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What are the Duties of the British Monarch?

Amy Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The British monarchy is one of the older established monarchies in the world, and although it has changed quite a bit in the intervening centuries, the British monarch is still one of the most recognizable world figures. As of 2013, Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State in Great Britain, and the country’s face. She has the authority over the courts, is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and is the head of the Church of England. As a result, Queen Elizabeth appoints ministers, judges, diplomats, bishops, governors and some officers in the armed forces. She is head of the executive branch of government in Great Britain and must officially assent to a Bill from Parliament in order for it to become a law.

King John found his royal powers and prerogatives hobbled in 1215, with the signing of the Magna Carta. The British had never been particularly fond of absolute monarchy, and the lords and nobles of the realm had, quite simply, had all they could take from the British monarch and his decrees. Royal power and royal duties changed and declined over the centuries.

The result today is that, while Queen Elizabeth is sovereign over her nation, the British Parliament holds the real power. The queen can suggest or advise, but the days of her telling Parliament what it will and will not pass are long over. She does open the session of Parliament every year, however, and makes a speech setting forth her government’s objectives for the coming year.

One of the most obvious duties of the British monarch is walkabout. This is the name for the tours, openings, and appearances Queen Elizabeth makes all over her country, and anywhere she visits. The queen often shakes hands with her subjects, accepts bouquets and gifts, and generally presents a public, charitable face, whereby her subjects can see her. Walkabout has greatly increased the popularity of the monarch.

Queen Elizabeth also visits other heads of state and/or government, and is her country’s “public relations” person. Her visits help set the tone for relations between governments. She attends state dinners in her own and other countries, and Buckingham Palace is the site of most state functions.

The British monarch is more of a figurehead these days, but he or she can help nudge the country in various directions and is, therefore, still a major player in Government.

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Amy Pollick
By Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at CulturalWorld.org. With experience in various roles and numerous articles under her belt, she crafts compelling content that informs and engages readers across various platforms on topics of all levels of complexity.
Discussion Comments
By anon354470 — On Nov 08, 2013

I am doing research for a book, and would like to know if the monarchy could take control in lieu of a major catastrophe that would in essence wipe out the prime minister and major heads of state including parliament.

I am not looking to make the monarchy look bad. My thoughts were in fact, heroic and for the people. If a disaster of global proportions were to happen, their actions would be to serve and calm their people. However, for accuracy, I wanted to know if it was even possible.

By anon314793 — On Jan 20, 2013

According to some sources, since King George III, the lump sum of the profits made off land owned by the monarchy, which totals near 200,000,000 pounds a year goes, to the government in exchange for a pension off the civil list. It was said George III had outstanding debts, and it was a trade off.

By slack — On Jun 05, 2012

The Queen has the right to be consulted and to warn, but also retains four key constitutional powers. Only the Queen herself may exercise these powers. No minister or advisor may exercise these powers on her behalf.

They are: The power to appoint the Prime Minister. The power to dissolve Parliament. The power to dismiss the Government. The power to withhold royal assent to legislation passed by the Houses of Parliament.

Even though these powers have not been exercised in the United Kingdom in many years, legally, they still exist.

However, it is extremely unlikely that they would ever be exercised against the wishes of parliament or the established conventions. It would have to be some kind of temporary crisis of very serious magnitude. An example: some years back the Spanish parliament was temporarily held hostage by a gunman and King Juan Carlos took control of events. Were it 'merely' to be monarch and parliament falling out, then ultimately parliament would likely win any argument.

When Queen Elizabeth dies, the succession falls to the Prince of Wales (Charles), but many people think that it might skip a generation and the Duke of Cambridge (William), Charles's son, may inherit. It is, in my humble opinion, unlikely, and Charles will become King on the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth.

The monarchy still holds the approval of the great majority of the British people in opinion polls both past and recent.

I hope that's of interest to people.

By anon54927 — On Dec 03, 2009

The present queen is not even the queen according to 2 recent discoveries -- first in the Micheal Abney Hastings line to the Throne, elizabeth Saxe coburg gotha is not the rightful heir to the throne.

Research the real British monarch or Micheal Hastings.

10 Downing Street and buckingham palace have not refuted the mans claims and historians back him. in fact, it looks like it has pretty much been the open secret of the century!

The other discovery is that even if we said o.k the queen is the queen as the other guys don't want to take the throne, she has forfeited the Crown according to the 1701 Settlements act which forbids a protestant monarch from backsliding into catholic ways etc.

The Queen met with the Pope in the 80s and also had vespers with Holy Communion at a main Catholic church in westminster in 2005. the church of England is refusing to do or say anything about it. Gordon Brown tried last sat at Trinidad - the meeting of the Commonwealth of nations to have the Age old still legally binding law amended.

this of course does not exclude Elizabeth Saxe coburg a.k.a. windsor, as a monarch that has forfeited the Crown cannot have the government work for her. Research the 1701 Act of Settlement.

By anon33120 — On Jun 01, 2009

The British monarchy is hereditary. That is, it passes, usually, to the monarch's oldest child. Under the laws of succession in place at the time of their birth, the throne went to the oldest male heir. Thus, Prince Charles is the heir apparent--that is, the next in line to the throne. Prince William, his son, is second in line.

By Foofie — On Apr 19, 2009

In my opinion, based on the job Queen Elizabeth has done, even before being a Queen (calming British children's fears each night, during WWII, via her radio broadcasts as a teenager), she will be one hard act to follow.

By anon30425 — On Apr 19, 2009

So how is the monarch selected/appointed or whatever? Any clue about how is likely to be the next monarch after Queen Elizabeth?

By anon30422 — On Apr 19, 2009

Making money is their first priority.

It began by stealing their colonies blind and giving high titles to the rogues who brought in the greatest amount of loot. Cutting ribbons and shaking hands is all they still do.

Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick
Amy Pollick, a talented content writer and editor, brings her diverse writing background to her work at CulturalWorld....
Learn more
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