What is the real power of Queen Elizabeth?


What is the Queen for?

The French love to hate the English (and vice versa) for a thousand reasons, and among them, of course, there is the monarchy. Proud heirs of the Revolution, we have always seen it funny that the British kept their “Majesty”.

Indeed, Elizabeth II is a figure of the century, respected as such. However, for many French people, the Queen is above all a symbol of the old-fashioned charm of eternal England, with her clichés of Big Ben, red cabins and pudding. Elizabeth is a little grandmother with a bulldog pout for the more mocking, only busy watching her family tear themselves apart in the tabloids.

Above all, see this side of the Channel, his office is seen best as a costly political aberration, at worst as an indecent vestige of serfdom. In reality, the British sovereign has fundamental institutional importance and incredibly much more power than one imagines.

The Queen is all-powerful on paper.

On paper, Unlike France, the UK does not have a constitution per se, but a body of laws and customs developed over the centuries. According to these rules, Elizabeth is Queen and, like the President of the Republic in France, she is the head of State:

  • His Majesty opens and suspends the sessions of Parliament.
  • His Majesty promulgates the laws passed in his name.
  • His Majesty appoints the Prime Minister, appoints and dismisses his ministers.
  • His Majesty is chief of the armies and declares war.
  • Her Majesty grants her pardon (in cases of recognized miscarriage of justice).

Elizabeth would be deposed from her throne overnight by the citizens of British Democracy

Legally, nothing prevents him from bringing his country to war, raising new taxes, or officially recognizing French superiority in rugby. Elizabeth would be deposed from her throne overnight by the citizens of British Democracy. This would be legitimate because, according to the British tradition of constitutional monarchy, the sovereign leaves the exercise of his power to the Parliament.

The best illustration of this is the speech at the opening of the parliamentary session. The policy text read by the Queen is written in the first person, but the Prime Minister wrote it.


In a way, only the practice has changed, but not the law. And since it has been the same for centuries, it gives rise to some quirks from another time. Anthology:

The Queen owns the dolphins and whales. In 1324, under Edward II’s reign, a law proclaimed “royal fish”, the sturgeons, porpoises, dolphins, and whales of the Kingdom. A law that has never been abolished, as stated on the official website of the Crown. Asked about the subject a few years ago, Buckingham said it did not concern farmed fish. But pick up a dolphin on the British coast, and you’ll see the Queen disembark to claim what is her own.

The Queen also owns the swans

The Queen also owns the swans. Not content with arrogating to himself the royal fish, His Majesty is also the owner of the Kingdom’s swans. Oddly enough, the sovereign wields this power only over the 88 swans of the Thames. The Queen has her swan manager, who ensures an accurate census each year. The tradition dated from the 12th century and was formalized by King Edward IV in 1482 when the swan was a symbol of prestige and a delicious dish.

Kate and William had to ask for her agreement to get married. According to the Royal Weddings Act of 1772, members of the royal family must request the sovereign to marry. The “Instrument of Consent” was created by George III. After his younger brother had married the widow of a commoner, a woman with a very sulphurous reputation, in his time, the House of Lords criticized the act.

According to them, it passed in haste simply because George III was upset to see his relatives marry without consulting him. A week before the big day, the Queen officially consented to the marriage of William and Kate.

The true power of the Queen is not visible.

To come back to more serious matters, the Queen still has political power. Instead, it is an influence, weak but genuine, and above all, discreet.

“The Queen reigns, but she does not govern”. This is the famous maxim of political journalist Walter Bagehot, which helped define British political tradition during Victoria’s reign in the second half of the 19th century. In 1867, Walter Bagehot defined the British monarch’s prerogatives, who are still today the neck tube: Her Majesty has “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn”.

Weekly audience with the Prime Minister. As such, Elizabeth receives every Wednesday, except Christmas, the British Prime Minister. No adviser, no help, but a simple face-to-face meeting between the sovereign and her Prime Minister. According to the official website of the monarchy, these are the famous “weekly hearings” during which it has, according to the official website of the monarchy, “the right and the duty to express its views on the affairs of the country”.

The Queen reigns, but she does not govern

These dates are not like a pointless meeting with an old lady who knows nothing about it. No cabinet member today can boast of having been trained in politics by Churchill. All tenants at 10 Downing Street praised the importance of these weekly meetings, all claiming to have benefited from a woman’s insights with 60 years of political experience.

Harold Wilson (Prime Minister 1964-70 and 1974-76) said these were the only times he could have a serious political conversation with someone who did not want his place. If, at times, we can not tell everything to members of his government, we can always talk to the Queen, confirmed John Major (1990-1997).

The most knowledgeable person in the world? Another misconception, Elizabeth, does not just wear bright pink outfits during soporific ceremonies. The Queen knows her files. Elizabeth starts her day by reading the entire British press, from the major dailies to horse racing newspapers (her great passion). Each morning, the Queen receives her “red box,” a red government case containing reports, personal notes, diplomatic telegrams and bills, as well as the deeds she is required to sign. Its private secretaries also keep it informed in real-time of events in the country.

A world sovereign

Contrary to popular belief, Elizabeth is not Queen of England but “of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and her other kingdoms.” And these “other kingdoms” are not “peanuts”, since they still include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or Jamaica.

Officially, His Majesty is thus Head of State of 16 countries, known as “Commonwealth Kingdoms”, which is to say a total of nearly 135 million subjects, spread over 19 million km ² in the world to say more than 12.5%. Lands of the plane. In his 15 “other kingdoms”, the sovereign is represented on the spot by a governor. Power exercised in its name by local political staff democratically elected by the sovereign people. In practice, the Prime Minister of Australia or Canada, for example, is the real head of State.

Besides, the sovereign is head of the Commonwealth, the community of countries of the former British Empire, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, South Africa. A privileged political union of 54 sovereign states ( the 16 kingdoms, five other monarchies and 33 republics), bringing together more than 2.2 billion human beings, or nearly a third of the world’s population.

The influence of the Queen

The Kingdoms of the Commonwealth: Her Majesty is Queen of the United Kingdom (i.e. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda and Saint Christopher and Nevis.

Through her knowledge of issues, her experience at the head of the State, her crucial position within the institutions and the respect shown by her interlocutors, Elizabeth exerts a real influence in the United Kingdom and the world. The most striking example remains his work for the end of apartheid.

It all started in April 1986, when an assistant to the Queen let it be known that. Her Majesty was worried about social movements, violence, the tragedies caused by the economic policy of Margaret Thatcher, as well as the refusal of the “iron lady” to pass Commonwealth sanctions against segregationist South Africa.

This controversial refusal then threatens to break up the union of the former British Empire. Elizabeth, “a real force behind the scenes” in the words of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, then in office, would have played a leading role in punishing the apartheid regime.

In 1991, Mandela, who had just been released, was a guest of the Commonwealth summit. However, still a simple ANC leader, the future South African President does not have the rank to attend the Queen’s banquet. At the last moment, Elizabeth decides to break protocol and invite her to her table. Highly symbolic diplomatic gesture on the part of the British Head of State: four years earlier, Prime MinisterMinister Margaret Thatcher called Mandela a terrorist.

Another example with the Abu Hamza affair.

This radical imam from Egypt, easily recognizable by his hook in his hand and his missing eye, had called for the destruction of the United Kingdom during a sermon in the heart of London in 2003. In 2012, a journalist from the BBC had unveiled an anecdote on the radio that caused many talks.

Crossing the path of the Minister of the Interior at the time, Elizabeth would have strongly expressed her annoyance: “This man must surely have violated some laws, my God, why is he still free?”. According to the journalist, it was the Queen herself who told him the anecdote. The episode shows three things: the Queen has privileged access to politicians, privileged access to journalists, and uses it, even if it means overstepping her prerogatives a little.

The absolute sovereign is the people. Another anecdote this time shows that even Her Majesty has a leader, the British people. This is, of course, Diana’s death and the wrath of the media and public opinion against the Crown, accused of contempt for the Princess of Hearts. It is the biggest protest that Elizabeth has ever known.

Entrenched in Scotland, the Queen had to return to London, address her subjects live on television (something she hates above all) and put the flag at half-mast in Buckingham. All this on his prime minister’s advice so as not to fall from his throne under popular pressure. The Windsors know it well. If they still reign, it is because the British want to.

The Queen is the symbol of the Kingdom

And if the British want it, it is because the Queen is a symbol. The sovereign is the embodiment of the country, of its tradition, of its history. Elizabeth is the image of her Kingdom, inside and out. Visiting London, tourists walk past his palace, photographing his guards. This is one of the arguments of the monarchists against the Republicans. To the latter’s criticisms on the court’s splendour’s cost, the former oppose its commercial interest (tourism, trinkets, etc.) and “advertising” for the country in the world. This is her primary duty, which she expressed in a phrase that has remained famous: “I must be seen to be believed”.

It is a guarantee of stability at the head of the State, almost indisputable since it is politically neutral. Besides, the Queen does not vote. Nothing legally prevents it, but it would be considered unconstitutional. “Its role is to offer continuity and unity to the nation”, justifying the monarchy’s official website on this point. Elizabeth is a moderate conservative, according to royal aides.

A moral authority. More than a figure of actual power, the Queen is a moral authority. The British sovereign is moreover “defender of the faith” and head of the Anglican Church. As with political power, His Majesty leaves the exercise of this spiritual power to a third party, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Queen finally assures the patronage of more than 600 charities and another military, professional or religious organizations. Associations for the protection of children or the environment, associations of veterans or sports disciplines, associations for the protection of ancient trades or historic buildings. The opportunity for her to draw the attention of her subjects to what Her Majesty considers important.

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