Friday 21 August 2020

Demises of the Crown - Parliament and Council

In a previous blog, we discussed the effect of a Demise of the Crown on a General Election [1]. Here, we will instead discuss what happens in Parliament otherwise.

Historical Situation

Before 1707, it was held that the King was caput, principium, et finis of Parliament [2], and thus a Demise of the Crown would instantly put an end to a sitting Parliament. During the Hanoverian succession, this was felt to be quite inconvenient, if not actually dangerous. So the Succession to the Crown Act 1707 [3] was passed, section IV of which provided that

And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that this present Parliament, or any other Parliament which shall hereafter be summoned and called by Her Majesty Queen Anne, her heirs or successors, shall not be determined or dissolved by the death or demise of her said majesty, her heirs or successors, but such parliament shall, and is hereby enacted to continue, and is hereby empowered and required, if sitting at the time of such demise, immediately to proceed to act, notwithstanding such death or demise, for and during the term of six months, and no longer, unless the same be sooner prorogued or dissolved by such person to whom the Crown of this realm of Great Britain shall come, remain and be, according to the acts for limiting and settling the succession, and for the union above-mentioned; and if the said Parliament shall be prorogued, then it shall meet and sit on and upon the day unto which it shall be prorogued, and continue for the residue of the said time of six months, unless sooner prorogued or dissolved as aforesaid. 
and section V provided for an adjourned or prorogued Parliament to be recalled
And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if there be a Parliament in being, at the time of the death of Her Majesty, her heirs or successors, but the same happens to be separated by adjournment or prorogation, such Parliament shall immediately after such demise meet, convene and sit, and shall act, notwithstanding such death or demise, for and during the time of six months and no longer, unless the same shall be sooner prorogued or dissolved as aforesaid.
The sixth months provisions of these two sections have since been repealed, but otherwise this legislation is still in force [4]. The last time section V was used seems to be in 1901, where on the death of Queen Victora on January 20th, Parliament stood prorogued to February 14th. Both Houses assembled, without any royal writ or proclamation, on 23rd January.

The procedure on a Demise of the Crown during a dissolution has changed over time, as we discussed before.

The Accession Proclamation

In 1952 the order of events became slightly complicated due to Her Majesty being in Kenya, but the basic principles all remain unchanged. When Her Majesty's Government are informed [5] that the Sovereign has died, a series of legal and practical events need to occur.

First of all, the printing of a London Gazette Extraordinary, with a black border, needs to be arranged - one assumes by the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationary Office. For example, the London Gazette Extraordinary of 6th February 1952 [5bis]

Then, the Lord President of the Council [6][7] issues writs summoning all Privy Counsellors, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal [8], the Lord Mayor and Alderman of London, and the High Commissioners of the fifteen Commonwealth Realms, to an Accession Council to be held at St. James' Palace.

If all goes to plan, this will be before Parliament meets, but as we will see in 1952 the Council met slightly later than the usual Commons sitting time.

The Lord President announces the Sovereign's death, the Clerk of the Council reads the proclamation draft, and the senior officials who will go out onto the Friary Court balcony for it to be read will sign it. A series of other orders, notably ordering the Park and Tower guns to be fired, are also issued. It appears that, even if in the Realm, the new King is not present for this proceeding.

The Accession Proclamation itself has changed somewhat over the many centuries - the first in a modern-ish form seems to date from 1547, and the text in 1952 (for the first time mentioning the representatives of the Commonwealth) was
Whereas it hath pleased Almighty God to call to His mercy our late Sovereign Lord King George the Sixth of Blessed and Glorious Memory by whose Decease the Crown is solely and rightfully come to the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary : We, therefore, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of this Realm, being here assisted with these of His late Majesty's Privy Council, with representatives of other members of the Commonwealth, with other Principal Gentlemen of Quality, with the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and citizens of London, do now hereby with one Voice and Consent of Tongue and Heart publish and proclaim that the High and Mighty Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary is now, by the Death of our late Sovereign of happy Memory, become Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, to whom Her lieges do acknowledge all Faith and constant Obedience, with hearty and humble Affection: beseeching God, by whom Kings and Queens do reign, to bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy Years to reign over Us.

Given at St. James's Palace, this Sixth day of February in the year of our Lord One thousand nine hundred and fifty-two.
Modern practice is for the Accession Council to give directions for the proclamation to be formally read on a subsequent date once preparations can be made. We will return to that later.

This must also be published as a Supplement to the London Gazette Extraordinary, as was done on 7th February 1952 [9]

Normally certain other matters would be included here, but those had to wait for the Queen to return from Kenya. The Gazette notably lists all the members of the Accession Council who were present, so we can see inter alia, the names of the Lord High Chancellor, Viscount Simonds, the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, and so on.

On the 8th February 1952 the Privy Council reconvened [10]. The first proceeding was to hear Her Majesty make a declaration to the Council. Then, at their Lordships' [11] request, Her Majesty makes an Order-in-Council to have the Declaration published.

This being done, Her Majesty must then take the oath required by the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Act 1707 [12], viz. 
I, Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British dominions beyond the seas, Queen, Defender of the Faith, do faithfully promise and swear that I shall inviolably maintain and preserve the Settlement of the True Protestant Religion as established by the laws of Scotland in prosecution of the Claim of Right and particularly an Act entitled an Act for the Securing the Protestant Religion and Presbyterian Church Government and by the Acts passed in both Kingdoms for the Union of the two Kingdoms, together with the Government, Worship, Discipline, Rights and Privileges of the Church of Scotland.
Two signed instruments containing this oath are produced, one is kept in the Books of the Privy Council and the other sent to the Court of Session to be entered in the Books of Sederunt [13].

Separately, a meeting of the Privy Council without the Queen present is held to make an Order-of-Council (not in-Council) directing the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury to prepare forms of service to remember the deceased King.

This is all published in the London Gazette, again with black border (one page of signatures omitted here) [14]
Because in 1952 two meetings of the Council were required, this appeared as part of the usual Gazette printed on the following Tuesday.

Finally, it seems that it is also necessary for the Earl Marshal to give instructions about Full Mourning, which is done by a notice in the Gazette too [15]

Within Parliament

Normally, the Accession Council would meet first and then Parliament second, but in 1952 this did not quite occur. The overall effect was very minor, however. The Commons Journal for this day begins thusly [16]
Wednesday, 6th February, 1952

The House met at half an hour after Two of the clock.

It having pleased Almighty God to take to His Mercy Our late Most Gracious Sovereign Lord King George of blessed memory, who departed this life this morning at Sandringham House, the Prime Minister acquainted the House that His late Majesty's Most Honourable Prioivy Council and others would meet this day at Five of the clock.

Mr. Speaker left the Chair.
In the House, just before it was suspended until the Accession Council had concluded, the Prime Minister informed the House what had happened [17]
Mr. Speaker, the House will have learned with deep sorrow of the death of His Majesty King George VI. We cannot at this moment do more than record a spontaneous expression of our grief. The Accession Council will meet at 5 o'clock this evening, and I now ask you, Sir, to guide the House as to our duties.
After the Accession Council had concluded, the House resumed and members began taking the Oath of Allegiance. Just like at the start of a Parliament, it is required (here by custom not law) that MPs and Peers re-take the Oath of Allegiance on a Demise in the Crown. Recorded in the Journals thusly,
Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair at Seven of the clock.

And His late Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council and other having met, and having directed that Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh, be proclaimed Queen on Friday at Eleven of the clock by the Style and Title of Elizabeth the Second, Mr. Speaker first alone, standing upon the upper step of the Chair, took and subscribed the Oath required by Law.

This also provides a hint about the public reading of the proclamation: the Accession Council directed it be done on the Friday, two days after they had met.

The House does not meet for the dispatch of public business until after His Majesty's funeral, so the House met on the 7th February solely to take the Oath of Allegiance and for the Speaker to inform the House (and enter into the Journals) messages of condolence from other Parliaments and assemblies. For example, this from France

Profoundly moved by the death of His Majesty King George VI, I desire to express in the name of the National Assembly the deep sympathy felt by the deputies for our great ally in its mourning. Remembering the noble example of heroism given by the late King during the last war, I salute his memory with sadness and respect. I beg you to convey our sentiments of sympathy and affection to all your colleagues and also to convey to the Royal Family my most sincere personal sympathy.

Edouard Herriot.

In total 23 messages were received over the coming days and weeks, all entered in the Journals, from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Iceland, Japan, Peru, Chile, Indonesia, Sudan, Greece, Yugoslavia, Thailand, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Argentina, Germany (and Berlin separately), Austria, the Netherlands, Uruguay, and Ireland.  

On the 8th February the House was told that on Monday, 11th February, the next steps in the process of a Demise in the Crown would happen.

The Humble Address

The Journals for 12th February note that the Prime Minister personally delivered Her Majesty's message to the House [18]
The Prime Minister at the Bar, acquainted the House that he had a Message from Her Majesty to this House, signed by Her Majesty's own hand; and he presented the same to the House, and it was read out by Mr. Speaker as follows, (all the Members of the House being uncovered):

I know that the House of Commons mourns with me the untimely death of my dear Father. In spite of failing health he upheld to the end the ideal to which he pledged himself, of service to his Peoples and the preservation of Constitutional Government. He has set before me an example of selfless dedication which I am resolved, with God's help, faithfully to follow.
Historically, it was acceptable for an MP to wear a hat whilst sitting (but not when speaking), hence the reference to "all members being uncovered". Messages from the Queen are (as we will see) normally presented by the members of Her Majesty's Household. The device of having a senior minister appear at the Bar of the House and hand the message to the Speaker to be read is reserved for the most solemn matters.

Immediately, after a small number of speeches, the House resolved an Humble Address, as usual nemine contradicente,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty to convey to Her Majesty the deep sympathy felt by this House in the great sorrow which she has sustained by the death of the late King, Her Majesty's Father, of Blessed and Glorious Memory; 
To assure Her Majesty that His late Majesty's unsparing devotion to the Service of His Peoples and His inspiring example in the time of their greatest peril will always be held in affectionate and grateful remembrance by them; 
To express to Her Majesty our loyal devotion to Her Royal Person and our complete conviction that She will, with the Blessing of God, throughout Her Reign work to uphold the liberties and promote the happiness of all Her Peoples.

In addition, messages (not addresses) were sent to the now Her Majesty the Queen Mother and the dowager  Queen Mary

That a Message of condolence be sent to the Queen Mother tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her grief, which is shared by all its Members, and assuring Her of the sincere feelings of affection and respect towards Her Majesty which they will ever hold in their hearts.

That a Message of condolence be sent to Her Majesty Queen Mary tendering to Her the deep sympathy of this House in Her further affliction and assuring Her of the unalterable affection and regard in which Her Majesty is held by all its members.

The House then proceeded to the lying-in-state of the King in Westminster Hall, and after returning adjourned until after His Majesty's funeral.

Final Matters

Over the coming months various other matters needed to be dealt with, from renewing the Civil List to the beginning of preparations for the Coronation. Those are for another time.

The actual ceremonial reading of the Proclamation is recounted in the London Gazette but I am suddenly failing to find the link. I will replace this paragraph with a link when I do.

This blog was, in its way, surprisingly short - but that's because on a Demise in the Crown an awful lot happens in a very, very short space of time!


The usual note that material from the Gazette is available under the Open Government License and from the Journals and Hansard under the Open Parliament License applies.

[1] And I promised I would return to this some day. Well that day is today.
[2] Somewhere in Blackstone, my PDF is weirdly scanned and the page numbers don't make sense.
[3] 6 Ann. cap. 41 (that is the Act as enacted), confusingly listed as chapter 7 in certain printed editions (I hate it when that happens)
[4] Section IX also continues in force, and is the authority by which new monarchs can continue using their predecessors Great Seal until a new matrix is made.
[5] This is not going to turn into a discussion of London Bridge. Others have covered that in far more detail than is proper. I will however use Her Majesty's Government, etc., throughout because that's the status quo.
[6] Currently the Right Honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.
[7] The Privy Council Office have a wonderful web page about all this, I intend to cover things with the barest of detail compared to them.
[8] Whether this is still true post-1999 is unclear, but it certainly was true in the past.
[9] London Gazette, number 39457, pages 757 - 760; there are two pages of names after the one shown here and a final "God Save the Queen"
[10] If the Queen had not been abroad, instead She would have entered and the members of the Accession Council who were not Privy Counsellors would have departed. 
[11] Even non-Peers who are Privy Counsellors are Lords of the Council for certain phrases. Like this one!
[12] 1707 cap. 6 (Scots); which enactment is explicitly confirmed in the Acts of Union.
[13] I.e. the records of the court.
[15] London Gazette, number 39468, page 911
[16] Commons Journal, volume 207, number 34
[17] Commons Hansard, volume 495, column 943
[18] Commons Journal, volume 207, number 37

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