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The sixth months provisions of these two sections have since been repealed, but otherwise this legislation is still in force [4].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

Sunday 16 August 2020

The Death of a Speaker

 Wednesday, 3rd March, 1943 in the House of Commons [1][2]

Mr. Deputy Speaker, being informed of Mr. Speaker's death, left the Chair.

The Serjeant laid the Mace under the Table : and the Clerk Assistant, at the Table, acquainted the House that it was with extreme sorrow that he had to inform them that Mr. Speaker died this afternoon.

A Motion being made, That this House do now adjourn until Tuesday next - (Mr. Secretary Eden);

The Clerk Assistant, by direction of the House, put the Question, which being agreed to, the House adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes before Three of the clock, till Tuesday next.

As I have tweeted (and said) before, I think these four short paragraphs are the most sombre entries in any of the centuries of the records of the House of Commons, this being the only time a Speaker has died while the House was actually sitting [3]. Here follows the story of what happened next.

The Right Honourable Captain Edward Algernon FitzRoy, JP, DL, MP

Mr. Speaker FitzRoy had first entered the Commons for South Northamptonshire [4] in 1900. He lost the seat in 1906, regaining it in 1910, before switching to Daventry in 1918 when on a boundary change South Northamptonshire was abolished [5], which he represented until his death. A guards officer during the First World War, he was wounded in action whilst still a sitting MP.

After the war, he was elected Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (and thus a Deputy Speaker) in 1924. And in 1928 he was elected as Speaker when Mr. Speaker Whitley [6] resigned due to ill health.

By all accounts he was a good Speaker. However, his health was also failing. It had been the case for several weeks that each morning in the Commons had begun, not with Mr. Speaker taking the chair, but instead an announcement by the Clerk [7]

The Clerk Assistant, at the Table, informed the House of the unavoidable absence, through indisposition, of Mr. Speaker from this day's sitting: -

Whereupon Colonel Clifton Brown, the Chairman of Ways and Means, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

The Standing Order referred to is still extant, but now finds form as paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 3 [8]

Whenever the House shall be informed by the Clerk at the Table of the unavoidable absence or the absence by leave of the House of the Speaker, or where paragraph (3) of this order applies, the Chairman of Ways and Means shall perform the duties and exercise the authority of the Speaker in relation to all proceedings of this House, as Deputy Speaker, until the Speaker resumes the chair or, if he does not resume the chair during the course of the sitting, until the next meeting of the House, and so on from day to day, on the like information being given to the House, until the House shall otherwise order:

Provided that if the House shall adjourn for more than twenty-four hours the Chairman of Ways and Means shall continue to perform the duties and exercise the authority of Speaker, as Deputy Speaker, for twenty-four hours only after such adjournment.

The daily announcement then served to, in effect, renew the Chairman of Ways and Means' authority to act. (Nothing turns on paragraph (3) for our purposes). 

The 3rd of March

3rd March began with a similar announcement. A sign of the sudden nature of the announcement can be seen by looking at the Hansard of the ensuing proceeding - which was a motion to go into the Committee of Supply, and a debate was occurring on a statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty [9] about naval affairs. 

Lieutenant-Commander Brabner [10], the member for Hythe was speaking when Hansard (with an em-dash) records him being cut off mid sentence [11]

This is something which has news value, and I believe these men ought to have had their story told at that particular time—

And the Clerk made his announcement. This is necessary because, without a Speaker, the House is not fully constituted (hence why the Serjeant-at-Arms put the Mace under the Table,  as it is on the first day of a Parliament before the Speaker is elected) and so the debate could not continue.

In addition, if there is no Speaker, then the authority - and indeed the appointment too - of the Deputy Speakers ceases, hence why the Chairman of Ways and Means left the Chair.

Today, one might assume that pursuant to Standing Order No. 1, the Father of the House would take the Chair. However, a careful reading of that Standing Order implies it would only be applicable on the day (or days) on which the election of the Speaker is held.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden [12], on moving the adjournment (for there was little else the House could practically do) said [13]

The news which the House has just received will be felt, I think, as a tragic personal blow to each one of us. The Speaker was not only a great Speaker, but also he was a man whom every Member of the  House had come to regard as a personal friend. In that light, perhaps, most of all we shall always  remember him. This, as the House knows, is not the moment for the tributes which will in due course be paid, but I think I shall be expressing the feelings of every Member if now, on behalf of the House, I send a message of bur deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to Mrs. FitzRoy and to the family in the loss which, though it, is nearer to them than to us, is a loss which we the House of Commons feel also. 

[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Meanwhile, in their Lordships' House, a debate on aid to China was underway when the Lord Cecil [14] interrupted proceedings to announce [15]

My Lords, I have just heard the most distressing news that Mr. Speaker passed away at two o'clock this afternoon. I cannot help thinking that your Lordships would feel it most inappropriate that this House should continue in session in the circumstances. I would therefore most respectfully suggest to the House that we should immediately adjourn, and that on the next sitting day we should pass a formal vote of sympathy with Mr. Speaker's widow and relations.

A few moments later, on the motion of Viscount Cranbourne [16], the House was adjourned. This itself was a singularly exceptional courtesy for the Lords to extend to the "other place", but more was to follow.

The 4th of March

Viscount Cranbourne opened proceedings in the Lords (the Commons being adjourned till the next week) [17]
My Lords, we meet to-day in the shadow of a melancholy event, an event almost unprecedented in Parliamentary history. Yesterday, as your Lordships know, Mr. Speaker died at his house in the Palace of Westminster.

His Lordship then moved that a message of condolence be sent to the Commons, which the Lords had never previously done when a Speaker died [18]

Moved, That a Message be sent to the Commons to express to that House the profound sympathy of the House of Lords on the loss which the House of Commons has sustained by the death of a Speaker who will long be remembered with affection and regard for the distinction with which he discharged the duties of his office.

And like a Humble Address to the King, the motion was agreed nemine dissentiente.

The 9th March

Pursuant to their resolution the previous week, the Commons reassembled to elect a new Speaker. The House still not being properly constituted, [19]

Hon. Members having repaired to their seats, the Sergeant at Arms (Brigadier Howard [20]), came with the Mace, and, laid it under the Table.
However, the House can not proceed to an election without the approval of the King, which Mr. Eden signified

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden): 

(addressing himself to the Clerk of the House, who, standing up, pointed to him, and then sat down): Sir Gilbert Campion, I have to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the death of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, late Speaker of this House, gives leave to the House to proceed forthwith to the choice of a new Speaker.

This was before the modern Standing Order No. 1, and consequently, the Clerk of the House selected members to speak but himself had not power to actually do or say anything. Hence the pointing. 

Sir Douglas Clifton-Brown, who as Chairman of Ways and Means had been in the Chair when Mr. Speaker FitzRoy died, was elected Speaker without a division. Mr. Speaker Clifton-Brown then received the Royal Approbation in the usual way the same day.

The 10th March

The day was broadly an ordinary sitting day, except that as an early item of public business, Mr. Eden moved that the House express its sympathies with Mr. Speaker FitzRoy's family and recorded it's admiration for him for being their chair during the exigencies of the war. [21]
That this House places on record its sense of the great loss which it has sustained by the death of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, Speaker of this House, who during a period of more than fourteen years, of which the last three and a half years have been charged with unprecedented dangers to this Realm, fulfilled the duties of his high office both in peace and war with ability, authority and impartiality; that this House recognises that, by his judgment, firmness and unremitting attention to the business of Parliament and to the manifold duties of his office, he maintained in full degree the dignity and privileges of this House; and that this House desires to convey to Mrs. FitzRoy and to the members of the family an expression of the very deep sympathy which this House feels for them in their grievous loss.

And a motion for an Humble Address not, as is usual, to honour Mr. Speaker but instead his widow

That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying His Majesty that He will be most graciously pleased to confer some signal mark of. His Royal Favour upon the family of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, late Speaker of this House, for his eminent services during the important period in which he presided with such ability and dignity in the Chair of this House

Both of which were again agreed nemine contradicente, which Mr. Speaker Clifton-Brown decided to make clear for posterity

I feel sure that the House would like me to direct that it be entered on the records of this House that the Motion was carried nemine contradicente.

The message from the Lords was then considered. Earl Winterton [22], the member for Horsham and Worthing, noted the significance of it [23]

May I raise a point about the Lords Message? As far as I know, it is quite unprecedented and a most graceful and grateful action on the part of another place to pass a Resolution of that kind. May I ask the Leader of the House whether it is intended to take any notice of it?

On another motion by Eden [24], the Commons formally replied to their Lordships

That this House desires to express its sense of grateful appreciation to the House of Peers for their Message conveying their profound sympathy on the loss which this House has sustained by the death of Mr. Speaker FitzRoy.

The 16th March

Before questions, as is customary for messages from the King, the Vice-Chamberlain of His Majesty's Household [25] reported His Majesty's reply to the Humble Address

I have received your Address praying that I will confer some signal mark of my Royal Favour upon the family of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, late Speaker of the House of Commons, for his eminent services during the important period in which he presided with such ability and dignity in the Chair of your House. 
I have the highest sense of the long services and great merit of Captain the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, your late Speaker, and will comply with your wishes.

The 30th March

A new writ was moved for the Daventry constituency, which I mention only because it then became caught up in a minor, simmering, dispute about the out of date electoral registers. After a division, the writ was issued.

The 3rd May

The King put these words into action on 3rd May by making the late Speaker's widow a Viscountess suo iure, as recorded in the London Gazette on the 4th May [26]

Whitehall, May 4, 1943.

The King has been pleased, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm, bearing date the 3rd instant, to confer the dignity of a Viscounty of the United Kingdom upon Muriel FitzRoy, C.B.E., widow of the Right Honourable Edward Algernon FitzRoy, late Speaker of the House of Commons, and the heirs male of her body lawfully begotten, by the name, style and title of Viscountess Daventry, of Daventry, in the County of Northampton.

The remainder there provides [27] that after Lady Daventry, the Viscounty descends like a normal Peerage to heirs male only. It was also the rule at the time that Peeresses suo iure could not sit in the Lords [28], so Lady Daventry could not take up a seat in the Lords. Her son, however, did take up the seat on 5th December 1962.

On 2nd September 1962, another Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, died in office. But at the time the House was adjourned for the Summer recess. A somewhat shorter story for a future blog.


Usual note that the text of Hansard and the London Gazette are available under the Open Parliament and Open Government Licenses respectively (though there is no practical divergence between them, I understand).

[1] Who were actually sitting in the chamber of the House of Lords

[2] Commons Journal, Volume 198, No. 37

[3] A few have died during periodic adjournments and prorogations.

[4] A wonderfully confusing name for a constituency.

[5] It has since been revived.

[6] John Henry Whitley, PC. Whitely decline the customary Peerage. Mr. Speaker Bercow is the only other Speaker (except those who died) since 1789 not to be called up to the House of Peers on retirement.

[7] In the era before Deputy Speakers (a surprisingly recent nineteenth century innovation) it was generally accepted that the House could not meet with the Speaker being present.

[8] It transpires what is now paragraph (2) is identical to the original Standing Order passed on 20th July 1855, see Commons Journal, volume 110, page 401.

[9] Albert Victor Alexander, later the 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough. Only one more person who was not a member of the Royal Family,  the Earl of Stockton, has been created an Earl since.

[10] As he then was. Later he retired as Commander Rupert Arnold Brabner, D.S.O., D.S.C., R.N., and was also a confirmed flying ace.

[11] Commons Hansard, volume 387,  column 611

[12] As he then was. Later to be Prime Minister, and later still was created Earl of Avon. His widow, the Countess of Avon (and née Spencer-Churchill too) is still alive - our past is so very often among us.

[13] Commons Hansard ibid.

[14] Hansard says this was "Lord Cecil" but I have failed entirely to work out who it actually is. If someone who has access to the bound volumes could check if the online version has just gone wonky I will be most obliged.

[15] Lords Hansard, volume 126, column 421.

[16] Later Robert Arthur James Gascoyne-Cecil, the 5th Marquess of Salisbury, K.G., P.C., D.L., F.R.S., he was at this time sitting by Writ of Acceleration in his father's Barony of Essendon, and was known in the House by his courtesy title of Viscount Cranbourne.

[17] Lords Hansard, ibid. column 423.

[18] ibid., next column.

[19] Commons Hansard, volume 387, column 613

[20] This is Brigadier Sir Charles Howard, G.C.V.O., D.S.O. In 1957, the then Lord Privy Seal moved that the House ask the then Speaker to convey the House's admiration for him on his retirement, see Commons Hansard, volume 563, columns 53-5. He served the House from October 1935 to January 1957.

[21] ibid., column 693

[22] This is Edward Turnour, the 6th Earl Winteron. Winterton being a title in the Peerage of Ireland, it did not come with a seat in the House of Lords, and consequently he was able to be elected an MP. Winterton became Father of the House in 1945.

[23] ibid, column 698

[24] Actually a pair of motions, one to consider the message forthwith and another to reply.

[25] At the time, William Boulton DL MP, the member for Sheffield Central. In 1944 he was created Sir William Whytehead Boulton, Baronet.

[26] London Gazette, issue 36002, page 2011, 4th May 1943

[27] And I have always found this an admixture of curious and a bit silly.

[28] This was changed by the Peerage Act 1963 (cap. 48)

Saturday 15 August 2020

The day the Commons went to Church - V-J Day in Parliament


This was briefly covered at the end of my third article about the process of declaring war. Here it is in some more detail.

The Thirty-Eighth Parliament of the United Kingdom

The thirty-seventh Parliament, which had sat for ten years [1] was prorogued on 15th June 1945, and then dissolved by proclamation later the same day, the proclamation being in the usual words. The thirty-eighth Parliament was summoned to meet on the 1st August.

As we know, the Labour Party led by Clement Attlee won a landslide victory. However, the war in the East was still underway - indeed, Churchill had shared details of this with Attlee [3]. It was in this atmosphere, of a distant, inexorable, war that Parliament assembled on 1st August.

The Hansard for that day seems to be missing. But we see in the journals the usual procedures [4], which I will somewhat abbreviate since a voluminous other blog covers them well. As usual the Commons were summoned to the House of Lords to be directed by the Lords Commissioners to choose a Speaker and present him the next day. Without the Hansard I don't know what speeches were given on Sir Douglas Clifton-Brown's election as Speaker.

Mr. Speaker-Elect was given the Royal Approbation the next day, as usual, and the House proceeded to the business of taking the Oath of Allegiance.

In the Lords, an unusual occurrence that will now (with the creation of the post of Lord Speaker) never been repeated occurred. In the Lords Hansard for the 1st August we see the slightly curious line
The Right Honourable Sir William Allen Jowitt, K.C., having been appointed Lord Chancellor, sat Speaker.
Sir William was the new Lord Chancellor but was not, yet, a Peer. So the constitutional curiosity that the Woolsack is not actually part of the Lords chamber was resorted to and he sat as Speaker without being a member of the House.

The next day, the special procedure by which a Lord Chancellor is introduced as a Peer, occurred. Viscount Addison [5] was the new Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and Leader of the House of Lords.
Viscount Addison:

My Lords, I have to acquaint the House that His Majesty has been pleased to create the Right Honourable Sir William Allen Jowitt, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, a Peer of this Realm by the title of Baron Jowitt of Stevenage in the County of Hertford.

The Lord Chancellor, having retired to robe, was (in the usual manner) introduced.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.
But where was each House sitting?

Places of Sitting

The Commons chamber was bombed out on 10th May 1941. Since then, the Commons had been sitting in the chamber of the House of Lords, and their Lordships in a makeshift Chamber in the Robing Room [7]. It was desired, however, to return this year to a State Opening with the full (or full-ish) ceremonial. Therefore a temporary re-arrangement was necessary.

To that end, on 3rd August, quite exceptionally, the Lords Commissioners summoned the Commons for a third time, whereupon the Lord Chancellor told them [8]
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, we have it further in command from His Majesty to acquaint you that the causes of His Majesty's calling this Parliament will be declared to you on Wednesday, the 15th day of this instant August, in the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting and not in the present Parliament Chamber, and that for this purpose His Majesty has directed that the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting be made ready for the House of Peers, and St. Stephen's Hall for the House of Commons.

And we have it further in command from His Majesty to declare that it is His Majesty's pleasure that as soon as may be after the causes of the calling of this Parliament have been declared, the chamber assigned to the House of Commons as their temporary place of sitting be again made ready for the House of Commons, for the better and more convenient transacting of their business, and that His Majesty has been pleased to give directions accordingly.
So the Commons would temporarily sit on the site of its historic meeting place, St. Stephen's, and the Lords would temporarily have their Chamber back (and thus His Majesty could deliver the speech from beneath the Cloth of Estate [9])

Both Houses then adjourned until the 15th. And as we know, following the first use, and indeed only, use of nuclear weapons in wartime, Japan surrendered that day.

The State Opening

On the 15th the Commons assembled in St. Stephen's Hall, and were commanded to attend the King by Black Rod as usual. A hint of the momentous import of the day can be found in the first line of His Majesty's Speech [10]
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

The surrender of Japan has brought to an end six years of warfare which have caused untold loss and misery to the world. In this hour of deliverance, it is fitting that we should give humble and solemn thanks to God by whose grace we have been brought to final victory.
The rest of the speech set out the new government's legislative programme. Which was about the only normal thing to happen this day.

The Commons returned to St. Stephen's Hall, and the House was (pursuant to resolutions made on the 3rd) suspended until 4 o'clock, and then the House adjourned back into what was the chamber of the House of Lords (their Lordships having likewise moved back into the Robing Room). 

Normally, at this point, the Speaker would report that the House had "been in the House of Peers, where His Majesty was pleased to make a Most Gracious Speech from the Throne to both Houses of Parliament" (or words to like effect). 

Instead, the Prime Minister rose, and said [11]
Mr. Speaker, at midnight last night the terms of the Japanese surrender were announced to the world. The House will, I trust, bear with me while I repeat them, for I feel that it is fit and proper that they should be for ever on record in the annals of this ancient and honourable House. 

there then followed the exact terms, which I will omit. The Prime Minister then proposed that the normal ceremonial order of things be replaced [12]

But this departure from our time-honoured procedure involves certain alterations of Business. Instead of taking into consideration the Gracious Speech from the Throne to-day, I suggest that we should, on returning, after Mr. Speaker has read the Gracious Speech, consider an Address of Congratulation to His Majesty which I will propose.

And the Prime Minister then moved that, [13]

That this House do now attend at the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, to give humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God on the victorious conclusion of the war.

(A consequence of which was that the Sessional Orders were not moved until the next day either).

And so the Commons as a House went to St. Margaret's.

Meanwhile, in the upper house, Viscount Addison moved 

That this House do attend this day at Westminster Abbey to give thanks to Almighty God on the occasion of the cessation of hostilities by the surrender of Japan to the Allied Nations

In the Commons, it is recorded that

Question put, and agreed to nemine contradicente.

and in the Lords as (the two Latin terms being essentially equivalent here)
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.

An exceptional form of words, normally reserved for the motions for Humble Addresses to the King. 

St. Margaret's, Westminster

Mr. Speaker explained the procedure, and then offered an historical fact of his own, [14]
I propose to proceed at once to St. Margaret's and I invite the House to follow. I will go first with the Mace; then I invite Privy Councillors to ​ follow in fours, as far as may be, in order of precedence, and then the rest of the House will fall in behind. After the Service, the House will return to the Chamber in the same order of procession, and by the same route. 
I should like to mention to the House a strange coincidence. We met to-day, 15th August, in St. Stephen's Hall. Curiously enough, the last time the House of Commons sat in St. Stephen's Hall, was on 15th August, 111 [15] years ago exactly.
The entire Service of Thanksgiving is then recorded in Hansard as a proceeding of the House, including the Psalms and Hymns sung and the prayers led by the Chaplain. After which, as the House returned to the Palace of Westminster [16]
At the conclusion of the Service, The Speaker, preceded by the Serjeant at Arms bearing the Mace, left the Church by the West door.

Whereupon the bells of St. Margaret's Church were rung, in celebration of Victory.

Mr. Speaker then reported His Majesty's Speech.

The Lords' service in the Abbey itself is not so recorded, which is a great shame.

The Address to His Majesty

As indicated earlier, the Prime Minister then moved for a Humble Address to be presented to the King, viz.

That a humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, would humbly convey to Your Majesty our congratulations on the achievement of final victory over Your enemies.

The enemy in Asia has followed the enemy in Europe into complete defeat and submission to the will of the victorious nations which have pledged themselves to free the world from aggression. We would rejoice with Your Majesty in the liberation of our fellow subjects in those lands which for more than three years have been subject to the ruthless oppression of the Japanese and in the removal of the peril of invasion from Your Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, Your Indian Empire and the eastern territories of Your Colonial Empire.

We would humbly acknowledge the great debt which Your peoples owe to Your Majesty and to Your most Gracious Consort for the courage with which You have sustained them. ​ and the sympathy which You have shown them, reaffirming their love and their loyalty during the dark years in which You shared their afflictions.

On this occasion of national rejoicing, we would pay especial tribute to Your Majesty's Forces from all parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire who, fighting side by side with the Forces of Your Majesty's Allies, have bought with their blood and toil the return of peace to the world.

Nor at this time would we forget our gratitude to the Merchant Marine, the Civil Services, the Civil Defence Services and Police, and to all those who in home, office, industry or agriculture have contributed to victory. 

It is now our most earnest prayer that the clouds of war which have overshadowed Your Majesty's reign will lift for ever and that the splendour of the victory which, by God's providence we celebrate to-day, may be matched by the glory of Your peoples' achievements in the constructive work of peace.

Which was also agreed nemine contradicente, but more exceptionally
Address to be presented by the whole House. 
Privy Councillors humbly to know His Majesty's pleasure when He will be attended.
Humble Addresses are normally ordered to be presented by Privy Counsellors or members of His Majesty's Household.

A similar motion was approved by the Lords, where the equivalent order about presenting it is slightly more florid
The said Address was ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Whole House, and the Lords with White Staves [17] were ordered to wait on His Majesty to know when His Majesty would be pleased to appoint to be attended with the Address.
On 17th August [18], the Lord President of the Council, Sir Herbert Morrison, then reported His Majesty's answer about the arrangements
I have to report to the House that His Majesty the King has appointed 11.30 a.m. on Tuesday next, 21st August, in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster, to be the time and place at which His Majesty will be attended by this House to receive the Address of Congratulation.
And the Speaker explained the practicalities
It may be for the convenience of the House if I state the arrangements for next Tuesday. The House will meet at 11 a.m., and as many Members as possible are asked to be in their seats in the Royal Gallery by 11 o'clock. After Prayers, as soon as I have been formally notified that Members of the House of Lords are in their seats, I shall proceed in procession to the Royal Gallery. After the departure of Their Majesties, I shall return in procession but shall not resume the Chair until 2.15, when Questions will be taken.
In the Lords, the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl of Clarendon [19] made a similar report on the 16th [20]
My Lords, I have the honour to report to your Lordships that His Majesty has appointed Tuesday next, August 21, at half-past eleven in the morning, to receive the Address of this House in the Royal Gallery.
Both Houses being assembled in the Royal Gallery [21], His Majesty received their Humble Addresses and made reply, the final paragraph of which bears repeating
My Lords and Members of the House of Commons:

The time of destruction is ended; the era of reconstruction begins. To this great and difficult task we are resolved to contribute all that is in our power. The new and terrible force which was unleashed against Japan makes it more than ever necessary that the Grand Alliance of Nations should endure and prosper, so that the nations of the world may, with God's Grace, live in that peace and fellowship through which alone they can ensure their salvation. It is My most fervent hope that we are entering upon an age of peaceful progress, wherein the natural talent and enterprise of My peoples can be devoted to the advancement of the happiness and prosperity of mankind.
And that was how Parliament marked V-J day. With a series of exceptional deviations from historical practice.


[C1] Very embarrassing typo fixed. No I'm not telling you where it was.


Hansard is available under the Open Government License as usual.

[1] Successive annual Acts had been used during the war to prolong the lifetime of it beyond the five year limit imposed by the Septennial Act 1716 [2]
[2] This is not a typo or error, 1 Geo. I Stat. 2 cap. 38 was amended by the Parliament Act 1911 (1 & 2 Geo. 5 cap. 13) (yes, that one) to reduce it from seven to five years. It was repealed by the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 (2011 cap. 14)
[3] Though I believe there was some issue with this after the new administration was formed, but this is not a blog about Churchill-Attlee relations, partly because I find it boring and partly due to reasons of space.
[4] The first entry in every volume of the Journals of the House of Commons is a phrase to the effect (historically in Latin, too):
The Parliament begun and held at the City of Westminster, on Wednesday, the first day of August, in the ninth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord GEORGE, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Defender of the Faith ; and in the year of our Lord 1945.
[5] Christopher Addison, 1st Viscount Addison and 1st Baron Addison, K.G., P.C., F.R.C.S.
[6] Split off from the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1925, renamed to Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs in 1947, and then merged with the ancient Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in 1966 to form the modern set up (soon to be joined by the Secretary of State for International Development) of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
[7] The only part of State Opening which is not now televised is the short period while Her Majesty puts on the Imperial State Crown and the Robes of State. The Chair of Estate in which Her Majesty received the homage at Her coronation also sits on the dais in the Robing Room, with previous monarch's ones around the edges of the room.
[9] The huge, multi-story (it really is) wooden throne canopy in the Lords, covered in gold leaf. In the pre-fire Palace of Westminster it actually was a cloth, apparently. Standing Orders require all Peers to "make obescience to the Cloth of Estate" on entering and leaving the Chamber.
[12] ibid. column 49
[13] ibid. column 50
[14] ibid.
[15] The online Hansard has it as "in", but I am persuaded by Rich Greenhill that this is an OCR error for "111"
[16] ibid. column 52-ish
[17] I.e. the Lord Steward and the Lord Chamberlain, who both have white wands of office.
[18] Commons Hansard, volume 412, column 182
[19] George Herbert Hyde Villiers, the 6th Earl of Clarendon, K.G. G.C.M.G. G.C.V.O. P.C. D.L.
[20] Lords Hansard, volume  137, column 21
[21] The long room linking the Robing Room with the Prince's Chamber, an antechamber behind the Cloth of Estate. It is down this gallery that Her Majesty proceeds in State during the State Opening.

Tuesday 11 August 2020

Letters of Credence


When a British Ambassador arrives at their post, they need to present some evidence of who they are to the receiving state and [1] some evidence that their predecessor has been recalled. Like all things in the British constitutional order, it transpires this is a strangely complicated subject.

For reasons of brevity, the actual ceremonial aspects of all this I will omit. Instead, we will focus on the documents themselves. These comprise the Letters of Credence of the new representative and the Letters of Recall of his predecessor [2]. 

There are, however, no fewer than six different forms of credentials, and only three of them are actually signed by or issued in Her Majesty's name [4]. So let's start with perhaps the most formal and work down.

An Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to a Foreign King

These take the form of what is, in effect, a personal letter from Her Britannic Majesty [5], which is apparently sometimes called a Lettre de Cabinet, which looks like so

Sir My Brother and Cousin [s] 

Being desirous to maintain without interruption, the relations of friendship and good understanding which happily subsist between the two Crowns, I have selected My Trusty and Well-beloved ........ to proceed to the Court of Your Majesty in the character of My Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

Having already had ample experience of ........ talents and zeal for My service, I doubt not that ........ will discharge ........ Mission in such a manner as to merit Your Majesty’s approbation and esteem, and to prove ........ worthy of this new mark of My confidence.

I request that You will give entire credence to all that ........ shall have occasion to communicate to You in My name, more especially when ........ shall renew to Your Majesty My cordial wishes for Your Happiness, and shall assure You of the invariable attachment and highest esteem with which I am,

Sir My Brother

Your Majesty's Good Sister

Elizabeth R [s]

Buckingham Palace


To My Good Brother the King of ........ 

Now, obviously, My Good Brother becomes My Good Sister when writing to Queens Regnant. There are a couple of other things to notice. One, Her Majesty refers to Her new ambassador as Trusty and Well-Beloved. As we saw previously, for certain highly ranked Peers this changes and one supposes were, for example, a Duke to be appointed an Ambassador, this would change to

Our Right Trusty and Right Entirely Beloved Cousin

and so on.

Two, and this is the most striking for me is the consistent use of the first-person through. Except in what amounts to personal correspondence to friends, examples of Her Majesty not using the plural maiestatis or reference to Her office are exceedingly rare.

Third, the Ambassador is not sent to the country of the monarch in question, but to His Court, mirroring how all ambassadors to Her Majesty are accredited to the Court of St. James' - and a reference to now all but defunct notion [6] that the King and the state are entirely fused and inseparable. 

Now, clearly [7] every monarch on Earth is not Her Majesty's sibling and cousin. The origin of this exceedingly familiar form of address eludes me, but is essentially related to how all Kings consider each other equals. It is similar to how senior Peers are referred to as 'cousins' by Her Majesty though. 

Finally, the date. This according to Satow is not in regnal years but is simply something like 

11th August 2020

again underscoring the familiar nature of this communication.

There are still a several monarchies left in the world so this form is still regularly used. One supposes the Middle Eastern monarchs are addressed in a similar fashion [8] . Some minor variation of this is adopted for monarchs below the rank of King [9].

An Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to a Republic

By definition, the Head of State of a republic is not a monarch. Communications are, of course, still between Heads of State. But now, instead these instead take the form of a Lettre de Chancellerie, which to my eyes looks rather like Letters Patent.
Elizabeth II by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith [10][s]

To the President of the Republic of ........ 

Sendeth Greeting! 

Our Good Friend! [s]

Being desirous to maintain, without interruption, the relations of friendship and good understanding which so happily subsist between our Realm and the the Republic of .........., We have made choice of Our Trusty and Well-beloved .........., to reside with you in the character of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

The experience We have of .......... talents and zeal for Our service assure Us that the selection We have made will be perfectly agreeable to You; and that .......... will discharge .......... mission in such a manner as to merit Your approbation and esteem, and to prove .......... worthy of this new mark of Our confidence.

We therefore request that you will give .......... entire credence to all that .......... shall communicate to You in Our name, more especially when .......... shall renew to You the assurances of the lively interest which We take in everything that affects the welfare and prosperity of the Republic of .......... .

And so We commend You to the protection of the Almighty.

Given at Our Court of St James’s, the .........., in the .......... Year of Our Reign.

Your Good Friend

Elizabeth R [s] 

First obvious point: the plural maiestatis is back. Second is that wonderful line, which is entirely unique to this type of Letter

And so We commend You to the protection of the Almighty.

A quick bit of Googling implies that this is common to other formal communications between Her Majesty and the Presidents of Republics (and, indeed, only then). I do wonder why!

We can notice also that no mature the stature of the power in question, even the President of the United States is merely Our good friend. Maintaining the diplomatic pecking order that even the lowliest King ranks above a President.

Her Majesty's Ambassador is also sent, not to the Court, but instead to "reside with you". 

It is, in a way, more formal but as a result clearly lesser. Which in years ago was probably the intent.

A High Commissioner to a Commonwealth Realm

These are the fifteen other countries Her Majesty is also Queen of. Now, one can obviously not send an Ambassador to oneself. Consequently here, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom simply writes to the Prime Minister of the realm in question informing him of the selection of a new High Commissioner.
To the Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON MP [10]

Dear Prime Minister [s] 

This letter will be presented to you by .........., who has been appointed by Her Majesty's  Government in the United Kingdom to be their High Commissioner to Jamaica . This is .......... letter of introduction to you. 
I am confident that ......... is eminently fitted, both by .......... personal qualities and by .......... experience of affairs of State, for the charge with which .......... has been entrusted, and that .......... appointment will serve to maintain the relations of close friendship which so happily exist between us. 
In this confidence, I commend .......... to you and, on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, ask you to afford .......... all possible help in the fulfilment of .......... important mission.

Yours Sincerely [11]


The Most Honourable Andrew Holness ON MP

Importantly, as we see above, High Commissioners between realms represent governments not Heads of State. Mostly to avoid an obvious absurdity.

This is in all senses identical in form to any formal letter from the British Prime Minister to another Head of Government, really. 

A High Commissioner to a Commonwealth Republic

Back to the Queen for this one. Republics in the Commonwealth sit, in English law, in an anomalous state, being neither foreign nor domestic [12] territories. Hence Her Majesty's Letters of Credence take a slightly different form [13]

Elizabeth II by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith 

To the President of the Republic of ........

Sendeth Greeting! 

Our Good Friend! 

Being desirous to maintain, without interruption, the relations of amity and concord which so happily subsist between our Realm and the Republic of .........., We have to that end made choice of Our Trusty and Well-beloved .........., to be the accredited Representative and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom in .......... .

The personal qualities of .......... and .......... long service of the State assure Us that .......... is eminently worthy of the important Mission for which .......... has been selected and that .......... will discharge the duties of .......... High Office in a manner that will fully merit Your Excellency’s approbation and esteem. 

More especially, the United Kingdom and the Republic of .......... being free and equal Members of Our Commonwealth of which We are the Head, as the symbol of the free association of its Independent Member Nations, We have every confidence in commending .......... to Your Excellency, and in requesting that Your Excellency will repose Your Full and complete trust in all that .......... shall communicate to You in Our name.

Given at Our Court of St James’s, the .........., in the .......... Year of Our Reign.

Your Good Friend

Elizabeth R 

While quite similar to the situation for other republics I notice a few things. Firstly, the High Commissioner is "accredited Representative and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom", which seems to be a very cunning way of avoiding saying "Ambassador" and also ensuring the realm and republic High Commissioners are both "of the United Kingdom".

This occurs again in the second paragraph, where the claim that the new representative has a "mark of My confidence" is omitted, likely for a similar reason.

Then we see the recital in the third paragraph of the Commonwealth as a "free association of its Independent Member Nations". The reference to the Almighty is also omitted. 

Now, the boring ones.

The Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations

This takes the form of a simple, yet highly formal, letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Notably, this letter also combines the recall of the previous Permanent Representative.
Your Excellency,

I have the honour to inform you that Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has designated .........., with the personal rank of Ambassador, as United Kingdom Permanent Representative to United Nations in succession to .......... . 
.......... is instructed to represent Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the United Nations. .......... is also authorised to designate a substitute to act temporarily on .......... behalf after due notice to you. 

I have the honour to convey to you, the assurance of my highest consideration.


Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

His Excellency the Secretary-General of the United Nations
A similar letter, replacing United Nations as appropriate is used for almost all other international organisations.

It is worth noting that some variation on "I have the honour to convey to you, the assurance of my highest consideration" occurs in almost all letters between diplomats, and is essentially a very excessive version of "yours sincerely". It is also worth noting how Prime Ministers of Commonwealth Realms do not use such a formal ending to each other.

The Head of the UK Mission to the European Union

For some reason, this letter is amazingly dull, consisting solely of one paragraph
Your Excellency 
I have the honour to inform you that Her Majesty’s Government of the United  Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has appointed .......... as Head of UK Mission to the European Union with effect from .......... . .......... will hold the personal rank of Ambassador. 

I have the honour to convey to you the assurances of my highest consideration.

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The President of the European Council

All very anodyne, really. 

Letters of Recall of an Ambassador to a Foreign King

These also take the form of a Lettre de Cabinet, for example as
Sir My Brother and Cousin

Having occasion elsewhere for the services of My Trusty and Well-beloved ......, [14] who has lately resided at Your Majesty's Court in the character of My Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary I cannot omit to inform You of his recall.

Having Myself has ample reason to be satisfied with the zeal, ability, and fidelity with which ...... has executed My orders on all occasions during his Mission, I trust that Your Majesty will also have found his conduct deserving of Your approbation and esteem, and in this pleasing confidence I avail myself of the present opportunity to renew to You the assurances of the invariable friendship and cordial esteem with which I am,

Sir My Brother 
Your Majesty's Good Sister 
Elizabeth R
To My Good Brother the King of ......

In a way it sort of reads as the reverse of the Letters of Credence: rather than assuring the receiving King that the Ambassador is good, it asks that he was found to be so. And then an opportunity is taken of reminding His Majesty that Her Majesty is his friend, too.

The Letters of Recall for other representatives follow a similar pattern, but the absurd heat this August day means I really am disinclined to write them out.

In a future blog, the replies - the recredentials - of monarchs when receiving Letters of Credence will be discussed, as will the Letters Patent granting full powers.

Until then, enjoy. 


The actual text of the Letters (except the Letters of Recall) are taken from an FOI response from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have then interposed Her Majesty's title in the appropriate place and any other things that would be handwritten, as either hinted at or explained in Satow. 

The annotation [s] marks that interposed from Satow, and italics indicate things likely to be handwritten.

Rich Greenhill's exemplary sleuthing abilities unearthed the text of the Letters of Recall for me.

[1] I suppose with the exception of a new state or one where Her Majesty's representatives had previously been permanently withdrawn.

[2] These are last because, due to an oversight, I forgot to ask the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for these so they're from Satow [3] and thus might just not quite reflect modern practice.

[3] Satow's Diplomatic Practice, the Erskine May of the protocol world, basically.

[4] No one said this would be simple, did they?

[5] This being Her Majesty's diplomatic title, have a look in your passport, or at Article 1 of the Treaty of Paris if you are American.

[6] Except, ahem, in the United Kingdom, perhaps...

[7] Despite all of Victoria's daughters.

[8] I am ignoring the anomalous situation of the Pope, because in another oversight I neglected to ask the FCO for that one either (clearly a bad FOI day for me, that one)

[9] It did not occur to me until writing this that the equally anomalous position of the Emperor of Japan is something I neglected to consider.

[10] Holness, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, is our stand-in Commonwealth Realm Prime Minister here, mostly so I can point out how the Order of the Nation in Jamaica makes one a Most Honourable.

[11] Or whatever the Prime Minister of the day deigns to write, really.

[12] Hence the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A similar privilege is afforded the Republic of Ireland by the Republic of Ireland Act 1949.

[13] Monarchies within the Commonwealth was something that, like the Emperor of Japan, I did not think about until now.

[14] For a retiring Ambassador this might read "being now on the point of retiring from My Foreign Service, I cannot omit to inform You of the termination of his Mission in that capacity."