Counsellor of State

For Counsellor of State in France, see Conseiller d'État.

In the United Kingdom, Counsellors of State are senior members of the British Royal Family to whom the monarch, currently Elizabeth II, delegates certain state functions and powers when not in the United Kingdom or unavailable for other reasons (such as short-term incapacity or sickness). Any two Counsellors of State may preside over Privy Council meetings, sign state documents, or receive the credentials of new ambassadors to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

While the establishment of a regency carries with it the suspension of the monarch from the personal discharge of the royal functions, when Counsellors of State are appointed, both the sovereign and the counsellors can—the Counsellors within the limits of their delegation of authority—discharge the royal functions. Thus, the monarch can give instructions to the Counsellors of State or even personally discharge a certain royal prerogative when the counsellors are in place. The Counsellors of State and regents always act in the name and on behalf of the sovereign.

The Counsellors of State do not assume the discharge of the royal functions automatically when the sovereign is unavailable. Instead, when an instance of travel abroad or temporary unavailability occurs, the monarch must sign specific letters patent delegating the royal functions (or some of the royal functions) to the Counsellors of State and fixing the duration of the delegation. The monarch may at any time amend or revoke the said letters patent.


The first Counsellors of State were created in 1911 by an Order in Council of George V, and this process was repeated on each occasion of the King's absence or incapacity. The Regency Act 1937 established in law those individuals that could serve as Counsellors of State. The Counsellors of State are the consort of the monarch and the first four people in the line of succession who meet the qualifications. These qualifications are the same as those for a regent: they must be at least 21 years old (except the heir-apparent or presumptive, who need only be 18 years old), they must be domiciled in Britain, and they must be a British subject. One exception was made for Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (see below).

Since the passage of the Regency Act 1937, the only persons to have been Counsellors of State while not a queen consort, prince or princess were George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood and Alastair Windsor, 2nd Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (although Alastair was a prince between 1914 and 1917 and never served in practice during his short tenure, and Princess Maud, Countess of Southesk, who served as a Counsellor of State between 1943 and 1944, styled herself simply Lady Southesk); prior to that the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Prime Minister and the Archbishop of Canterbury had been appointed to the position by George V.

List of current Counsellors of State

As of November 2016, the Counsellors of State are:

Image Name Period Relation
HRH Duke of Edinburgh 6 February 1952 – present Consort
HRH The Prince of Wales 14 November 1966 – present Son
HRH The Duke of Cambridge 21 June 2003 – present Grandson
HRH Prince Harry of Wales 15 September 2005 – present Grandson
HRH The Duke of York 19 February 1981 – present Son

Past Counsellors of State

The following is a list of all the people eligible to have served as a Counsellor of State, since the passage of the Regency Act 1937, in chronological order. Note that this list contains the dates not of when they served, but when they were eligible to serve.

Image Name Period Relation
HM The Queen
1937 – 6 February 1952 Consort
HRH The Duke of Gloucester
1937 – 6 February 1952 Brother
HRH The Duke of Kent
1937 – 25 August 1942 Brother
HRH The Princess Royal
1937 – 6 February 1952 Sister
HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught
1937 – 21 April 1944 Cousin
HG The Duke of Connaught and Strathearn
Never served
25 August 1942 – 26 April 1943 First cousin
once removed
HH The Countess of Southesk
26 April 1943 – 7 February 1944 Cousin
The Rt Hon. The Earl of Harewood
7 February 1944 – 21 August 1951 Nephew
HRH The Princess Elizabeth
21 April 1944 – 6 February 1952 Daughter
HRH The Princess Margaret
21 August 1951 – 6 February 1952 Daughter
Image Name Period Relation
HRH The Countess of Snowdon
6 February 1952 – 10 March 1985 Sister
HRH The Duke of Gloucester
6 February 1952 – 10 June 1974 Uncle
HRH The Princess Royal
6 February 1952 – 25 December 1957 Aunt
The Rt Hon. The Earl of Harewood
6 February 1952 – 9 October 1956 Cousin
HM The Queen Mother
1953 – 30 March 2002[1] Mother
HRH The Duke of Kent
9 October 1956 – 26 August 1965 Cousin
HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent
25 December 1957 – 18 December 1962 Cousin
HRH Prince William of Gloucester
18 December 1962 – 15 August 1971 Cousin
HRH The Duke of Gloucester
26 August 1965 – 20 November 1966
10 June 1974 – 19 February 1981
HRH The Princess Royal
15 August 1971 – 21 June 2003 Daughter
HRH The Earl of Wessex
10 March 1985 – 15 September 2005 Son

See also


  1. Queen Elizabeth lost her position as Counsellor of State when she was widowed. However, the Regency Act 1953 made a special exception, including her as a Counsellor of State.
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