Answer Man: So what kind of power does Queen Elizabeth have?

News-DemocratJuly 30, 2013 

With the birth of Prince William's baby in England, there is much talk about the monarchy. What are the actual powers, if any, of an English monarch? Also, the U.S. president and his family are expected to attend many PR engagements. Since the monarch does, too, does this take heat off the prime minister and others so they can they focus on running the country? -- Sheila Kimlinger

Being an English monarch just isn't what it used to be.

Case in point: On July 28, 1540, King Henry VIII had his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, executed on Tower Hill. Then, just hours later, Henry wed his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, less than three weeks after he had had his six-month marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled.

Now, that's power. No worry of some silly filibuster threat by Mitch McConnell here. Alas, those good ol' days are gone when English kings and queens had heads rolling -- literally. Thanks to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the sweeping power of a single English ruler turned into a constitutional monarchy. Its authority was reined in by a Bill of Rights in 1689, which increased the power of Parliament, and the Act of Settlement in 1701, which dealt with succession to the throne.

As a result, as you suggest, those who once commanded "Off with his head!" have become more of a figurehead. But as the British monarchy's official website points out, even though sovereigns no longer have a real political or executive role, they continue to play an important part in English life because the position is steeped in 1,000 years of tradition.

In short, Queen Elizabeth wears two crowns ... er ... hats -- that of head of state and the other as head of the nation.

As head of state, she opens the annual session of Parliament with the Queen's Speech, although it is written by the elected government and not by her. She also must approve and sign all bills passed by Parliament, and prime ministers who want to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections must get the king or queen's approval.

As a constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth must remain politically neutral and can act only on the advice of her ministers. Still, she holds a weekly audience with the prime minister, at which time she can express her views on all matters. And it's her job to appoint the prime minister, who normally is the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons -- although she would have other options in "exceptional circumstances."

She also represents Britain to the rest of the world, receiving foreign ambassadors and entertaining visiting heads of state. In addition, she may make official state visits to other countries in support of diplomatic and economic relations.

Like the U.S. president, she is the head of the armed forces and meets regularly with military leaders. Only she can declare war -- although, again, she could exercise that power today only on the advice of her ministers. As "Defender of the Faith," she plays a role in both the Church of England and the Church of Scotland -- appointing bishops and archbishops, for example.

In her other role as head of the nation, she promotes national identity and unity through charity work, appearances at national celebrations and tragedies, formal parties and simple "walkabouts" where she meets people from all walks of life. In just one year, the royal family takes part in an estimated 2,000 official engagements around the world, entertains 70,000 people at the royal residences and answers 100,000 letters -- just as she did for Bernadette Kimutis, of Swansea, this spring.

So, yes, I suppose the royal family does take some of the PR pressure off the prime minister and others. I mean, who wouldn't choose a queen or prince over some stuffy MP to attend their little black-tie soiree?

Still, if you want things done, you have to hobnob with those who really wield power. So I would imagine Prime Minister David Cameron and others get plenty of requests to schmooze by those lobbying for or against various bills. Just a quick search of the Internet found Cameron at a hospital bedside, attending the funeral of the soldier recently hacked to death and visiting northern England in 2011 to promote street parties for the marriage of Prince William and Kate. So he may enjoy the limelight, too, while he has it.

For an in-depth look at the English royalty, don't miss

Today's trivia

When was the last time an English monarch vetoed an act of Parliament?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: So, who is the only singer awarded the Grammy for best female country vocal performance four years in a row? Reba McEntire? Emmylou Harris? Dolly Parton? Nope, it is the woman who removed the hyphen from her first name 20 years ago -- Mary Chapin Carpenter. She ruled the Grammys from 1992 through 1995 with "Down at the Twist and Shout," "I Feel Lucky," "Passionate Kisses" and "Shut Up and Kiss Me." She remains tied with Harris for most wins in that category.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 239-2465.

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