Tags

, , , , , , , ,

On August 1, 1714 Queen Anne died at the age of 42. Her successor, as designated in the Act of Settlement of 1701 was Princess Sophia of Hanover, who was married to Elector Ernst-August of Hanover. However, The Electress Sophia died in June of 1714 before she could take the throne herself. Therefore it was her son, Elector Georg-Ludwig of Hanover, who mounted the throne as King George I of Great Britain. With him we begin to see the monarchy move even more closer to the constitutional form it has taken today.

George I was actually 52nd in-line to the throne when he succeeded. All those that were ahead of him were of the Catholic faith. George was 54 years old at the time of his accession and he spoke little English. It was during his reign that the power of the crown was further diminished. One way his power was diminished was though the rise of the office of the Prime Minister. The office is not established by any constitution or law but exists only by long-established convention. In other words the office arose over time and out of necessity.

Let me back track a bit. In 1625 under Charles I a Cabinet style government was created with ministers serving the monarch as a council in matters of state. With the accession of George I the power of those in the Cabinet rose as George I had very little interest in governing. Soon, by 1722, Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford was essentially the First Prime Minister under King George I. Even today the office of Prime Minister does not exist Constitutionally, for the any of the Prime Minister’s executive and legislative powers are actually royal prerogatives which are still formally vested in the Sovereign, who remains the Head of State. Those who hold the office of Prime Minister are, in actuality, First Lord of the Treasury, the position they hold as a member of the sovereign’s cabinet.

Prior to 1902 the position was held by a member from the House of Lords, provided that his government could form a majority in the Commons. However, as the power of the aristocracy waned during the 19th century the convention developed that the Prime Minister should always sit in the lower house (House of Commons). During the reign of the first 4 Hanoverian kings the position of Prime Minister could be changed on the whim of the monarch. As time progressed those who were appointed to the office of First Lord of the Treasury, were those whose party had a majority in the lower house.

As we saw last week the Bill of Rights limited the power of the Crown but since then no official law has been instated to further limit the crown is why many of the Sovereign’s prerogative powers are still legally intact but the evolution of the office of Prime Minister has removed the monarch from day-to-day governance, with ministers exercising the royal prerogatives, leaving the monarch in practice with three constitutional rights: to be kept informed, to advise, and to warn.

Under this arrangement Britain might appear to have two chief executives: the Prime Minister and the Monarch. The concept of “the Crown” resolves this apparent paradox. The Crown is considered to be the cabinet which is the state’s authority to govern: to make laws and execute them, impose taxes and collect them, declare war and make peace. Prior to the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 the monarch solely and exclusively wielded the powers of the Crown. As we have seen, Parliament gradually forced monarchs to assume a neutral political position as Parliament has effectively distributed the powers of the Crown and gave its authority to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. During times when the monarchy was near absolute the king was accountable to no one. Today, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as representing “The Crown,” are accountable for their policies and actions to Parliament, in particular the elected House of Commons.

During the reign of the Hanoverians they often favored one party over another. As often happened when monarch and his heir were at odds, rival courts were established with one party trying to court favor with the monarch while the other party courted favor with the heir. It was under Queen Victoria (1837-1901) that this began to change. Prince Albert, the Prince Consort, was instrumental in steering the Monarch in the direction of neutrality and not favoring one party over the other.

It was along and difficult road but all of these events and evolving traditions helped steer the monarchy through the changing times. Its willingness to adapt has allowed it to remain.

Advertisements