British American Group

Head of State and Government

Posted on: November 17, 2006

Britain’s Head of State is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen celebrated her 50th year on the throne February 6th, 2002.

As a Princess, Elizabeth never expected to become queen. Her father Albert, the Duke of York, was the younger brother of Prince Edward, the heir to the throne. Edward was expected to marry and produce an heir of his own. Any of his children would naturally outrank those of his younger brothers.

However, Edward never married… until Mrs. Wallis Simpson came along. The notorious support for Hitler and the love for divorcee Wallis made Edward an undesirable king. The British government cringed at his antics and regarded Mrs. Simpson as dangerous. She had a habit of talking to the German embassy about England’s Parliamentary cabinet meetings, the contents of which were relayed to her by Edward himself.

The idea of Wallis as a wife or Queen was rejected by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin and the Dominion governments. Their support for Hitler was met with outrage, and Edward was urged to abdicate in favor of his younger brother Albert. In 1936 Edward signed the Instrument of Abdication, making Albert King George VI. Little Elizabeth became the heir to the throne.

After the strain of WWII, His Majesty King George VI died February 6, 1952. Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II at the tender age of 25 years old. Her son Charles became the heir to the throne. She created him Prince of Wales in 1969.


The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, have 4 grown children: Charles, Anne, Andrew, and Edward. They will celebrate their 60th (Diamond) wedding anniversary in 2007 with their children and 7 grandchildren.


Her Majesty carries out hundreds of official engagements every year – but it’s all in a day’s work for the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. In 1998, for example, the Queen had a total of 440 engagements on native soil and 55 overseas visits. A lot of visits around the country and overseas give Elizabeth the chance to meet people from various backgrounds.

The Queen also attends many meetings with the government, including government ministers in the Privy Council and the Prime Minister, and gives audiences to foreign and British ambassadors. Elizabeth contends with truckloads of paperwork, consisting of letters from supporters of monarchy, government officials, and the top secret papers in the “red boxes” – Government and Commonwealth policy documents and other State papers – which arrive every day of the year, wherever she is. She even “does the boxes” at her holiday residence of Balmoral.

The Queen cannot just rule arbitrarily. She conducts weekly meetings with the Prime Minister – usually on Tuesdays – to see what is happening in the government and the general political goings on. She, on almost all matters, acts on the advice of the government of the day. Her Majesty is only a constitutional monarch, meaning she does not have absolute rule over her country. She must take Parliament’s and other members of government’s views into consideration.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the supreme legislative institution in the United Kingdom, as well as British overseas territories. At its head is the Sovereign; then there’s the Upper House (the House of Lords) and the Lower House (the House of Commons).

The House of Lords has two types of members: the Lords Spiritual, who are the senior clergy of the Church of England, and the Lords Temporal, the members of the Peerage. This house is an unelected body. The House of Commons, however, IS an elected chamber.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons meet in the Palace of Westminster, set in the British capital city of London (and the borough of Westminster).

Parliament evolved from the ancient council which advised the Sovereign. In theory, power is vested not in Parliament, but in the “Queen-in-Parliament” (or “King-in-Parliament”). The Queen-in-Parliament is often said to be a completely sovereign authority but in today’s modern times, the real power lies in the hands of the democratically elected House of Commons; the Queen today acts only in a ceremonial capacity and the powers of the House of Lords are greatly limited.

NEXT: Saints and Emblems


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