The position of the monarch in Britain is a perfect illustration of the contradictory nature of the constitution. From the evidence of written law only, the Queen has almost absolute power, and it all seems very undemocratic.
Every autumn, at the state opening of Parliament, Elizabeth II, who became Queen in 1952, makes a speech. In it, she says what ‘my government’ intends to do in the coming year. And indeed, it is her government. As far as the law is concerned, she can choose anybody she likes to run the government for her. There are no restrictions on whom she picks as her Prime Minister. The same is true for her choices of people to fill some hundred or so other ministerial positions. And if she gets fed up with her ministers, she can just dismiss them. She also appears to have great power over Parliament. It is she who summons a Parliament, and she who dissolves it before a general election. Nothing that Parliament has decided can become law until she has agreed to it.
Similarly, it is the Queen, and not any other figure of authority, who embodies the law in the courts.
The house of Windsor
Windsor is the family name of the royal family. The press sometimes refers to its members as ‘the Windsors’. Queen Elizabeth is only the fourth monarch with this name. This is not because a ‘new’ royal family took over the throne of Britain four reigns ago. It is because George V, Elizabeth’s grandfather, changed the family name. It was Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but during the First World War it was thought better for the king not to have a German-sounding name.
The royal family
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother has been the official title of the mother of the present Queen since the death of her husband, King George VI. She has been popular with the British people ever since her tours of bombed areas of London during the Second World War. She was born in 1900 and is the most consistently
popular member of the royal family. Died in 2002.
Queen Elizabeth II was born in 1926 and became Queen in 1952 on the death of her father, George VI, who had reigned since 1936 (when his elder brother, Edward VIII, gave up the throne). She is one of the longest-reigning monarchs in British history. She is widely respected for the way in which she performs her duties and is generally popular.
Prince Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh, married the present Queen in 1947. In the 1960s and 1970s, his outspoken opinions on controversial matters were sometimes embarrassing to the royal family.
Princess Margaret is the Queen’s younger sister. She is divorced from her husband, Lord Snowdon, who is a professional photographer.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, was born in 1948. as the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, he is heir to the throne. He is concerned about the environment and about living conditions in Britain’s cities. He sometimes makes speeches which are critical aspects of modern life.
Princess Diana married Prince Charles in 1981. The couple separated in 1992 and later divorced. Princess Diana died as the result of a car accident in 1997. She was a glamorous and popular figure during her lifetime.
Princess Anna, the Queen’s daughter (also known as the Princess Royal), was born in 1950. She separated from her husband after they had one son and one daughter. She married again in 1992. She is widely respected for her charity work, which she does in a spirit of realism.
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, was born in 1960 and is the Queen’s second son.