August 1951, became Counsellors of State, joining the Duke of Gloucester, the Princess Royal, and her son, the Earl of Harewood (who had succeeded to the earldom in 1947 following the death of his father.)

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was added as a Counsellor of State after Parliament passed the 1953 Regency Act.

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 The Duke of Kent became the sixth member in 1956, replacing the Earl of Harewood.  A year later, his sister, Princess Alexandra, turned 21. She replaced the Princess Royal.  Alexandra served as Counsellor of State until her first cousin, Prince William of Gloucester turned 21.  The Duke of Kent's time as a Counsellor ended in 1965, when Prince Richard of Gloucester began his first stint as a Counsellor, only to lose that position in 1966, when the Prince of Wales, the heir apparent, turned 18.

Prince Richard became a Counsellor of State for the second time in 1974, when his father, the Duke of Gloucester died.   He was replaced in 1981 by the Duke of York.

 Prince Edward, now the Earl of Wessex replaced Princess Margaret in 1985. 

The two most recent Counsellors of State are the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, who replaced, the Princess Royal (2003) and the Earl of Wessex (2005), respectively.

As the Duke of Sussex is now a resident of Montecito, California, he is no longer eligible to serve as a Counsellor of State.  This is not a snub, but a requirement in the 1937 Regency Act.

The palace has to confirm the duke's loss of eligibility, but it does mean that Princess Beatrice, elder daughter of the Duke of York, is the next adult in line to the succession to the throne.  She would also become a Counsellor of State should Charles become Regent (if a Regency is required) and when Charles succeeds to the throne.   Camilla would become a Counsellor of State along with the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of York (unless a way is found to remove him), Princess Beatrice, and Princess Eugenie.    The latter three would cease to be Counsellors of State when Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis reached their majority.  For George, the age of adulthood will depend on whether he is heir apparent or still second in line.  For the former, he will become a Counsellor of State at age 18.  If not, he (and his siblings) will become eligible on their 21st birthday.

It is understood that the last time a Counsellor of State was in 2015 when Queen Elizabeth II visited Malta.  

Bognador noted that "most of the functions of the Head of State can be devolved. It is not, for example, constitutionally necessary for the Queen to attend the State Opening of Parliament.”

The Monarchy and the Constitution is one of the most important books to read if you want to learn how the monarchy works in the United Kingdom.  This is a seminal text that should be required reading for people who think they know how the monarchy works - and what the Sovereign's role is.   It is not for fangirls who spend most of their days tweeting about clothes and pretty royals.  Perhaps, though fangirls might want to take time to read this book and they will want to further their knowledge.  

1 comment:

Wendy Hunter said...

Thank you for the explanation, Marlene. As a Canadian, I thought I understood this, but clearly, I did not!