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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
32 incredible powers of Queen Elizabeth II you didn't know she had
Her Majesty may not wield the tyrannical powers of the British monarchs of old, but she's still not like you or me.
The historic "prerogative powers" of the Sovereign have been devolved largely to government ministers, but this still means that when the British government declares war, regulates the civil service, or signs a treaty, it is doing so only on her authority.
And she still wields some of these prerogative powers herself — as well as numerous other unique powers, ranging from the surprising to the utterly bizarre.
Today this tradition is observed during the annual "Swan Upping," in which swans in the River Thames are caught, ringed, and set free again as part of census of the swan population.
It's a highly ceremonial affair, taking place over five days. "Swan uppers" wear traditional uniforms and row upriver in six skiffs accompanied by the Queen's Swan Marker.
"The swans are also given a health check and ringed with individual identification numbers by The Queen's Swan Warden, a Professor of Ornithology at the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology," according to the Royal Family website.
The Sovereign also has dominion over all dolphins in British waters.
I feel obliged to point out this photo has been edited.
"Rule, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves," goes a classic British song — and this rule extends beneath the waves, too. The sovereign has dominion over a variety of aquatic animals in British waters.
The Queen still technically owns all the sturgeons, whales, and dolphins in the waters around the UK, in a rule that dates back to a statute from 1324, during the reign of King Edward II, according to Time.
According to the article: "This statute is still valid today, and sturgeons, porpoises, whales, and dolphins are recognised as 'fishes royal': when they are captured within 3 miles (about 5 km) of UK shores or wash ashore, they may be claimed on behalf of the Crown. Generally, when brought into port, a sturgeon is sold in the usual way, and the purchaser, as a gesture of loyalty, requests the honour of its being accepted by Elizabeth."
The law is still observed: In 2004, a Welsh fisherman was investigated by the police after catching a 10-foot sturgeon, the BBC reported at the time. The Scottish government also issuedguidance on the law in 2007, writing that "the right to claim Royal Fish in Scotland allows the Scottish Government (on behalf of the Crown) to claim stranded whales which are too large to be drawn to land by a 'wain pulled by six oxen.'"
Despite not being required to have a license, the Queen is comfortable behind the wheel, having learned to drive during World War II when she operated a first-aid truck for the Women's Auxillary Territorial Service. (As a result of the Queen's training, she can also change a spark plug, Time notes).
Queen Elizabeth II isn't afraid to show off her driving skills, either. In 1998, she surprised King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (then still a prince) by driving him around in her country seat of Balmoral.
Former British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles recounted the meeting in the Sunday Times: "As instructed, the crown prince climbed into the front seat of the front Land Rover, with his interpreter in the seat behind. To his surprise, the Queen climbed into the driving seat, turned the ignition and drove off. Women are not — yet — allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, and Abdullah was not used to being driven by a woman, let alone a queen."
Cowper-Coles continued: "His nervousness only increased as the Queen, an army driver in wartime, accelerated the Land Rover along the narrow Scottish estate roads, talking all the time. Through his interpreter, the crown prince implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead."
The Queen doesn't need a passport either.
AP Photo/Peter Kemp
Unlike other members of the Royal family, the Queen does not require a passport, as they are issued in her name. Despite this lack of travel documents, she has been abroad many times.
She has two birthdays.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip travel by carriage during her birthday parade.
When you're the British head of state, one birthday just isn't enough. The Queen's official birthday is celebrated on a Saturday in June, though her actual birthday is on April 21.
"Official celebrations to mark a sovereign's birthday have often been held on a day other than the actual birthday, particularly when the actual birthday has not been in the summer," according to the Royal Mint.
Both birthdays are celebrated in suitable style, too. Her actual birthday "is marked publicly by gun salutes in central London at midday," according to the official website of the British Monarchy. This includes "a 41-gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21-gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London." She celebrated her 80th birthday in 2006 "with a walkabout in the streets outside of Windsor Castle to meet well-wishers."
For her "official" birthday celebrations, meanwhile, she "is joined by other members of the Royal Family at the spectacular Trooping the Colour parade, which moves between Buckingham Palace, The Mall, and Horseguards' Parade."
Less a "power" and more a perk of the job, a private cash machine for use by the royal family is installed in the basement of Buckingham Palace. It's provided by Coutts, one of Britain's most prestigious — and exclusive — banks.
The Queen has her own personal poet.
Walnut Whippet/Flickr (CC)
Carol Ann Duffy.
The poet laureate is an honorary position in British society appointed by the Monarch to a poet "whose work is of national significance," according to the official website of the British Monarchy. When first the role was introduced, the appointee was paid £200 per year plus a butt of canary wine. Today the poet laureate is given a barrel of Sherry.
Carol Ann Duffy will hold the position until 2019.
She has to sign laws.
The Queen's consent is necessary to turn any bill into an actual law. Once a proposed law has passed both houses of Parliament, it makes its way to the Palace for approval, which is called "Royal Assent." The most recent British Monarch to refuse to provide Royal Assent was Queen Anne, back in 1708.
Royal Assent is different than "Queen's consent," in which the Queen must consent to any law being debated in Parliament that affects the Monarchy's interests (such as reforming the prerogative or tax laws that might affect the Duchy of Cornwall, for example). Without consent, the bill cannot be debated in Parliament.
Queen's consent is exercised only on the advice of ministers, but its existence provides the government with a tool for blocking debate on certain subjects if bills are tabled by backbench rebels or the opposition.
It has been exercised at least 39 times, according to documents released under the Freedom of Information act, including "one instance [in which] the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament," The Guardian reported in 2013.
She can create lords.
WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Queen gives the annual "Queen's Speech" at the House of Lords.
The Queen has the power to appoint Lords, who can then sit in Parliament, the upper house in Britain's legislative system. Like many other powers, this is exercised only "on the advice of" elected government ministers.
She doesn't have to pay tax (but she does anyway).
She does still play a part after an election, however, when she calls on the MP most able to form a government to do so.
This caused some worry ahead of the 2015 General Election. It once looked as if the Conservatives might not have a majority (but would be the largest party) and would try to form a government. Meanwhile, it was feasible that Labour could form a majority, despite having fewer seats, by entering into a coalition with multiple other parties.
In this situation, the Queen would have been stuck between a rock and a hard place. Every year, she opens Parliament with the Queen's speech, which lays out the government's plans. But to give David Cameron's speech would arguably be to tacitly endorse his government — while staying away would send the opposite message.
At one point, The Times was told by sources that she planned to "stay away" if Cameron failed to secure enough MPs, but the Palace later had an about-face. "Royal sources confirmed she would lead proceedings, even if there was a risk the speech would be overthrown the following week because the Tories had failed to muster enough backing from smaller parties," The Times subsequently reported.
Sure, they no longer ride around on horseback wooing maidens with their tales of valour, but Britain still retains knights. Like Lords, they are appointed by the Queen — and she knights them personally.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne arriving at a European Union finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg on June 19.
While the overwhelming majority of the Queen's prerogative powers are devolved to her ministers, there is one exception that allows her to wield power herself. Only "in grave constitutional crisis," the Sovereign can "act contrary to or without Ministerial advice." With no precedent in modern times, it's not clear what would actually constitute this, but the possibility remains.
The Queen holds the ability to fire the entire Australian government.
Getty Images/Michael Dunning
As the head of state in Australia, the Queen has certain powers over the government. In 1975, for example, the Queen's representative in the country at the time, Gov. Gen. Sir John Kerr, fired the prime minister in response to a government shutdown.
"[Kerr] appointed a replacement, who immediately passed the spending bill to fund the government, Max Fisher wrote in The Washington Post. "Three hours later, Kerr dismissed the rest of Parliament. Then Australia held elections to restart from scratch. And they haven't had another shutdown since."
In addition to the UK and Australia, the Queen is also the head of state in Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
All the above are Commonwealth Realms, or former British colonies. The British sovereign retains the position she holds in the United Kingdom, that of head of state. As in Britain, this is largely a ceremonial role from day to day.
She's the head of a religion.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Church of England, Britain's state religion first established after King Henry VIII split away from the Catholic Church in Rome in the 16th century.
An interesting side effect of this is that the Sovereign must be a confirmed member of Church of England. Catholics and those of other religions may not ascend to the British throne. If Prince Charles converted to Islam, for example, he would be unable to become king after Queen Elizabeth II dies.
She gets to give away special money to the elderly.
Freshly produced coins of 50 stotinki ($0.35), Bulgaria's equivalent of the 50-pence coin.
Maundy money is a special kind of silver coin the Queen gives away to pensioners every year at a UK cathedral every Easter in a special ceremony. The number of recipients corresponds with the Sovereign's age. This year, for example, she will be 89 when Easter rolls around, so she will give maundy money away to 89 pensioners.
The coins are technically legal tender, despite coming in unconventional 3-pence and 4-pence denominations. But given the coins' rare status, they tend not to enter general circulation.
She's also immune from prosecution.
All prosecutions are carried out in the name of the Sovereign, and she is immune from prosecution and cannot be compelled to give evidence in court.
"Although civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law, the Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law," according to official site of the Monarchy.
If the monarch did commit a grievance offence, he or she would almost certainly be forced to abdicate. There is at least one precedent of the Courts' prosecuting the Sovereign. In the 17th Century, King Charles I was tried for treason following the English Civil War. He said "no earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent." The Court disagreed and had him executed.
The Queen has the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn her ministers.
The Queen also has certain historic rights and privileges. John Kirkhope, a lawyer who successfully campaigned to have details of "Queen's consent" made public, provided Business Insider with a list of some of the stranger rights the Queen still holds.
Hungerford has to present a red rose to the Sovereign in exchange for its fishing and grazing rights.