The power of the British monarchy in 1912


Feb 14, 2011
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When did the British monarchy lose its ability to legislate laws?
Im curious if the British monarchy of 1912 had a greater influence in the state of British affairs, than lets say the british monarchy of 2006, which seems more cerimonial than functional....I wonder if by 1912, the British people had fully gotten over the death of Queen victoria in 1901, or if the British were still shocked...I wonder if her death resulted in any changes in the power the monarchy did-or did not have in Britian. I do think her death resulted in a national desire to scale down, and not expand the empire in size...

regards


Tarn Stephanos
 

Jack Devine

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Jan 23, 2004
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"Greater influence" is probably the best way to put it. Certainly the king could not dictate laws long before 1912, but his opinion counted more than it does today. For example, the king was usually consulted on who would take which position in a new government. There were those who could and did go against his wishes, but they had to pick their battles and did not refuse him lightly.
 

Bill West

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There is a fine point that British laws take effect not because Parliament passes them but rather because the Queen chooses to sign them. The whole of Parliament’s activities are not to make laws but just to recommend them to her. She traditionally follows the recommendations passed by Parliament and relayed by the Cabinet so it seems like Parliament is in control but strictly speaking it’s her choice. This has roots in the Magna Carta of 1215.

It is this following of advice that gives us part of the durability of the British Monarchy, it stays away from responsibility for messy short term politics, leaving it to the elected Government. The part that is the power of the British Monarchy however is that the elected Government’s leader has to attend an audience with the Queen every week. She is a very good measure of a responsible citizen’s views, the diaries at her hand detail every political trick and sham going back hundreds of years and he can’t evade her, every question must be answered truthfully and honestly.

So despite tradition restricting her to the Cabinet’s advice, the Queen or her representative does occasionally make their own choice. In 1926 a Canadian Prime Minister’s election call was refused. Before Britain entered the Falklands war the Prime Minister got the Queen’s permission. In 1975 Australia the ruling party had a two senatorial appointments refused because of much bigger issues. The Queen’s representative, the Governor General simply called the Prime Minister in and told him he would no longer accept his cabinet’s recommendations and that an election was being called forthwith. After all even the call for elections is signed by the Governor General on the Queen’s behalf, not the Prime minister. This was a very rare move but it shows that the Queen is still the ultimate authority.

In the US it means that Nixon would have been out on his ear much more quickly. It wouldn’t matter if he was in on the burglary or not, he was responsible for the conduct of those under him, not nearly as much cover up at such a high level would have been tolerated.

As far as changes go, the nature of the dishonesty in politics has shifted since 1912 but I don’t think the amount of it has. So the Queen has a very different setting to work in than her Great Great Grandmother and the press is not nearly as respectful but I don’t think the Royal power to lead her people as they wish to be lead has diminished at all. It is perhaps the people’s wishes that are being self eroded.

Bill
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Interesting insights Bill. I wasn't aware that the monarchy had even as much power as you described. I don't suppose there's a website out there which has some more information on exactly what her role is and how far her influance goes, is there?
 

Bill West

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A lot of the understanding comes from living in a parliamentary system. Instead of saying the Prime Minister is going to call an election tomorrow, my newspaper fancies up the line by saying the Prime Minister is calling on the Governor General tomorrow, then it dawns on you how the details work. For instance I read the Falklands item in Time Magazine as it unfolded. For comparison it took me the longest time to figure out that a State Lieutenant Governor worked under the Governor, not over him as he does here.

Another bit is that The Queen opens the Parliamentary sessions and reads the “speech from the throne” which outlines legislative plans for the session. It is of course written by the politicians but that does preclude them from putting in anything she might choke on. Her unwillingness to lie like a used car salesman is a subtle restraining power and any politician who tries to outright embarrass her will achieve new lows in popularity.

A reverse bit is where a bill is passed but the Cabinet does not present it for signing, they just sit on it for some reason. When our Lawyers look up a statute they have to confirm that it has received “Royal assent” and has been proclaimed into law, on rare occasions it has not. The effect is akin to your President not signing a Bill but the purpose is different.

For checking some of my statements I Googled Wikipedia, the 1926 Canadian item is the “King-Byng affair”, it linked to the Australian one -that was sticky. I looked at “British Monarchy” for lineage and got a discussion on authority. “Royal Assent” was good but “Magna Carta” had too much info. Get the coffee, get the cat comfortable and you should be able to waste a fair bit of time trying to figure out what they are talking about. Where was Wikipedia 40 years ago when we had to fill essays with this sort of stuff?

Bill
 

Jack Devine

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If anyone has ever come up with a concise and accurate description of the British constitution (which only sort-of exists) I've never heard of it. Thank you for the info, Bill, it's very interesting. This seems to be one of those rare subjects where you can learn the basics in a few minutes, and spend a lifetime on the details. If you really want to waste some time and confound yourself, try reading up on the sovereignty and ownership of the Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey et al.) You need a reasonable knowledge of medieval history just to hope to keep up.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Witney
In answer to the initial question regarding the power of the British monarchy, it would probably be true to say that Medieval monarchs were constrained by their need to levy taxes, and they could not do this without the consent of a Parliament. In the 17th Century Charles I attempted to rule as an absolute monarch, which resulted in a series of civil wars in England, Ireland and Scotland and his own execution. For the next few years, "the three kingdoms" were ruled as a republic but, in due course, the monarchy was restored - albeit with limited powers.

An attempt by James II to restore absolutism (and the Roman Catholic religion) led to "The Glorious Revolution" and his own demise. Thereafter, successive monarchs have been merely heads of state, real power being vested in the people as represented by Parliament. In the meantime, the scope of the franchise had been progressively extended and, by Queen Victoria's time, the monarch had some residual influence, but virtually no powers of her own. I hope that this has answered at least of the questions raised in this thread.
 

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