The word monarchy comes from the Greek word monos arkhein, which means “one ruler.” The British monarch is the sovereign head of state of the UK and its overseas territories. The monarch, referred to in the abstract as ‘The Crown’, is the source of all legislative, executive and judicial powers. Since Henry VIII (1491-1547 AD), the British monarch is also ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.
The British Monarchy can be traced back to the Angol-Saxon times. Egbert of Wessex (827-839 AD) was the first monarch to unify the warring tribes and establish a stable and extensive rule over all of Anglo-Saxon England. The only interruption to the monarchy’s establishment was its temporary abolition from 1649 to 1660, following Charles I’s execution and the rules of Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the monarch shares the power with a constitutional structured government. The reigning King or Queen is the country’s head of state. The constitution assigned the rest of the government’s power to the legislature and judiciary. The prime minister (the head of government) and the cabinet have all executive power, and the King must follow their advice.
The British monarchy is a hereditary institution. It means the role of the king or queen is passed down in the family. For centuries, the royal line of succession to the British monarchy was based on the common law’s rule of primogeniture, which typically gives preference to a King and Queen’s firstborn male heir, which means he inherits the title, lands, and all other property belonging to his family. If there is no son, then eldest daughter is to become the monarch.
According to the provisions of Act of Settlement, 1701, which regulates the succession to the throne, the King must be Protestant. William III was ill and childless by the end of 1700; his sister-in-law, the future queen, Anne, had just lost her lone surviving child; and supporters of the exiled monarch, James II (Catholic), were many and active abroad. The need of the Act was obvious. It stated that in default of issue to either William or Anne, the crown would pass to Sophia, electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I, and “the heirs of her body being Protestants.” The act was thus responsible for the accession of Sophia’s son George I in 1714, despite the claims of 57 people who were closer by inheritance rules than Sophia and George.
It therefore came to be established not only that the Sovereign rules through Parliament, but that the succession to the throne can be regulated by Parliament, and that a Sovereign can be deprived of his/her title through misgovernment. The Act of Settlement confirmed that it was for Parliament to determine the title to the throne.
The Succession to the Crown Act (2013) amended the provisions of the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement to end the system of male primogeniture, under which a younger son can displace an elder daughter in the line of succession. The Act applies to those born after 28 October 2011. This means that if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first child was a girl, she would inherit the throne ahead of any brothers she might have.
The Act also ended the provisions by which those who marry Roman Catholics are disqualified from the line of succession. The changes came into force in all sixteen Realms in March 2015.
According to the provisions of the Statute of Westminster, 1931 the title to the royal throne needs to be assented not only by the British Parliament by also by members of the nations of Commonwealth which includes 53 states that were former British colonies or dependencies.
The King and The Crown
The Crown is an institution which never dies. The King is the individual who holds the institution. This how it is said ‘The King is dead, Long live the King’. It means that King as an individual dies but the Crown as institution always remain there. It implies that on the death of a King the Crown does not remain vacant but it is succeeded by another King, the heir to the throne. The allegiance of the people is to the Crown and not to the King. The King has a variety of position in his social and individual life, but the Crown is head of the state and its powers are exercised by the King on the advice of prime minister and his cabinet.
The wife of the King and direct daughter heir is called Queen but the title of King cannot be given to the husband of the Queen.
Constitutional Role of The Monarchy
The monarch has the following constitutional responsibilities in the United Kingdom:
- State opening of parliament,
- Appointment of prime minister and his cabinet
- Approval of parliamentary legislation; the formal phrase ‘Queen in Parliament’ is used to describe the British legislature, which consists of the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
- Approval of official appointments,
- Approval of secondary legislation through the Privy Council,
- Representational duties as head of state, including paying and receiving state visits from other heads of state,
- Command of the Armed Forces,
- Head of the Judiciary and Civil Services,
- The Sovereign holds the title ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.
- Besides these, monarch is also the fountain of honour; all honours are bestowed in the name of the king, (although, with notable exceptions, most are awarded on the advice of the government).
Why The Monarchy In UK Still Exist?
Since long there has been a debate in UK over the existence and abolition of monarchy. The argument for and against the monarchy are briefly discussed below.
Arguments In Favour of Monarchy
Impartial and Symbolic Head of the State
A constitutional monarch is one who is independent of political parties or factions. As a result, the monarch is regarded as a symbol of national unification.
A constitutional monarch can also provide unbiased non-political support to a wide range of organisations and charities, which a political figure would not be able to do. The Queen is believed to have participated in 296 official engagements in 2019/20, out of a total of 3,200 official engagements by members of the royal family.
Linkage with Nation’s history
The monarchy represents a consistent and durable relationship to the country’s history, with ties that span centuries. British Monarchy was established Egbert of Wessex in 829 AD and it still exist with only temporary interruption from 1649 to 1660, following Charles I’s execution and the rules of Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard.
Global Influence of UK
The international recognition of the British monarchy, together with the associated foreign tours and state visits, is thought to boost Britain’s global influence. This is thought to have significant security, influence, and commerce benefits. According to Brand Finance, the boost in trade as a result of the Royal Family’s ambassadorial position could be worth up to £150 million each year.
The monarch of the United Kingdom also serves as the head of the Commonwealth of 53 nations.
Promotion of Tourism Industry
The Royal Family is thought to be a major attraction for tourists visiting the United Kingdom. Tourism related to royal residences such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle is anticipated to bring in 2.7 million people per year, according to Visit Britain.
According to Brand Finance, the Royal Family brings in £550 million in tourism revenue each year.
Argument For Abolition of Monarchy
Modern Image of UK
Advocates for the monarchy’s abolition say that having an elected head of state will strengthen the brand “Britain” internationally. Such a transformation, it is said, would convey the image of a modern, confident, and forward-thinking country to the rest of the world.
They further claim that having hereditary control at the top of the country’s political, military, and religious institutions fosters a mentality that is characterised by social class.
Monarchy Is Costly
The cost of the Royal Family has been pointed out by critics of the British royal family. They claim that the British monarch is the most costly monarch in Europe, costing approximately £80 million per year. In comparison, the Spanish monarchy is claimed to cost £6.15 million, while the Swedish monarchy is said to cost £11.6 million.
The British monarch serves as both the head of the church and the head of state. It is claimed that having an established church, such as the Church of England, favours one faith over all others. This is a form of religious discrimination that is a hazardous anachronism in a multi-cultural, largely secular society, it is argued.
Monarchy Is Undemocratic
Advocates for the abolition of the monarchy say that monarchies are essentially undemocratic. They contend that only a democratically elected head of the state can transform the political culture and power dynamics.
The public, it is argued, should be allowed to exercise democratic oversight over the Head of State in a democracy. This refers to both choosing the position and having the tools to check or even impeach the person who holds it. If the head of state is a hereditary king, none of this is possible.
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