the monarchy

The British Monarchy

Its history and its role

A short guide to the British monarchy -  A thematic guide to the UK

Index :  History Powers Cost Evolution

  On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 at Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands .
  Queen for more than 70 years, she was the world's most experienced and respected head of state.
Immediately and without public ceremony, her son Prince Charles acceded to the throne. Britain now has a king, King Charles III. The formalities, including the Coronation, followed. Except for the dates, the whole procedure is regulated according to centuries-old traditions.
  In 2020, during the most difficult days of the Covid-19 epidemic, the Queen made one of her very rare speeches to the nation, which was watched by 24 million viewers. In April 2020, she enjoyed a popularity rating of 78% among the British population.
  On September 9, 2015, Queen Elizabeth broke the record as the longest-reigning British monarch. Aged 89 at the time, she had reigned for 63 years and 7 months, beating the record set over a century earlier by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

Top photo: before coming to the throne, Prince Charles - now King Charles III -already stood in for the Queen - here for the opening of Parliament in May 2022.

In the 21st century, the British monarchy is popular.

According to a poll carried out in May 2012 for the newspaper The Guardian (a centre-left newspaper), 69% of Britons believe that the monarchy is good for the country, compared to only 22% who think the opposite. In other words, the monarchy is acclaimed by the British people, as a major and popular national institution, a symbol of the nation. For a head of state, such a degree of approval is flattering.
   While it is the elderly who are the most fervent admirers of the monarchy, opinions are largely favorable across all age groups, and all sectors of society, and republicanism is a marginal sentiment. Again according to the Guardian polls, the number of Britons in favor of abolishing the monarchy has never exceeded 22% over the past 30 years, and in 2012 was down to only 12%.  
  So what is this monarchy, and why is it so popular?

A brief history of the British monarchy....

(See also British Constitution)

English monarchy?

 The King or Queen is certainly King or Queen of England; but also king or queen of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and several other Commonwealth countries.
    One of the curious aspects of the British monarchy is that historically it is a monarchy that - for most of its history - has been anything but English! You have to go back to the 11th century to find the last properly "English" or Anglo-Saxon kings of England. Since then, the English monarchy has been French (Normans, then Plantagenets), Welsh (Tudors), Scottish (Stuarts), Dutch (Orange-Nassaus), German (Hanoverians, then  Saxe-Coburgs)... and finally the current dynasty, the Windsors – a royal house which only dates back to 1917, when King George V changed his family name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, to downplay his Germanic roots during the First World War.
     Since that time, the British Monarchy has done everything to consolidate and display its Britishness.

    Until the 18th century, monarchy was the natural order of states: most European countries were monarchies or principalities. However, England had been one of the first countries in modern Europe to abolish its monarchy. For 11 years from 1649, following its civil war, England had briefly become a republic - named the Commonwealth or Protectorate.  The experiment was short-lived, and in 1660 Parliament decided to restore the monarchy - under its tutelage. At the time when in France under Louis XIV royal power became absolute, the English Parliament made sure that no future monarch could acquire absolute power; it was the start of the constitutional monarchy.
   A few years later in 1685, when King James II tried to impose his will against that of Parliament, the Parliamentarians triggered the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, inviting the Dutch Prince William of Orange to take the crown of England. They also drafted the English Bill of Rights, further limiting the power of the monarchy. Henceforth an English king could no longer levy taxes, make or undo laws, or interfere in the affairs of Parliament. The scope of royal power was once and for all limited, and the English monarchy had to learn to live with this fact.
    This has surely been one of the secrets of its survival. At the end of the 18th century, the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the French Revolution shook the whole of Europe, and in particular its monarchies; but the confusion, the Terror and the Empire which followed the French Revolution seriously undermined the hopes of republicans elsewhere in Europe, and particularly in England.
 Available worldwide
from leadng bookstors English grammar
Critically acclaimed for its simple rules, clear explanations, and  pertinent examples
  In the early 19th century, the British monarchy went through hard times during the reigns of Kings George IV and William IV, but without being seriously threatened. Republican sentiment resurfaced during the 1840s, especially at the time of the second French revolution of 1848; but the British as a whole had no desire to get rid of their queen, Victoria, since she had no real power anyway. Great Britain was perceived as a constitutionally stable country, so much so that the deposed French King Louis-Philippe found refuge here in 1848.

    Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 to 1901, and even if she was not always fully appreciated by her people, she came to be seen during the last decades of her reign as the mother of the nation, defining the nature of the modern British monarchy as a symbol of national cohesion and identity.
   In the 20th century, two world wars firmly confirmed the role of the kings of England as commander-in-chief of the nation, and symbol of its identity. Irish independence in 1919 had little impact on the monarchy, and the ensuing reduction of the territory of the "United Kingdom" did not lead to a fundamental change in its constitution.
   King George V, who reigned from 1910 to 1936, managed to maintain and even consolidate the popularity of the monarchy during and after the First World War, despite his Germanic origins and the fact that he was a first cousin of the German Kasiser Wilhelm II. And while in the months following the war and the communist revolution in Russia, monarchies gave way to republics across Europe,  the British monarchy held on. George V endeavoured to adapt the monarchy to the new social conditions of the post-war period, forging relations of trust with the first Labour governments, and even defending the strikers at the time of the national strike of 1926, against the opinion of Conservative Prime Minister Baldwin - a rare but popular foray by a monarch into the political arena.
   In 1952, seven years after the end of the Second World War, it was George V's granddaughter, Elizabeth, who came to the throne. More than seventy years later, she was still there, having succeeded - since the tragic death of Princess Diana in August 1997 - in restoring the image of the monarchy in Great Britain. As events in 2022  showed, the British monarchy remains a fundamental and widely trusted national institution.

Powers of the British Monarchy

Signing of Magna Carta
King John signing away royal rights in 1215
 The British monarch has a lot of authority, but no personal power. "The Crown"  has many constitutional obligations, and a lot of theoretical and symbolic power, but no power.
 The King or Queen of England is first and foremost a head of state, the royal equivalent of a non-executive President.
  The powers of the monarchy are constitutionally limited by a series of historic laws or charters established by British parliaments since the 13th century, notably Magna Carta - drawn up in 1215 - the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, prohibiting arbitrary arrests, and the Bill of Rights of 1689. For almost two centuries, no British monarch has tried to oppose a measure passed by Parliament, even when the monarch personally disapproved of the legislation (as was the case when George V disapproved of  the Irish Independence Act).
   The monarch nevertheless remains an important figure in the management of the affairs of state in the United Kingdom. He appoints the Prime Minister (without choosing him), he opens the sessions of Parliament, and he has weekly meetings with his Prime Minister, who keeps him informed of affairs of state and may ask for his opinion on many issues of domestic politics and international relations.
   It is the royal signature - known as Royal Assent - which puts into law any new legislation passed by Parliament.

   On the international stage, the British monarch is the partner of other heads of state in terms of protocol; but absolutely not in terms of discussions between states, this being the prerogative of the Prime Minister.
  Both nationally and internationally, prominent members of the British Royal Family enjoy great popularity; the state visits of a British sovereign, and even those of a Prince of Wales, are always great popular events, even (or is it especially?) in the United States, a country born in 1776 from a break with this same monarchy.
   As Head of State, the Monarch is also Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces - a ceremonial role, of course.
   The King or Queen is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England, appoints bishops and archbishops - on the recommendation of the Prime Minister - and opens the quinquennial Synod of the Church of England.

The cost of the Monarchy

   Arguments about the cost of the British monarchy are a perennial bone of contention that resurfaces quite regularly.
   According to official figures, the British monarchy costs about forty million pounds a year - or about fifty euro cents per Briton each year. The precise figure is very difficult to calculate, but in 2011 the sum announced was £32.1m - not including the cost of police and security services. For the a large majority of people in Britain, it's a well justified expense.
   Each year, the British Parliament votes an operating grant to the Royal Family, formerly called the Civil List, but now known as the Sovereign Grant. Since 1992, the Queen and the other members of the royal family have paid taxes like any other citizen.
   While running the monarchy costs British taxpayers over forty million pounds a year, the existence of the monarchy is estimated to bring in over £25 billion to the British economy, through tourism and the "goodwill" (intangible value) generated worldwide for the "Great Britain" brand  by its members, its ceremonies and its pageantry.
   The thousands of hours devoted to the death of the Queen and the accession of King Charles III on countless radio stations and general interest  television channels all over the planet, are the most recent example of this.

The changing monarchy

The monarchy changes - and it is because it has been able to change over the centuries that it has been able to keep going. In 2012, Parliament amended the laws of succession to replace the principle of male primogeniture (a son precedes a daughter, even if she is the eldest child, in the line of succession) with the principle of absolute primogeniture (no gender distinction).

How do people in Britain see their monarchy?

What explains the attachment of the British to their monarchy? The first reason the idea that the Royal Family is, and remains, above the fray of the political world. The monarch has a value of permanence and a symbolic status that a president could never have. It has often been said of prime ministers, including Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson, "Fortunately for Britain we have the Queen to represent us, not just politicians."
   Queen Elizabeth II herself had become something of a grandmother to the nation, and the British widely admired the work she did for over 70 years - an endless stream of official engagements, readings of official documents, high-level meetings, meetings with the population, and much much more. At 95, thirty years after normal retirement age, she had barely reduced her workload and refused any idea of ​​retirement - let alone abdication.
   Of course, there is a certain amount of popular infatuation around the monarchy. The Queen, Charles, William and Kate, and Harry are "celebrities", regularly on the front pages of gossip magazines and the "people" press around the world, especially in Britain; but this should not be seen as the cause of this popularity, rather as a consequence.
   The Queen was not always so popular. At the time of Princess Diana's death, the Royal Family had lost a great deal of respec. Compared to Diana, the "People's Princess", the Queen was seen as aloof, detached, and rather cold. It took three or four years for the Monarchy to restore its image, get in tune with the 21st century, and get back a lot of the sympathy it had lost.
   On September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II of England died, and following a process that has been fine-tuned over the centuries, the crown passed  automatically and instantly to her eldest son and successor Prince Charles, who has now become King Charles III - King Charles the Third. who was crowned in May 2023.

British Monarchy website:

Copyright   : Website and texts © 2009-2024 except where otherwise indicated


Picture top of page: Prince Charles standing in for the Queen at the state opening of Parliament in May 2022 

The state opening of Parliament

Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria in later life.  Even more so than Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria gave her name to an age... and a lot more. The word "Victorian" is used  even in the USA  to describe 19th century styles.

 Copyright  : Website and texts ©;

Photos copyright by the British Parliament, reproduced under the Creative Commons 2 licence respects your privacy, and does not collect any personal data. Cookies are used only to log anonymous visitor stats and to manage certain essential page functions. To remove this notice click   or otherwise click for more details