I quote three excerpts from the same article in Wikipedia:

Though the ultimate executive authority over the government is still formally by and through the royal prerogative, these powers may only be used according to laws enacted in Parliament and, in practice, within the constraints of convention and precedent.

This seems to imply that the government fulfill, as it were, the will of royal prerogative by legislating.

Next paragraph:

The authority to use the sovereign's formal powers is almost all delegated, either by statute or by convention, to ministers or officers of the Crown, or other public bodies. Thus the acts of state done in the name of the Crown, such as Crown Appointments, even if personally performed by the monarch, such as the Queen's Speech and the State Opening of Parliament, depend upon decisions made elsewhere.

Once again, this implies to me that the ministers and other public bodies are appropriating the sovereign's inherent authority.

However, see paragraph No. 3:

Although the royal prerogative is extensive and parliamentary approval is not formally required for its exercise, it is limited. Many Crown prerogatives have fallen out of use or have been permanently transferred to Parliament.

So which is it? does the crown still retain symbolic authority, with (almost) all practical power in the hands of the government? Or is even the symbolic authority no longer in the hands of the monarch?

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    If it's symbolic, it doesn't matter anyway. That is the definition of symbolic, or not? Jun 15, 2022 at 5:58
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    Most executive authority in western nations is symbolically lodged in someone or some thing - e.g a flag, a constitution, the corpus known anodynely as "the people", or - in countries that are still monarchies - the crown. In the UK criminal actions are listed as Crown versus Jones, in the US as People versus Jones - but to all intents they amount to the same thing. For an answer to "What is a sovereign?" read Hobbes Leviathan, published 1651.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2022 at 7:44
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    Can you clarify what you mean by "symbolic authority"? I'm afraid I don't understand the question. Jun 15, 2022 at 8:32
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    @SteveMelnikoff well clearly what is meant is not actual or real authority, but merely an appearance of authority. Vast numbers of government institutions are in Britain prefaced HM e.g HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue Commissioners - who levy and manage taxes), HM Prison - Wormwood Scrubs, and unbelievably "The Keeper of the Queen's Swans" whose job is to ensure the protection of swans. The swans do not literally belong to the Queen, but symbolically they do and are protected.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:34
  • @Trilarion Symbolic power can have practical ramifications. I'll admit I can't think of any but imagine, for argument's sake, some religious ritual requires the act of a ruling monarch (outside the powers of royal prerogative). Would a symbolic act by HM suffice? Or even on a symbolic level, no act performed by the queen would have any significance? Jun 15, 2022 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


There are three parties involved here, not two. The three parties are the monarch, the government (prime minister) and parliament.

The power struggle between monarch and parliament permeatues English/British history. Parliament acquired more and more powers, often at least in a semi-codified way. The existence of a clearly defined group of ministers forming a government came later. These were chosen by the monarch initially (and taken to be on the side of the monarch in whatever powerstruggles there might be), with the requirement for parliament consent only coming later.

The current situation is that the monarch has lost a lot of their power to parliament (enough to make the UK a consitutational monarchy anyway). "Royal prerogative" describes powers the monarch retains vis-a-vis parliament. However, in a secondary development the monarch has also surrendered control over actually wielding this power to the government.

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    Please also add some references. Jun 15, 2022 at 9:05
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    @Trilarion I hadn't decided whether to use "lost" or "surrendered". I've removed "lost" now. Last paragraph removed for now, I'll see whether I can revise the formulation and readd eventually.
    – Arno
    Jun 15, 2022 at 9:47
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    @User65535 All that that article seemed to me to do was indicate that the Queen has prime lobbying power with the government about anything which affects her or her family. It is perhaps not unreasonable that if the Queen is expected assent to Acts of Parliament, which she is so expected - albeit symbolically - that she should be advised about ones that are in the pipeline. I would be seriously concerned if she refused assent to an Act, but I think the last monarch to do that was Queen Anne, who died in 1714 - long before there was such a thing as a USA.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2022 at 10:29
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    The Guardian is a good newspaper, but like all journalism it earns it living with eye-catching headlines.
    – WS2
    Jun 15, 2022 at 10:32
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    (2) Influence: that's not a formal power, merely a side effect of the fact that she's the Queen, and gets to speak to the PM on a regular basis. Obviously it's debatable whether the monarch should be able to lean on the PM in that way; but it's different from the many de jure powers that monarch has, but no longer exercises personally. Jun 15, 2022 at 12:44

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