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What are The Queen’s powers?

The Royal Prerogative are a set number of powers and privileges held by The Queen as part of the British constitution. Nowadays, a lot of these powers are exercised on Her Majesty’s behalf by ministers – things such as issuing or withdrawing passports that, without the Royal Prerogative, would require an act of parliament each time.

Over time, the prerogative powers have been used less and less though the important thing in our Constitutional Monarchy is that they still exist, they remain a means of protecting democracy in this country ensuring that no one can simply seize power.

Victorian constitutionalist Walter Bagehot defined The Queen’s rights as, the right ‘to be consulted, to encourage and to warn’ – but these rights are not the same as her powers, as we will now see.

The Queen’s prerogative powers vary and fall into different categories…

Political Powers

The Queen’s political powers nowadays are largely ceremonial, though some are actively used by The Queen such as at General Elections or are available in times of crisis and some are used by Ministers for expediency when needed.

  • Summoning/Proroguing Parliament – The Queen has the power to prorogue (suspend) and to summon (call back) Parliament – prorogation typically happens at the end of a parliamentary session, and the summoning occurs shortly after, when The Queen attends the State Opening of Parliament.
  • Royal Assent – It is The Queen’s right and responsibility to grant assent to bills from Parliament, signing them into law. Whilst, in theory, she could decide to refuse assent, the last Monarch to do this was Queen Anne in 1708.
  • Secondary Legislation – The Queen can create Orders-in-Council and Letters Patent, that regulate parts to do with the Crown, such as precedence, titles. Orders in Council are often used by Ministers nowadays to bring Acts of Parliament into law.
  • Appoint/Remove Ministers – Her Majesty also has the power to appoint and remove Ministers of the Crown.
  • Appointing the Prime Minister – The Queen is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister after a general election or a resignation, in a General Election The Queen will appoint the candidate who is likely to have the most support of the House of Commons. In the event of a resignation, The Queen listens to advice on who should be appointed as their successor.
  • Declaration of War – The Sovereign retains the power to declare war against other nations, though in practice this is done by the Prime Minister and Parliament of the day.
  • Freedom From Prosecution – Under British law, The Queen is above the law and cannot be prosecuted – she is also free from civil action.

Judicial Powers

The Queen’s judicial powers are now very minimal, and there is only really one which is used on a regular basis, with others having been delegated to judges and parliament through time.

  • Royal Pardon – The Royal Pardon was originally used to retract death sentences against those wrongly convicted. It is now used to correct errors in sentencing and was recently used to give a posthumous pardon to WW2 codebreaker, Alan Turing.

Armed Forces

The Queen’s powers in the Armed Forces are usually used on the advice of Generals and Parliament though some functions are retained by The Queen herself nowadays.

  • Commander-in-Chief – The Queen is commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and all members swear an oath of allegiance to The Queen when they join; they are Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.
  • Commissioning of Officers – The Queen’s powers include the commissioning of officers into the Armed Forces and also removing commissions (when members of the Armed Forces salute and officers, they are saluting The Queen’s commission).
  • Disposition of the Forces – The organisation and disposition of the Armed Forces are part of the Royal Prerogative; the crown technically controls how the Armed Forces are used.


One of the main prerogative powers that are still used personally by The Queen these days is the power to grant honours. As all honours derive from the Crown, The Queen has the final say on knighthoods, peerages and the like.

  • Creation of Peerages – The Queen may create a peerage for any person – whether a life peerage or hereditary one, though hereditary peerages haven’t been issued for decades outside of the Royal Family.
  • Font of Honour – It is The Queen’s prerogative power to create orders of knighthood and to grant any citizen honours. From the Royal Victorian Order to the Order of the Garter.

Miscellaneous Powers

Other powers Her Majesty holds include:

  • Control of Passports – The issuing and withdrawal of passports are within the Royal Prerogative – this is often used by ministers on behalf of The Queen. All British passports are issued in The Queen’s name.
  • Requisitioning of Ships – This power allows a ship to be commandeered in Her Majesty’s name for service to the realm. This power was used on the QE2 to take troops to the Falklands after the Argentine invasion in 1982.

  • Royalwatcher1

    Does the sovereign really use her power regarding honours ? We know that Garter/Thistle/Merit appointments are decided ony by her majesty, but I guess that the queen may turn down honours proposals, and that leakages aren`t supposed to happen.

    Is it true that the queen have developed a personally restrictive approach regarding the creation of hereditary titles ? The PM did nominate individuals for hereditary honours until the Harold Wilson era, then it stopped with a few exceptions during the Thatcher era. I`m surprised that Cameron hasn`t revived the herditary peerage, since he is a traditional tory politican. Maybe we get a couple of creations in his resignation honours list.

    • robert

      The last hereditary peerage granted was Harold Macmillan who was created Earl of Stockton. It used to be traditional to grant a peerage to long-serving prime ministers. The last baronetcy was granted to Denis Thatcher. It is highly unlikely that any new hereditary peers will be created, except for royal dukedoms. Although the PM makes recommendations for honours, the Queen exercises her right to give counsel and warning. All PMs, Tory and Labour, pay great attention to her opinions.

      • Rhys Firth

        When someone as sharp and observant as HM is reigns for as long as she has, anyone with a modicum of sense listens carefully when she warns or advises…
        She’s pretty much seen it all before, if not in the UK somewhere within her commonwealth, and knows what is likely to happen more than some short sighted johnny-come-lately politician with a bright idea.

  • Sarah Perky

    Can the Queen claim any nation she want’s to?

    • Andreas Persson Fondell

      Yes, but only within the commonwealth. She could for example claim Canada and Australia among others.

      • David L

        What utter rubbish!!! The Queen cannot “claim” Canada or Australia or any other Commonwealth country. These countries are independent nations with democratically elected governments. The Queen is simply the titular head of state because those countries have CHOSEN to retain her in that “figurehead” role. They could remove her as head of state any time they choose.

  • Chloe Howard

    Which part of it?

  • Faera Lane

    What about in business throughout the commonwealth- how much power is she entitled to?

    • Jeff

      Absolute power! She has the ability to rescind business licenses! Shire, it’s delegated to an authority writhin the government, but she can exercise her power, and it will not be challenged…. Ultimately, whoever controls the military has absolute power, and she controls the military, without question! Every military person in every Commonwealth realm pledges allegiance to the queen, not to the country!
      Anyone who believes the citizens live in a free country, with a “ceremonial monarchy” are nothing more than sheep in the herd.

      • Christina Halasz-Lane

        Does she have the authority to order executions without due legal process or interfere in the distribution of private estate matters?

        • DavidL

          Of course not!!! She is not an absolute monarch – such as the Saudi King, only a constitutional monarch. She has no power to intervene in the law of the UK in such a way. The UK government abolished the death penalty in 1965. The queen cannot order executions – with or wthout due process (she couldn’t do so before the abolition either. Persons could only be sentenced to death by a judge after due process). What do you think this is, the Middle Ages? The last absolute monarch was probably Elizabeth I in the 16 Century. Where did you get such a crazy idea?

    • DavidL

      Don’t listen to Jeff. He is talking bull. I worked in the British Government for 40 years, so I do know a few things…The commonwealth nations are independent democracies. The queen does NOT run them or control them. Anyone who thinks she does has a thoroughly Hollywood idea of Royalty. Those countries have simply decided to retain the Queen as titular Head Of State. They could remove her as head of state any time they choose. The Queen does NOT issue or rescind business licences. That is the business of the government of the country concerned. As for the Queen being Head of the military, that is also an entirely misleading notion. Because the Queen is titular Head of State, the armed forces swear allegiance to her. BUT the directing of and issuing of orders too the armed forces are the business of the elected government officials (normally the Minister of Defence and his department) who give directions/orders to the military. The Queen has no direct involvement. “Jeff” is talking out of an orifice other than his mouth.

  • Don Toniki

    I believe the HRH Queen Elizabeth the second is not the most powerful person in Britian But the World She is the Commander in Chief of all her Realms an we in NZ swear allegiance to the Queen not the Government.So All armed forces and police Fireman Air force Navy and other government officials are under her command.Although she has not exercised this authority she has this power.So stick that Ceremonial stuff a side and remember she rules.The biggest armies Navies Air Forces in the World.!!!!

    • James Kearney

      Well said.

    • Trivandrumite

      Lol. US, Russia, China, India, and Israel will all kick the Queens ass if she tries to go to war with any of them.

  • Neetesh Sahu

    I wish i was born in this family…..
    sure next time with the name prince Richard !!! Mark it..!!!

  • Jeff

    Her majesty retains ultimate power over the United Kingdom, and largely over the Commonwealth realms. You should note in this article, items such as judicial powers are described as “having been delegated to judges and commisoners”. What that means is, the queen has the authority and power, she just so chooses to delegate the day to day decision making to subordinates, such as judges.
    Not unlike a corporate CEO would delegate responsibility to management, yet could overrule the managers decision at any time.
    Make NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, the UK is RULED by an absolute monarchy! The fact that the monarch chooses to allow the people a voice, through parliament does not mean anything with regards to absolute control. Heck, the prime minister is chosen by the queen, she chooses to select the prime minister with the most support, and the prime minister is well aware of this fact! If the queen wants something done, all she needs to do is send a private letter, and it wi be done, for the power she weilds is absolute and she will not be challenged, period!
    The only thing standing in the way of the queen, would be an all out revolt of the citizenry, not unlike the same risk as any other time in history. Placate the people just enough to prevent all out revolt, and she has nothing that stands between her, and absolute power!

  • Ted Martin

    The “Pardon” issue is used here in the states a lot by the President and governors. Often used actually.

  • Marc Dobine

    Damn the Queen have a lot on her plate and has more power then the President here in the 50 states he got.

    • Noa Crimes

      Sir, I do believe you need to learn proper grammar.

  • Kathy

    The “important thing in your democracy” is that she retains her prerogative powers as a means of ensuring no one seizes power from your democracy? Hell, she has seized the power. And you all allow it. It’s not a democracy, it’s an oligarchy.

    • LucaP

      it’s a kingdom…


  • Yeremie

    In general who has more power a king or queen?

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