The role of our monarch is extensive, stressful, and time-consuming, in an age where instant gratification and rapid, fast-paced ways of life seem to be the status quo. However, in stark contrast to the fast-paced life of London’s streets, not one thing about the role of the Queen is executed in a rapid and fast-paced way. It often times takes days, weeks, or even months of planning to execute the many various engagements that Her Majesty must carry out every year.
As well over 400 engagements keep Her Majesty continuously on the move both domestically and internationally each year, her responsibilities are not just composed of travel, investitures, receptions, and other various appointments. The role of our Head of State is just as diverse as the whole of Westminster, where The Queen must act in the capacity of not only Head of State*, but Head of the Nation*, where her role is complex and constitutional, while remaining politically neutral in a setting that is a never-ending cycle of political warfare. The Queen’s role includes, but is not limited to her active duties within the Government, the Church, the Armed Forces, Honours, Crown Dependencies, the Commonwealth, and the Monarchy itself. The embodiment of the state within the Queen’s person provides the nation with a figurehead that is not only dedicated in her duties but has carried out her responsibilities to the nation without a blemish since 1952.
The role of Her Majesty is not one that is just ceremonial as many tend to think but encompasses a wide spectrum of official duties, constitutional powers, and ceremonial responsibilities that make the Queens life anything but relaxing and trouble free. Her knowledge of our constitution, her unconscionable wealth of knowledge and experience in statesmanship, and the sheer devotion to uphold her oath of duty to her people, makes Her Majesty’s role seem easy and well rehearsed, when in all actuality the role of Her Majesty is not one that not many people would be able to do, nor would they have the stamina to do continuously at the age of 87. Her Majesty (the Sovereign in particular) is the ultimate authority in the United Kingdom and rules over the nation as well as parliament through the Royal Prerogative*, which are powers that are used according to the laws enacted in Parliament or within the confines of precedent and convention. The precise extent of the royal prerogative has never formally been delineated, but it includes the following powers of Her Majesty (the Sovereign), among others:
- The power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister
- The power to appoint and dismiss other ministers
- The power to summon, prolong and dissolve Parliament
- The power to make war and peace
- The power to command the armed forces of the United Kingdom
- The power to regulate the Civil Service
- The power to ratify treaties
- The power to issue passports
- The power to appoint Bishops and Archbishops of the Church of England
- The power to create peers (both life peers and hereditary peers)
The most important prerogatives still personally exercised by the Sovereign are the choice of whom to appoint Prime Minister, and whether to grant a dissolution of Parliament on the request of the Prime Minister. The most recent occasion the monarch has had to exercise these powers were in February 1974, when Prime Minister Edward Heath resigned after failing to secure an overall majority in Parliament. H.M. Queen Elizabeth II appointed Harold Wilson, leader of the Labour Party, as Prime Minister, exercising her prerogative after extensive consultation with the Privy Council. The Labour Party had the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, but not an overall majority.
The Royal Prerogative is a body of customary authority, privilege, and immunity, recognised in common law and, sometimes, in civil law jurisdictions possessing a monarchy as belonging to the Sovereign alone. It is the means by which some of the executive powers of government, possessed by and vested in a monarch with regard to the process of governance of their state, is carried out. Individual prerogatives can be abolished by Parliament, although in the United Kingdom special procedure applies. Though some Republican heads of state possess similar powers, they are not coterminous; containing a number of fundamental differences, and may be either more or less extensive (cf. reserve powers). While prerogative powers were originally exercised by the monarch acting alone, and do not require parliamentary consent, they are now generally exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet, who is then accountable for the decision to Parliament. There may be situations in which the monarch could choose to exercise the Royal Prerogative without the advice of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. Such situations are rare, and generally, only occur in emergencies or where existing precedent does not adequately apply to the circumstances in question. In many liberal-democratic constitutional monarchies, such actions could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
As Head of State, The Queen undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over one thousand years of history. There are inward duties, with The Queen playing a part in State functions in Britain. Parliament must be opened, Orders in Council have to be approved, Acts of Parliament must be signed, and meetings with the Prime Minister must be held. There are also outward duties of State when The Queen represents Britain to the rest of the world. For example, The Queen receives foreign ambassadors and high commissioners, entertains visiting Heads of State, and makes State visits overseas to other countries, in support of diplomatic and economic relations.
As ‘Head of Nation’, The Queen’s role is less formal but no less important for the social and cultural functions it fulfils. These include: providing a focus for national identity, unity and pride; giving a sense of stability and continuity; recognising success, achievement and excellence; and supporting service to others, particularly through public service and the voluntary sector. These roles are performed through different types of engagement. By means of regular visits through every part of the United Kingdom, The Queen is able to act as a focus for national unity and identity. Through her engagements and walkabouts, The Queen is able to meet people from every walk of life.
The Queen’s unifying role as Sovereign is also shown in her special relationships with the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. In addition, at times of national celebration or tragedy, The Queen publicly represents the nation’s mood – for example, the annual commemoration of the war dead on Remembrance Sunday, or at celebrations for a national sporting victory. The Queen also has an essential role in providing a sense of stability and continuity in times of political and social change. The system of constitutional monarchy bridges the discontinuity of party politics. While political parties change constantly, the Sovereign continues as Head of State, providing a stable framework within which a government can introduce wide-ranging reforms. With more than five decades of reading State papers, meeting Heads of State and ambassadors and holding a weekly audience with the Prime Minister, The Queen has an unequalled store of experience upon which successive Prime Ministers have been able to draw. The Queen is able to recognise success and achievement in a personal way. These include honours, awards, visits, patronage and sponsorship. At Investitures, for example, The Queen honours individuals for public service or outstanding achievement.