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Thread: When did British Royal family become just a figurehead?

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    Second Lieutenant squid's Avatar

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    When did British Royal family become just a figurehead?

    Sorry, this is one of the blindspots I have in my historical knowledge.

    I know it was a gradual process that took centuries but at what point was the Brtish Royalty stripped of any trace of power.

    Did they still have any power during WWI or in Queen Victoria time?

  2. #2
    No.
    Cromwell and the American Independance war put the end to that question.

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    First Lieutenant Devil-D's Avatar

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    Nope, even Queen Victoria was almost completely a figurehead. It was a grudual slide following the installation of William and Mary by Parliament. Policy-making shifted from the monarch to the ever-rising position of Prime Minister, consolidated in the 19th century by Disraeli and Gladstone.

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    Looooooooove Leeeeeeeeetters celedhring's Avatar
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    I think the Glorious revolution of 1688 and the following bill of rights was a pretty big breaking point, though. After that the monarchs were forbidden to dispense with law, couldn't levy taxes or maintain an army without the parliament's approval, amongst other things.
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    Victoria.

    The Kings previous still had SOME power, even if it was seriously limited.
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    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    The last monarch to actually veto a piece of legislation was Queen Anne, in the early 18th century. (After the Glorious Revolution and Bill of Rights, incidentally).

    However, monarchs still had a lot of behind-the-scenes influence and power until fairly recent times. Even Queen Victoria - she may have left the actual running of the country to Gladstone, Disraeli, Palmerston, Salisbury et al, but you can bet that if she disapproved of a policy, she'd have a quiet word with the PM and that policy would quickly be changed...

    I'd actually say that the Abdication Crisis of 1936 was the moment when the monarchy finally lost all its political power.

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    Looooooooove Leeeeeeeeetters celedhring's Avatar
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    I didn't mean that the Glorious Revolution devoided the English Monarchy from power, far from that. But I think it was a turning point as it was the first time that the monarch was put *under* the empire of the law passed by the Parliament, thus losing his absolute power.
    And yes, I'm with you that the Abdication crisis was the last nail on the coffin.
    On a related note, wasn't Victoria actually able to oust Palmerston from office once?
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    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by celedhring
    I didn't mean that the Glorious Revolution devoided the English Monarchy from power, far from that. But I think it was a turning point as it was the first time that the monarch was put *under* the empire of the law passed by the Parliament
    Well, sort of...

    Quote Originally Posted by The English House of Commons, December 1648
    Whereas it is notorious that Charles Stuart, the now King of England... hath a wicked design totally to subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation, and in their place to erect an arbitrary and tyrannical government, and that... he hath prosecuted it with fire and sword, levied and maintained a civil war in the land, against the Parliament and kingdom: whereby this country hath been miserably wasted, the public treasure exhausted, trade decayed, thousands of people murdered, and infinite other mischiefs committed; for all which high and treasonable offences...be it enacted and ordained by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled...[that 150 named people] shall be and are hereby appointed and required to be Commissioners and Judges for the hearing, trying and judging of the said Charles Stuart.
    Or as Voltaire might have said, 'On ce pays-ci on le trouve bon de temps en temps de tuer un roi pour encourager les autres.'

    As for the monarch ousting a Prime Minister, wasn't there an episide of that kind in Australia under the reign of the present Queen?

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    On Probation The Patrician's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by StephenT
    As for the monarch ousting a Prime Minister, wasn't there an episide of that kind in Australia under the reign of the present Queen?

    Quite so, though it was the Guvna General that ousted Gough Whitlam back in 1974/5 because the opposition wouldn't provide supply in the senate though some conspiracies link it to CIA intervention. The GG of the time was an unstable alcoholic though and after the event both sides of politics vowed never to give the GG such power again by never blocking supply.

  10. #10
    Europa Universalis Boardgamer crooktooth's Avatar

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    The erosion of the Crown's power was a gradual process. It did start with a bang; the English Civil War of 1642-1648. Previous to the war, Charles I was trying to rule as an absolutist monarch, but he found he couldn't extract enough revenue using the Crown's traditional privileges to run the country. His task was complicated by a Scottish rising in 1639 against his Kirk policy, and an Irish rebellion in 1641 against the Ulster Plantations. He needed to fund two armies, so he called Parliament to raise revenue. Things got out of hand, he raised troops to suppress Parliament, and lost his war, his throne and his head. Parliamentary Supremacy Firmly Established.

    The Crown could no longer claim absolute power, but maintained lots of influence through traditional privilege, patronage, Irish revenues, and various odds and ends. The unseating of Charles I's Catholic son, James II, in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, however, confirmed the verdict of the Civil War; the Crown was subject to the law, not the source of law. The Hanoverian succession of 1715, coupled with the "1715" Jacobite rising (in the name of James II's son, the Old Pretender), pushed much of the Crown's remaining privileges into the hands of the leaders of Parliament. The process was aided by the fact that the monarch who took the throne from James II was William of Orange, Stadholder of Holland, who spent most of his time managing his Dutch affairs and leading armies unsuccessfully on the Continent against the French troops of Louis XIV. William's first successor was Queen Anne, who was more hands-on, but not very sensible. Anne was succeeded by the first two Hanoverian monarchs (George I and George II). They both were German by language, culture and inclination; they left much of the day-to-day running of the Royal Establishment in the hands of Prime Ministers like Walpole, Peel, and the like. England became more and more accustomed to having all major government decisions made by the leaders of Parliament, rather than by the monarchs.

    It wasn't until George III assumed the throne (in 1757?) that England finally received a monarch native in culture and engaged in the affairs of the nation. George III had a good start with British victories in the Seven Years War. But success went to his head, and his bull-headedness with his American colonials sparked the disastrous War of American Independence. The subsequent British defeat drove George III insane. His wastrel son, George IV, assumed the Regency, but again left the realm's affairs in the hands of Prime Ministers such as the William Pitts (Elder & Younger).

    George IV had no legitimate children; his younger brother William IV took the throne. William also died without issue, so their neice Victoria became Queen.

    By now, we are 200 years after the English Civil War. In those 200 years, decent monarchs were few and far between; only Charles II and William III even come close, and each had his own peculiar handicaps (Charles II was secretly Catholic, and William III more Dutch than English). The Prime Ministership, on the other hand, had seen such outstanding personalities as Peel, Walpole and the Pitts (not to mention the Duke of Wellington). Under Victoria, the run of fabulous PM's continued, with Palmerston, Disraeli and Gladstone. Victoria followed tradition by deferring to her PM's. She would have assumed direct rule only if her husband, Prince Albert, had insisted, but Albert saw the virtues of a Constitutional Monarchy and encouraged her trust in the existing system. His early death prompted Victoria to remove herself from public life, again serving to enshrine the PMs' authority.

    The decline in the influence of the Throne was a gradual process, prompted as much by circumstance as by the wisdom of Britain's governing elite. Given the fate of Europe's other great monarchies (Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Bourbon), the British Royal Family likely considers itself lucky to retain the station it occupies today.
    Last edited by crooktooth; 15-06-2004 at 19:43.
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  11. #11
    What is this, treason? Her Majesty rules the nation, T. Blair is the figurehead.

  12. #12
    Lt. General CoolElephant's Avatar

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    I remember that at least during the time of George III the King had a great deal of power. He could appoint colonial governors, English cabinet members, some judges, and even held alot of power over the prime ministers. Not to mention, he had some military authority. Now is this true, or yankee propoganda?
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  13. #13
    George III still had some power, but he realised that his powers had decayed a great deal since 1688. In my opinion, the house of Hannover and it's German minded rulers allowed royal power in England to slip into almost nothing, and massively enhanced the position of Prime Minister. He spent a lot of his time while sane trying to restore royal powers back, but failed.

    Of course, the constitutional monarchy of 1688 already limited the Monarchy's powers, but it was still a real source of power. During the reign of the Hannoverians, parliament went from being a very important governmental institution to being supreme.

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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    The Royal family have not been stripped of all real power it's just rarely used that's all.

    All laws still require royal assent, although I think Queen Victoria was the last monarch to consider actually refusing to sign a law.

    The Prime Minister still has to meet the monarch regularly where they discuss government policy. This is not just a cup of tea and a biscuit. The Queen is an expert on anything governmental and if our press are to be believed sessions with Thatcher were quite stormy.

    The Queen actually chose the Prime Minister once. I think this happened when Churchill died and the Conservatives at that time had no mechanism for electing a new leader and so the Queen had to choose between two candidates.

    Something similar happened in Australia when the Governor General (the Queen's representative) intefered in Aussie politics and removed a serving Prime Minister. I don't understand this completely but suffice it to say this is a touchy subject with Aussie Republicans.
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    Hürriyet ve İtilaf Fırkası Kurdistani's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy
    All laws still require royal assent, although I think Queen Victoria was the last monarch to consider actually refusing to sign a law.
    I believe the law she refused was one regarding lesbians.... She out lawed male homosexuality... but refused to believe that women did such things... ah if only she could have used the internet.....

    Quote Originally Posted by Gordy
    The Queen actually chose the Prime Minister once. I think this happened when Churchill died and the Conservatives at that time had no mechanism for electing a new leader and so the Queen had to choose between two candidates.
    It was not after Churchhill (Eden was after him).... I believe it was Harold Macmillian who used to Queens right to select a Prime Minister (on the current PMs recommandation) to rig the Tory succession and allow Halifax to become PM...
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    Officially ancient Gordy's Avatar

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    I believe you are correct on both counts.
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    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    The way I heard it, it wasn't that Victoria actually vetoed the bill on lesbians - it was more that none of her ministers dared to suggest it to her...

    As I posted earlier, the last actual, formal veto of a law by a monarch was by Queen Anne. This was in 1707, and the bill itself concerned the Scottish militia.

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    Liberté, egalité, fraternité StephenT's Avatar
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    Oh, and for 'Halifax' I suspect Kurdistani meant to post 'Douglas Home.'

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    Quote Originally Posted by crooktooth
    His wastrel son, George IV, assumed the Regency, but again left the realm's affairs in the hands of Prime Ministers such as the William Pitts (Elder & Younger).
    And here I thought all the power was being weilded by his butler.
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